a different side of Israel

Tag: Ariel Sharon (page 1 of 3)

Sharon Going Home

Now 82-years-old, Ariel Sharon has been lying unconscious since January 2006, originally at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem and then in the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

Ariel SharonAt about the five-year point since former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon became comatose, he will be moving back soon to slumber at his Sycamore Ranch in the Negev – accompanied by loved ones and medical machines.

The house has been readied to receive him. Life support equipment and even an elevator to take him from the ground floor to his second floor bedroom.

The move will happen at first for only a few days as a trial, and after which he will be taken back to the hospital.

“If it becomes clear that the necessary medical care is available at the ranch, he will be taken back to the ranch permanently.”

It was once stated that the Chaim Sheba Medical Center had asked the family to take Sharon home, accompanied by a nurse, because:

“there is no place to provide him with special medical services at the hospital.”

But it was really his sons Gilad and Omri who requested the move.

In February 2009 the Chaim Sheba Medical Center said:

“A dialogue with the family and medical staff is being held continuously to see whether it is possible to continue treatment of Mr. Sharon in an environment which is not a hospital.”

Farewell to a Righteous Gentile

Alexander Haig, former US secretary of state, four-star general, top adviser to three US presidents, and 1988 Republican president nominee, died on Saturday from complications from an infection, he was 85. It was said that Haig

“always had a special feeling for Israel.”

“I always had the impression that he considered himself a friend of Israel and understood its geo-security predicament as we moved through the years,”

said Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.

Haig held close relationships with a number of senior Israeli political and military figures officials, including Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin.

In 1998, Haig testified in an affidavit as part of Ariel Sharon’s libel suit against Haaretz and its columnist Uzi Benziman.

Benziman wrote that in 1982, the then-defense minister Sharon had deceived Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who had only approved a plan to send IDF troops 40 km. north of the Lebanese border.

Haig gave testimony that Begin told him in October 1981 that the army had begun plans for an incursion into Lebanon and that the troops would reach approaches to Beirut, much more than 40 km. from Israel.

Haig once called Israel

“America’s largest aircraft carrier which never could be sunk.”

According to historian Yehuda Avner, who served on the staffs of many prime ministers, Haig was also known on occasion to be annoyed by Israeli policies.

Avner said in a Jerusalem Post column that following the surprise annexation of the Golan in 1981, Haig, serving as secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, proposed temporarily suspending the strategic cooperation agreement between the two allies.

Later, Haig became a firm believer in Israel as a powerful player in the war on Islamic terrorism. In 2001, he told the Jerusalem Post that it might not be a bad thing for Israel to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

“If the Israelis do launch a preemptive strike [on Iran], it may be saving the world a lot of trouble.”

Daniel Mariaschin remembers him in such sentiments:

“He was truly a man apart…A great military leader and a major public servant. There are few people today who can say that they have served their country as soldiers and in civilian life. He was a prime example of an American who was able to do both in his career, and his death is a great loss.”

Corruption Case Against Olmert Heating Up

No sooner had former Kadima government finance minister Avraham Hirschson been sentenced to 5 years and 5 months for theft of public funds (among other things) and former Shas Party Health, Labor and Welfare minister Shlomo Benizri lost his bribery appeal (and got sentenced for more than twice the original period of 18 months), millionaire investor Morris Talansky was back in Israel to testify in the continuing investigations against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is facing a number of charges, including being accused of taking more than $300,000 that Talansky was said to have contributed to Olmert’s mayoral campaign in Jerusalem.

talanskyOlmert’s legal problems are a bit different now than they were when Talanasky last appeared in Israel to answer questions concerning the monies he gave to the former prime minister; especially since Olmert is now a private citizen, and as such no longer has the immunity he had as Prime Minister. Talansky himself is under investigation in the USA under suspicion that he illegally transferred large sums of money to Israel under the guise of the money being “contributions”. Besides the noted sum that Talansky is said to have “contributed” to Olmert’s mayoral campaign, there is also the matter of a sum of $150,000 that he is said to have given to Olmert over a period o f years, and used by Olmert for his own personal benefit, including upgrading hotel rooms during trips abroad.

Talansky is under suspicion by American authorities of using his relationship with Olmert to transfer funds illegally to Israel. He noted to reporters that he had been warned against returning to Israel, but felt that he needed to set the record straight. One of the big questions concerning Talansky’s relationship with Olmert was whether Olmert obtained the funds under false pretenses, and whether part of it had been considered to be a bribe. For his part, Talansky only agreed to return to Israel to testify after an agreement had been reached with both Israeli and American authorities in order that his testimony would not incriminate him by returning to Israel.

