A Man Without a Vision or Strategy

John Bell

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s attack on Syria appears to have created convulsions of analysis in the region. What does it mean? A realignment of power? The baby steps towards war? A message to Iran? The fact is that the attack on the purported Islamic Jihad camp may be a “non-strategy” by a man whose goals are undefined but whose temperament and instincts are impulsive and war-like. The greater danger is not just Sharon, but the lack of any sensible strategy in the region to fill the violent void created by Sharon.

From Qibya to Sabra and Shatila, from Gaza to Damascus, Ariel Sharon knows only the language of massacre and oppression.

From Qibya to Sabra and Shatila, from Gaza to Damascus, Ariel Sharon knows only the language of massacre and oppression.

The Israeli prime minister must act after a suicide bomb. He was elected to do so and it is the bedrock of his legitimacy domestically. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is on his last legs and it is clear that Sharon has promised USA President George W. Bush that he will not physically harm the Palestinian leader. Since August, the Israeli government has already targeted and killed many of the Hamas and Jihad leaders inside the occupied territories and Sharon may have simply run out of meaningful and suitable targets within reach. He still needs to act. Enter Syria.

Sharon has instincts to act boldly and violently for short term gain. His encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army in African Egypt (vs. Sinai) in October 1973, his walk on Al Haram Al Sharif in 2000, and his guerrilla attacks on Arab states in his youth all point to a man willing to roll the dice without necessarily having a vision or strategy to support his actions. All these acts are calibrated but only in the short term, they are not parts of a larger strategy of war or peace. He is a masterful and bloody tactician who does not himself know where he is going nor taking his country.

His attack on Syria is of a similar ilk. It plays into the American paranoia and negativity towards Syria and it does echo towards Iran. It is a message that says “Don’t dare to attack me” but what does it achieve? The worst case scenario is a conflict on the border with Lebanon, military action in the Golan and even air strikes on Iran with the subsequent greater terror against Israel. A violent state of “non-war”, because no one is currently ready to make war on Israel. A “non-strategy” by Sharon, because it takes Israel nowhere except more death and loss. The region has been realigned by the American invasion and presence in Iraq not by Sharon’s actions.

The unfortunate truth is that, according to his own political dynamic, Sharon simply must act when there is a militant attack and he has the character to do so, but it leads nowhere except the spiral of violence already witnessed in his relations with the Palestinians. This may be enough for Sharon, but is it enough for the Middle East?

The true failure here is not Sharon’s - he will likely one day have his comeuppance with the only people that matter to him, the Israelis themselves. The true failure is on the part of the Arab world and other parties concerned, including the Americans, in not coming up with a strategy that can counter the spiral of violence. That is the real failure in the Middle East, not so much the triumph of violence but the lack of courage and vision to build a region stronger than extremism and violence.

Is this possible under the Bush paradigm? “With us or against us” and an undefined war on terror that is clearly to Sharon’s tactical advantage? If the answer is no, the game is up already, for now and the future. The fact is the answer must be “yes”, and the effort behind the “yes” buttressed by vision, determination and a certainty that the Middle East can be something better than Sharon.

As is clearly evident, peace plans, roadmaps, and Saudi initiatives are not enough; they need someone, or many, to carry them forward despite Sharon. It is not only strategy that is required but the will and conviction to enact them against all odds. Otherwise, Sharon’s “non-strategy” wins de facto.

Published Saturday, October 25th, 2003 - 09:17am GMT

The writer is a former UN and Canadian diplomat, a commentator on Middle East and international affairs.

Article courtesy of Syria Daily

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John Bell

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