"Who's afraid of Arik Sharon?" an Israeli news magazine asked a few years ago. It answered its own question: "Everybody."
In his autobiography, "Warrior," Ariel (Arik) Sharon, whose career as soldier and politician spans the history of modern Israel, struggles to overcome his reputation as a single-minded zealot who is ready to take the world to the brink of war--and beyond--to achieve his vision of Israel's national destiny. The man who then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger once called "the most dangerous man in the Middle East" presents himself in this book as a reasonable individual who, if the responsibility comes his way, can lead the nation to a lasting peace with its Arab adversaries.
Make no mistake, this is a political document. Sharon, who was forced to resign as defense minister in 1983 after a blue-ribbon commission determined that he bore "indirect responsibility" for the massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps south of Beirut, is actively maneuvering to become Israel's next prime minister. The autobiography must be considered part of a concerted campaign to refurbish his image, both inside Israel and abroad.
Israel's next general election is not scheduled until 1992, but under the country's parliamentary system, it could come earlier. Sharon clearly intends to become a major contender for the post now held by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Few Israelis are neutral when it comes to Sharon. He is widely feared and even hated, especially by persons on the left of the country's political spectrum, but also by some people who generally share his political outlook. At the same time, he may be the most popular leader among the growing segment of the Israeli population that supports the right-wing Likud bloc.
In the autobiography, ghostwritten by David Chanoff, Sharon seems to have three purposes. First is to give his own spin to the many controversies he has been embroiled in since his early days as a soldier in the Haganah, the Jewish militia that fought and won Israel's War of Independence in 1948. Second is to even scores with his Israeli political adversaries, especially Labor party leaders like former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and former Army Chief of Staff Chaim Bar Lev. And third is to assure foreigners--and especially Americans--that he is not dangerously motivated by blind hatred of Arabs.
"(T)hough Israel is a Jewish nation it is, of course, not only a Jewish nation," Sharon writes. "We live here with minorities, with Druze, Bedouin, Circassians, and especially with (Palestinian) Arabs. . . . I begin with the conviction that Jews and Arabs can live together. I have repeated that at every opportunity, not for journalists and not for popular consumption, but because I have never believed differently or thought differently, from my childhood on."
There is, of course, no suggestion that Sharon would ease Israeli terms for peace. He makes no apology for his hard-line views or his determination to assure the country's security. But he is not a racist and he wants everyone to know that. Some of Sharon's more enthusiastic supporters are, indeed, anti-Arab bigots. And, despite his own apparently sincere conviction that Jews and Arabs can live together, there is nothing in this book to change the minds of those who back Sharon because they expect him to drive a hard bargain.
Ever since Sharon, as defense minister, led the Israeli army into Lebanon in 1982, American policy makers have been nervous about the possibility that he might someday become prime minister. Sharon has been trying for years to overcome that American concern, using such techniques as off-the-record dinners with American opinion makers in posh New York restaurants. Although Sharon is frequently critical of U.S. government policy, he realizes that U.S. support is vitally important to Israel's survival.
Nevertheless, Sharon provides plenty of raw meat for his hawkish supporters in Israel. From young soldier to defense minister, Sharon participated in all of the wars and most of the armed skirmishes that have marked Israel's strife-filled history. He describes the conflicts in considerable detail, making it clear that, in his view, there is no substitute for aggressive and audacious tactics that emphasize maneuver and attack. And he heaps scorn on some of Israel's best-known political and military leaders when he concludes that they acted less boldly than they could have.
Along the way, the account sometimes varies from what has become the generally accepted historical record. As a general and as defense minister, Sharon's decisions were often controversial. This is his version of reality and it is not always shared by others who participated in the battles.