With two of his former ministers already going “up river” will the former prime minister also be heading in that same direction? Or is he clever enough to find a way out with only a slight “slap on the wrist”. Corruption seems to be becoming more commonplace among government officials and politicians these days, and even former P.M. Ariel Sharon might have had so face similar counts (that led to his son Omri serving a short prison term for miss-use of campaign funds) had Sharon not suffered a severe stroke in January 2006 that has left him comatose and totally incapacitated.

Jenin is Back in Business

Human Narration on

The second Intifada, which erupted seven years ago, had developed into the worst period of violence in the history of Jewish-Arabs relations in Israel. In September 2000, Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to the Temple Mount was followed by Palestinian riots and protests in Jerusalem.

During the riots in Jerusalem, 7 Arabs civilians were shot to death by the Israeli police, and a few hundred were wounded. The Or Committee that investigated the tragic events of October 2000 recommended that the state of Israel should change its policy towards the Arab minority in order to decrease its growing frustration.

Unfortunately, the situation kept on deteriorating: in April 2002, the battle in Jenin took place. Since then, Israeli Arabs were not allowed to enter Jenin. As a result, many Arab civilians could not visit their families.


Last week marked a change in this policy: hundreds of Israeli Arabs were allowed to enter Jenin after seven years of separation.

I am aware that this is not a popular view in Israel, but I believe that this move should be extended in order to increase mutual trust between us and the Palestinians. If the Palestinians are to live in poverty in restricted areas, we shall never have peace with them. More actions are needed to bring the local market in isolated Arab towns back to life.

Imprisonment of the Palestinians will surely lead to an intense frustration, and we already witnessed how frustration can blow up in our faces.

Source: Ynet

Hurray! Peace with Syria – Political Commentary by Ashley

Guest Commentary

Wait a second – Weren’t we at war with them? What does it mean to announce peace talks with a regime that we vastly outgun in military matters and totally humiliate on an economic level (Israel’s per capita GDP is $30,000 and climbing; Syria’s is just scraping $4,000)?

Israel recently entered Syrian airspace after disabling Syria’s “latest and most advanced” Russian-made air defense systems and then destroyed what’s thought to have been a nuclear weapons facility. Even during the Lebanon War — that mismanaged, mangled, and relatively pathetic display of Israel’s military capabilities — Israeli warplanes were able to buzz “President” Assad’s palace without so much as being shot at.

So, clearly, Syria is a major threat to Israel and we should scramble to give up the ultra-strategic Golan Heights (where Syria attacked Israel from when it actually was a threat) in order to quell the potential “shit-storm” that Syria might like to serve us.

What’s really going on here? No sane nation in today’s geopolitical world, and none in the history of nations, would ever sit down to give away land — strategic land — to a bordering country that not only has limited power but also constantly calls for the destruction of the first, more powerful country.

All I can say is: Welcome to Israeli domestic politics.

We’ve seen this before, many times. The parallels are actually frightening. Let’s rewind back to the winter of 2000, when Ehud Barak led Israel through a number of failed, disastrous policies. In February of 2000, Barak, according to The Economist, was accused by the state comptroller of corruption and “shenanigans over election financing.” Barak, as skillful and slippery as any Israeli politician, managed to sway the public focus away from him by doing something “bold”: he removed Israeli troops from their strategic position in southern Lebanon where they had been keeping Hezbollah (and their likes) at bay.

After the troop withdrawal, Hezbollah had the opportunity to casually saunter into southern Lebanon. In effect, Barak’s wily plan worked — he was praised by the left-wing media for his dovish actions and his campaign imbroglio was largely forgotten. He also, by the way, wiped out more than a decade of hard-won gains in Lebanon that kept terrorists out of firing range of Israel’s population centers. Six years later, we got a terror war from the south of Lebanon in which Israeli soldiers and civilians were murdered.

Ariel Sharon provides another instructive example. Just after he became prime minister, Sharon began to deny accusations of campaign finance violations faster than he could gobble down Shwarmas. Boomerang, a book written by left-wing Israeli journalists and based on extensive interviews as well as on the examination of declassified documents and use of archival material, had made the case that Sharon used the withdrawal from Gaza to distract the Israeli public from his misdoings.

It seemed to work — except for the small annoyance that some call “daily terror attacks”, in the form of Qassam and Katyusha rockets fired from the recently withdrawn-from Gaza Strip. (There have been roughly 8,000 rocket strikes on Israeli ground from Gaza to date since the withdrawal.)

Of course, not a problem for Sharon — then and now — who sleeps with a clear conscience.

Olmert, who, some scientists speculate, may actually be amphibious, has set off on the same mission. A quick browse of today’s news headlines and you can see all the pieces coming together: Olmert announces his new peace plan with our seriously threatening enemy, Syria. At the same time, he wrangles with the police and the justice department officials, in an attempt to delay the testimony of the American financier, Morris Talansky, which could put him behind bars. Delay it just long enough for the peace-crazed public to forget… Forget what, again…?

Olmert may have gone too far this time. But then again, we in Israel like to draw lines in the sand, never remembering that the desert’s political winds blow hard.

IDF Rebuilds

Army RebuildingThe Israeli Defense Forces have undergone considerable upgrading since the 2006 war in Lebanon. Following the appointment of former Golani Brigade commander, Lt. General Gaby Ashkenazi to IDF Chief of Staff, virtually all branches of Israel’s military, especially it’s ground forces, have undergone a number of changes to prepare if a possible future war with the Hezbollah and possibly Syria as well. Ashkenazi is well suited for his new role as he has considerable combat experience and is well acquainted in ground combat fighting, as he has been a commander of what may considered to be the IDF’s top fighting unit.

Being a field commander, General Ashkenazi is much more suited to head the IDF than his predecessor, Dan Halutz, who formerly headed the Israeli Air Force before his appointment to be C.O.S., by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. One of General Ashkenazi’s major tasks has been to improve the morale in IDF military units, especially among reserve soldiers, considered to be the backbone of the country’s military. Gross logistical failures during what is now called the Lebanon II War, resulted in may reserve soldiers saying that they would refuse to fight in a new conflict unless considerable changes were made to enable them to have the required equipment and training needed to face an enemy that has grown much stronger and is better equipped than in previous years.

For security reasons, a number of these revisions have not been disclosed to the general public. One of main problems that many IDF officers have had is in regards to the type of warfare known as asymmetric warfare that is now being fought not only by Israel against it’s enemies but by other armies such as the American led coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Russian forces in provinces such as Chechnya. In asymmetric warfare, different ideologies and the will to fight often results in a lesser equipped enemy having an advantage over a stronger, better equipped army.

Besides Israel’s ground forces, include the highly acclaimed Givati brigade, the armor corps in which the Ga’ash Formation is the largest armor group, and special units such as the Egoz special operations unit, the IDF is also upgrading the Naval forces and Air Forces.

Speaking at a recent officer’s school graduation ceremony at Mitzpeh Ramon, both General Ashkenzi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (a former C.O.S. himself) warned that the IDF must be ready to face the threat of possible regional conflict that could break out at any time, especially following the assassination of Hezbollah’s top terror strategist Imad Mughniyah.

Throughout Israel’s nearly 60 years as an independent country, its army has had to make constant upgrades in its ability to meet the challenges facing the Jewish State in light of constantly changing realities. Only in this way can a small country such as Israel meet the challenges of facing its enemies and prevailing against them.

Omri On His Way to Jail

Omri SharonOmri Sharon, Airik Sharon’s elder son and former Likud Party Knesset member, lost out on his latest appeal of what is now going to be a 7 month term in the hoosegow for campaign funds manipulation and other similar crimes. Sharon, who has tried to prevent his incarceration by claiming he is constantly at the bedside of his still comatose father, will be allowed two visits to his father per week during the sentence which is now slated to begin on February 27.

In addition to the prison sentence, Sharon also has to pay a N.S. 300,000 fine, equivalent to around $65,000.

During his father’s last re-election campaign, Omri is alleged to have received illegal campaign contributions on behalf of this father which were used in a manner not allowed under Israeli political campaign rules. Omri was also involved in other questionable activities which may also have gone back to the so-called “Greek Island Affair” in which his brother, Gilad was said to have been involved in concerning the purchase of a couple of small Greek islands for use as tourism resorts catering to Israeli holiday makers.

Omri was said to have used monies for paying off people involved in acts of political favoritism as well, and some of these activities were even recorded by hidden TV cameras and used on local reality TV shows covering crime investigations.

Ariel Sharon is still languishing in a vegetative state where he has been for more than two years. Nearly 80, it is highly unlikely that he will ever regain consciousness and his present state has helped keep Omri from meeting his prison sentence date. Omri did succeed in having his sentence reduced by two months, which makes his sentence only slightly longer than American cooking show host Martha Stewart had when she served five months for inside stock trading.

Omri will probably not be thrown in with super hardened criminals, and will most likely be sent to a minimum security facility to serve
his sentence, similar to what happened to another former politician, Arieh Deryeh. Recent Video clips of Omri show that he has grown hair again on his once bald head, a possible indication that he fears what might happen to him in prison if he looks too much like a “pretty boy” to fellow inmates, especially those with “one gender orientation”. Seven months isn’t the end of the world, although with a prison record, Omri’s possible return to politics will be a bit doubtful. He can spend most of his time at the Sharon Ranch, taking care of his father’s sheep and cattle, and even venture into some private business dealings, where his particular expertise in wheeler dealing will be appreciated.

Will Bush’s Visit Save Olmert Politically?

Bush In IsraelU.S. President George Bush’s first official visit to Israel is only days away, but many political analysts are already speculating on whether the President’s two day visit will result an any improvements in the current state of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Coming virtually at the same time as the outcome of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Bush’s visit will probably not have an influence on the political chances of any of the Republican candidates, including present front runner Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa Caucuses over other hopefuls Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudolf Giuliani.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also hopeful that the President’s visit will result in some kind of break-though in the current situation which not only has resulted in Palestinian fired rockets reaching the city of Ashkelon, but new acts of terror by members of the Palestinian Fatah organization that Olmert is trying to win over in an alliance against the Hamas controlled Gaza strip.

Bush, shown with both Olmert and Abbas at the recent Annapolis Summit is himself more or less in a “lame duck” political situation in which members of his own political party are trying to distance themselves from his foreign and domestic policies, including those running for public office. In addition to meeting with Israeli government personalities, Bush will also meet with P.A. President Mahmud Abbas and members of his government in a specially arranged meeting in Jericho. Hamas leader and “former” P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haneyah will not be on the President’s agenda, for obvious reasons.

One thing for sure, however, is that the Bush visit will send a strong message to Iran concerning the President’s feelings about that country’s nuclear program, despite the recent NIE report that the Islamic Republic abandoned it’s nuclear weapons development program in 2003. The President’s visit will help reassure both the IDF and the Israeli government that President Bush still believes that Iran continues to pursue its goal to become a nuclear power.

The big question concerning this topic will be what will happen when Bush leaves office in January, 2009.

Bush will probably try to persuade Olmert to make some kind of concessions with Abbas, including the dismantling of some outpost and “fringe” settlements as a prelude to more serious disengagements that are being planned in the coming months as part of the agreements between Olmert and Abbas at the Middle East Summit in Annapolis Maryland. The only problem from that conference was that most, if not all, of the agreements appeared to have come only from Mr. Olmert and not from Mr. Abbas.

Outside of causing a nerve wracking traffic tie up in much of central Jerusalem during the President’s visit, the prospects of any real breakthroughs being made is a bit doubtful and all that will probably transpire will be a lot of media publicized hand shaking and dinner speeches. Bush will at least see for himself what he has only seen previously in video clips such as parts of the “security wall” in Jerusalem as well as the usual diplomatic sites such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust exhibit and museum and the Kotel or Western Wall in the Old City. Aside from a short visit to Jericho, the remainder of Bush’s visit will be either within the King David Hotel or at the Knesset, where the President is most likely scheduled to address members of Israel’s parliament.

Olmert, who recently has expressed his wishes that former and now comatose P.M. Ariel Sharon was able to assist in solving the country’s political and security problems, will not gain much from Bush’s visit, especially with the chances of a U.S. Democratic Party Presidential administration more possible than ever. What many people in Israel are currently wishing is that a new Israeli government administration will soon be elected to replace the one so ineptly administered by Mr. Olmert and his Kadima Party cronies. That hope is at least as strong as many Americans have regarding replacing the current Republican Party led one in Washington, led by the guy who will disembarking from Air Force One at Ben Gurion Airport this coming Wednesday.

Why Olmert Doesn’t Give A Piss

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appears to ‘have let the cat out of the bag on Monday when he announced during a press conference that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Olmert, who has previously tried to show that he is in the best of health, said that the tumor found during a “routine examination” was ‘microscopic’ in size and the once removed he stood an excellent chance of being cured without having to undergo either chemo or radiation therapy.

Olmert, aged 62, told his audience that the surgical procedure, planned to take place next month, and following the scheduled peace conference in America, would not keep him from performing his duties as head of state. The announcement was aired on a number of international news networks, including Sky News and CNN.

Professor Shuki Shemer, a former Health Ministry Director and specialist in treating prostate cancer, said that Olmert’s condition is more prevalent in men over age 60, although it can strike younger men too. The disease is curable if caught in time, i.e., before the malignancy spreads outside the prostate gland, which is located in men between the bladder and urethra.

Olmert thought it necessary to advise his condition to the public, his press aids said. he wanted to assure everyone, especially the general public, that his condition is not life threatening and is 90% curable. Following his return from the Annapolis conference, Olmert will undergo a three hour surgical procedure to remove his prostate gland. Judging from men who had undergone this “procedure” however, recovery is not immediate and is often accompanied with temporary problems of incontinence or inability to hold urine in the bladder. Anyone who has visited a urology department of a major hospital and seen men walking along pulling a bag of bloody urine can testify to the fact that prostate surgery (in the event of a tumor) is no picnic.

Olmert himself had to take over the reins of government nearly two years ago when Ariel Sharon was stricken with a massive stroke in January, 2006. Due to this incident, it is hoped that arrangements have been made for the assistant prime minister to temporarily stand in during Olmert’s incapacity. Though prostate cancer is a much slower progressing malignancy than other forms of cancer, it still must be dealt with in time. French President Francois Mitterand died of this disease several years ago, and Ezer Weizman, a former Israeli President, also contracted the disease.

Despite the fate of Mr. Mitterrand, only 16% of men affected with prostate cancer will have any symptoms, and only 6% will eventually die from the disease due to its slow metastasis or spreading.

Professor Shemer noted that men in their 60’s had a 50 – 60% chance to be stricken by prostate cancer, while men over 70 have an 80% chance. “It’s just something that all men eventually face due to the gland’s designed function”, he added.

The Settlers: Two Years After

August of 2005 was a very traumatic month for nearly 8,000 Jewish settlers who were forcefully evicted from homes in more than 20 settlements in the Gaza Strip. From what was known as Gush Katif in the southern part of “Gaza” to the northernmost settlements like Dugit, the entire Gaza Strip was made “Judenrein” in less than a week, Though army units stayed around a while longer, to (hopefully) make sure that Egypt and the U.N. sent forces to the border to keep watch against arms smuggling and the like, Israel’s settlement presence of more than 35 years had officially come to an end.

And today, the majority of these “evacuees” are still living the life of displaced persons, or refugees, in their own country! Many of them had been making an excellent living by farming, and had invested not only all of their capital, but their “human capital’ into what had been very successful agricultural ventures, where Israel received a good deal of certain farm produce such as cherry tomatoes. So much was raised in hot houses which dotted the Gaza landscape that the produce found ready markets abroad. And now, many of these former farmers are still without a source of livelihood, and living in temporary housing such as caravans, pre-fabricated homes, and even in tents.

Government offers of relocation assistance have been sketchy and inadequate for these families, many of whom have anywhere from 5 to 8 or more children. Those who were “lucky” enough to leave early received what became known as “caravillas”, and find them far too cramped as compared to spacious five to seven room homes which they had built years before, when the situation was much more stable and Palestinian labor was readily available. In fact, thousands of Palestinians made their daily livelihood working either on these farms, or in the many factories set up in border industrial zones in Gush Katif and other areas. Not only did many Palestinians make their living in these areas, but many thousands more crossed the border daily into Israel to work in a variety of occupations all over central and southern Israel.

Gush Katif - Neve DekalimMany Israelis are beginning to wonder if the government’s unilateral decision, made by then prime minister Ariel Sharon, was really a good idea. For not only are the former settlers still mostly displaced; the situation in Gaza itself, now with a radial Islamic governmental entity in control, has gone from bad to worse; with Palestinian made Kassam rockets being launched at Israeli towns and settlements bordering the Strip on an almost daily basis. The settler’s presence in strategic parts of Gaza, including locations near Gaza City and other cities like Rafiah and Khan Yunis, required large numbers of soldiers to be in place there in order to defend them. The Israeli army presence also gave the IDF a strategic foothold there from both a military as will as psychological standpoint. The price paid over the years was not an easy one, however, and scores of Israeli soldiers, as well as civilians lost their lives.

In comparison to what is the current reality, however, that price may have been worth it, for it delayed what is now the new fait accompli in which the Palestinian Authority has become split into two entities: an extreme radical section ruled by Ismiail Haninya and his Hamas organization, and another entity composed of the former PLO or Fatah organization controlling their part of the West Bank. With no Israeli army units patrolling the border between Gaza and Egypt, Hamas and other radicals, including the Islamic Jihad and even Al Qaeda, are bringing in untold quantities of munitions and explosives, including sophisticated anti-tank missiles and mobile SAM missiles capable of shooting down helicopters and perhaps even commercial airplanes.

Since its military victory over rival Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah forces less than four months ago, Haninya and his organization have been rapidly changing the Gaza Strip into an ultra-conservative Islamic fiefdom with some similarities to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Palestinian women, even those who are not Muslim, are now required to wear full covering on their bodies, and many of them are even veiled. On the economic front, unemployment is as high as 80% in many sections, and most Gaza families have to rely on handouts from Hamas and the UN in order to survive. Naturally, all of those incomes that many Palestinians received from working for “Ha Yahud” are no more.

The security situation within Gaza is now so bad that even many foreign aid organizations, including UNWRA and UNICEF are considering either reducing their presence there or even pulling out altogether. The Al Qaeda organization is not only alive and well in Gaza, but is reported to have built up an army of more than 18,000 well equipped fighters; ready to be called into “action” when the right time arises.

Was the ‘Disengagement’ really worth what is currently happening in Gaza, as well as to the lives of so many good, loyal Israelis? Would Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit be in captivity now had a stronger Israeli presence been in place within the Gaza Strip? These questions, and many others, will have to be left for the history books to give a final and appropriate answer.

Alas, if people could only peer a bit into the future…

Understanding Ariel Sharon

Ariel (Arik) Sharon
Recently published biographies of former Israel Prime Minister Ariel (Arik) Sharon, including a very intimate one by journalist and personal friend, Uri Dan, may help many to better understand the complexities and human qualities of the man who may one day go down in history as one of Israel’s greatest military leaders and statesmen. Dan maintained a close relationship with Sharon for more than 50 years; which only ended with the Prime Minister’s massive stroke in January, 2006.

Few politicians on the Israeli political scene have made their mark in a manner like the man who not only helped save his country in time of war, but who also has made monumental decisions concerning his country’s future direction in regards to peace. While this ‘new direction has not been accepted by many, including many of his former Likud Party political colleagues; Sharon finally came to the conclusion that the only way to reach a lasting peace agreement with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors was to agree to let them have their own national identity – i.e. statehood.

The human side of Ariel Sharon, including the shattering loss of his first born son, Gur, in an accident at age 11; and the death of his second wife, Lilly, to cancer in 2000, has also influenced him, especially in later life. Many people, myself included, have not fully understood this man who has loved his country and its people more than anyone ever could imagine; and who was prepared to make great sacrifices for its sake. Sharon’s love of the Land of Israel made some of his more recent governmental decisions, especially the disengagement from Gaza, even more painful to him. Many people close to him, including Uri Dan, feel that Sharon’s decision to give up the Gaza settlements, and the adverse reaction from so many Israelis, was what brought on the two strokes that finished him in the end.

Other biographies, Ariel Sharon: A Life, by Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom (the English translation of the Hebrew version: The Shepherd), and Sharon: A life in Times of Turmoil, by Freddy Eytan, also detail the colorful and controversial life of this often misunderstood individual. But in the end, it is Gur’s long relationship with ‘Arik’ that is the most intimate, as this version goes deep into the heart and soul of the man who’s sudden departure from the political scene “has left people with a feeling of incompletion” not unlike the November 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was also criticized, and even castigated by many, for his agreement to peace with the Palestinians via the Oslo Accords. Sharon’s own life was also threatened by extremist elements, and this resulted in his having a minimum of six bodyguards constantly encircling him wherever he went.

Sharon’s legacy has yet to finalized, as he is still fighting for his life in a deep coma from which he is not expected to recover. But the idealism and love for his country will make its mark on Israel’s history, and for this soldier, farmer, and statesman who often stopped government cabinet sessions to rush to his farm upon learning of the birth of new members of his livestock. A ‘good shepherd’, he certainly has been.

Little Big Man’s Sad Departure

Natan Sheransky

The announced departure from politics by Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky is more than just the end of a political era for the State of Israel. It also means the loss (in an official capacity) of what may have been one of U.S. President’s Bush’s most trusted advisors on both Israeli and Russian affairs. Sharansky’s name became well known during the 1970’s when he was a member of the ‘refusenicks’ in the former Soviet Union. He was a staunch spokesman in favor of Russian Jewish immigration to Israel and more freedom to practice Judaism in his native country. These activities resulted in his being imprisoned for several years before international outcry, led by his wife, Avital, resulted in Natan being allowed to leave Russia for Israel.

Though small in stature, Sharansky soon proved he was ‘big’ in his ability to give extremely competent advice; and in his ability to make many friends in both the private and political arena of his new country. He quickly entered Israel politics and was successful in creating the first political party composed of former immigrants, Yisrael b’Aliyah, and was later a member of the Likud Party. Sharanasky has held several ministerial portfolios, including Interior Minister, Housing and Absorption Minister, and Industry and Trade Minister. In addition to his political ventures, he has also written several books, including one called In Defense of Democracy, in which he contrasted Western and Eastern Block political systems.

Sharansky has served as an unofficial advisor to several U.S. Presidents, but his relationship with George W. Bush, pictured alongside Sharansky, has been more close, with the U.S. President seeking often seeking Natan’s advice on a number of sensitive issues, both inside and outside of Israel. Sharansky has also been a strong advocator of Israel remaining in the territories it conquered in the 1967 Six Day War. He was against the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, which many say cost him his political future with both former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and present P.M. Ehud Olmert.

Sharansky, who says he wants to devote more time to writing, teaching, and other similar pursuits is still a relatively young man, and may very well return to politics one day. Other politicians from the former Soviet Union, particularly Yisrael Beitanu party head Avigdor Lieberman, may carry on many of Sharansky’s ideas and policies; especially in lieu of Lieberman’s consideration to join Olmert’s government coalition.

Though sad indeed, the political departure of the ‘little big man’ may not be long, and we have not seen the last of his warmth and candor in Israeli public and political life.

Duhhh, What me Worry?

Tzachi HanegbiAlfred E. NeumanIsraeli politics, and the political satire thereof, often fluctuates from the sublime to the ridiculous. Such is the case regarding the allegations against Mr. Tzachi Hanegbi, a former “rising star” within both the Likud political party, and the son of another colorful political figure, Geula Cohen, whose ultra-right wing political activities were common-place during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Hanegbi, who has held several ministerial positions, including Justice Minister, and Environmental Minister, is being accused of political favoritism in hiring Likud approved individuals to important positions within his Ministries; most particularly the Environmental one. What this boils down to, as Hanegbi’s accusers have ‘kindly’ pointed out, is nothing more than the old ‘spoils system’ which has been in existence ever since the term was coined during the U.S. Presidential administration of Andrew Jackson (1836-1840). Jackson, a colorful soldier and backwoodsman who gained notoriety during the historical Battle of New Orleans in January, 1815, brought all his backwoods cronies into his cabinet, most of whom were nothing more than hunters, soldiers and pioneers, and without even a basic education. Political favoritism is something that has often been mimicked and satirized in such famous satirical ‘vehicles’ as The National Lampoon, Mad Magazine, Saturday Night Live, and (in Israel) Ha Harzofim (Political Puppetry) and Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Land).

Hanegbi’s innocent remarks, such as “Why not? Everyone’s doing it” regarding his use of political favoritism reminds me that classic character, of Mad Magazine, that zany satirical magazine created by cartoonist and satirist Harvey Kurtzman in 1952, around the time when the McCarthy witch-hunt trials were going full blast in America against those suspected of belonging to organizations like the Communist Party. Throughout MAD’s 54 year history, virtually all notable political personalities have been satirized in the pages of the still popular magazine now even available on-line.

Now facing indictment by Israel’s aggressive Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, Hanegbi’s political ‘favoritism’ appears to have known no bounds. Even the current national Police Commissioner, Moshe Karadi, himself under investigation for mixing politics with his position, was appointed by Hanegbi when he served as Internal Security Minister under Ariel Sharon’s government. Says Hanegbi: “people are still being appointed (to various positions) without any equality, and on the basis of ‘connections’. That’s been the norm since the State’s establishment.”

Hanegbi’s political ‘star’ has definitely fallen a bit; but he appears to be a “survivor” in this bizarre game of political maneuvering that most aptly characterizes Israeli politics. He will probably ‘pop up’ again sometime in another Likud-led political administration, which may very well become reality in the aftermath of last summer’s military conflicts.

(Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia)

Atonement: Who Needs it Most?

Two nights ago ushered in the Jewish Day of Atonement, otherwise known as Yom Kippur. This the last High Holiday of the period that Jews refer to as the Ten Days of Penitence in which Man’s fate for the coming year is sealed by God. Judging from events which have occurred during the year of 5766, and especially in regards to events in Israel, now containing the largest Jewish population in the world, a number of notable figures have much to atone for. For sake of brevity, the most notable ones will be mentioned here:

1. Kobi Alexander: Former head of Comverse Technologies Ltd, who fled the country after being suspected of massive securities fraud in the manipulation of his company’s shares. He has recently captured in Namibia, and is how awaiting extradition hearings and subsequent return to Israel to face charges.

2. Moshe Katsav: Israel’s President now under investigation for several instances of sexual miss-conduct and harassment. News articles occurring almost daily, revolve around Mr. Katzav alleged philandering, especially involving a somewhat comely young lady known as “A.”

3. Ofer Glazer: another sexual ‘misconductor’ who is married to Israeli heiress and billionaire Shari Arison. Glazer is expected to begin serving a six month prison sentence for making advances towards his wife’s hired nurse. Needless to say the affair has been a bit embarrassing for Shari.

4. Dan Halutz: Israeli Army Chief of Staff who is being blamed by many, particularly IDF reserve soldiers to not managing the Israeli Armed Forces properly during the 34 day conflict in July and August. According to Danny; he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Maybe there’s some truth in this.

5. Omri Sharon: Ariel Sharon’s eldest son and also in trouble with the Law over alleged misuse of campaign funds for his father’s re-election bid in 2003. Omri may also have to serve some time in jail, currently delayed due to the state of his father’s health.

6. Haim Ramon: another ‘romanticist’ and former Justice Minister, who resigned his post over charges of sexual misconduct. It appears that this offense is most popular of all these personalities.

7. Zeeve Rosenstein: That underworld character who was recently extradited to the USA due to charges of drug smuggling into that country. Mr. Rosenstein has also has numerous attempts made on his life, one of them resulting in the deaths of 3 innocent bystanders. Good riddance!

8. Ehud Olmert: Present Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Olmert believes that Israel won the recent war in Lebanon and also feels that he is doing an excellent job running things in Israel. Not everyone agrees. He is also being investigated to making undue profits on some real estate he purchased during his tenure as Mayor of Jerusalem; smacking of conflict of interest. Olmert also believes that the USA will solve the Iranian problem for him – perhaps his greatest sin.

and the list goes on … who else will join it this upcoming year ?

Super Jews

Super JewsThe conflicts continue, but that doesn’t prevent Israel’s economic success story from abating. The revelation that one of the country’s most successful high tech firms, Mercury Interactive, is being sold to American based Hewlett Packard for the sum of $4.5 billion, even more than the purchase by Intel a few years ago of the DSP company for a ‘paltry’ $3.6 billion, is only the latest of a string of successful ventures that have created quite a stir on both Wall Street and other world security exchanges as well.

Israel’s high tech success story has become one of such importance that multi-billionaires such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet have invested huge sums. Gates has invested heavily into Israel’s software industries, and Microsoft logos are now common place on a number of buildings in Israeli high tech industrial parks. Buffet’s recent purchase of Israel’s renown Isscar precision tool company for more than $2.5 Billion reinforced the attention that the world’ two richest men have given to the Jewish State.

Israel’s big splash on Wall Street, especially in the NASDAQ securities exchange, can in part be attributed to former prime minister and finance minister Binyamin Natanyahu, who placed great emphasis on developing the country’s technological-based industries during his term as P.M. in the late 1990’s, and during his term as finance minister in the government of Ariel Sharon. Natanyahu was also instrumental in changing the countries foreign currency laws, allowing local citizens to both hold foreign currency and invest in foreign securities markets. “Until Israeli citizens can conduct normal business in the international sphere, this country will never progress” he was once quoted as saying.

Numerous global high tech giants, including the above mentioned ones, as well as others such as Amdocs, Siemens, and of course IBM, are alive and well in Israel and providing high-quality employment to thousands. It’s not too difficult to see the results of these ventures with the country’s roads clogged daily with late model automobiles with these companies’ logos emblazoned upon them. Since the year 2,000, high tech companies have contributed billions of dollars to the country’s economy, more than in the entire previous 52 year history of the state.

For a miniscule country with a total population of just 7 million, and who began its’ existence fighting off a combined Arab Legion army equipped with the best modern weaponry, the citizens of Israel certainly have a lot be proud of. The army Israel is using to once again fight for the country’s right to live on a piece of real estate that was 70% desert when granted to them by the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947, is now one of the best fighting forces in the world. In May, 1948 when David Ben Gurion declared the country’s independence from British Mandatory control, the fledgling country of only 650,000 souls had no air force (other than a few aged Piper Cub observation planes) and no armor corps or navy. Yet, they were able to win their independence against overwhelming odds. Israel’s success story, both in industry and militarily, will carry on despite ongoing security problems. It’s a pity that those who seem bent to destroy it cannot see that peaceful coexistence is far better than hatred and war.

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