Ariel the Unlucky

David Gilmour

  • Warrior: The Autobiography of Ariel Sharon by Ariel Sharon and David Chanoff
    Macdonald, 571 pp, £14.95, October 1989, ISBN 0 356 17960 5
  • The Slopes of Lebanon by Amos Oz, translated by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura
    Chatto, 246 pp, £13.95, January 1990, ISBN 0 7011 3444 5
  • From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman
    Collins, 541 pp, £15.00, March 1990, ISBN 0 00 215096 4
  • Pity the nation: Lebanon at War by Robert Fisk
    Deutsch, 622 pp, £17.95, February 1990, ISBN 0 233 98516 6

1982 was a critical time for the authors of all four of these books. It was the year of Ariel Sharon’s most sanguinary foreign venture, which ended in massacre, failure, and a measure of disgrace. For the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, it was the year ‘the Land of Israel’ died in Lebanon, while for him personally it aroused feelings of alienation, the sense of being an exile in his own land. For Thomas Friedman, a Jewish American journalist, the refugee camp atrocities produced ‘something of a personal crisis’ and tore away ‘every illusion’ he had ‘ever held about the Jewish state’. And for Robert Fisk, who no longer had illusions about that or anything else, it was a year in which he escaped death a score of times and lived to produce some of the most memorable journalism of the decade.

Sharon’s book is a surprise, for it contains little about the real man. His ghost writer has produced a sort of Anti-Sharon, an almost reasonable politician, an image presumably intended for the ignorant, the credulous, and the press offices of Israeli embassies. You will find nothing here of the bombastic general who boasted that Israel could ‘conquer in one week the area from Khartoum to Baghdad and Algeria’. Nothing of the political brawler who last month denounced Shamir (of all people) for being soft on ‘terrorism’. Nothing of the man who reminded even ConorCruise O’Brien (whose 1982 articles were so pro-Israeli that the Army distributed them to journalists) of ‘the swaggering Goering’. The only close similarity between the two Sharons is their inveterate mendacity. It is unlikely that the new image will convert many people – certainly not in Israel, where Sharon is widely blamed for the Lebanese disaster. Two of the country’s most distinguished military writers, Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, have declared: ‘Born of the ambition of one wilful, reckless man, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was anchored in delusion, propelled by deceit, and bound to end in calamity.’ The deceit is sustained throughout this book by manipulation of figures and misrepresentation of facts. Usually this is done simply by multiplying several times the number of casualties inflicted by the PLO and dividing, by an equally high figure, the number of Arab civilian deaths caused by Israeli forces. But sometimes, when even this arithmetic would leave a much higher number of Arab dead, he dispenses with figures and merely equates two quite disproportionate attacks.

This is Sharon’s account of events following the attempted assassination of the Israeli Ambassador to London in July 1982.

At midday the [Israeli] Cabinet approved the air strikes unanimously. Shortly afterwards the attacks were driven home against two military targets in the Beirut suburbs and nine others in the south. By 5.30 that afternoon, PLO artillery shells and rockets began to fall on the Galilee towns and villages. The terrorists had unambiguously declared their decision [to break the ceasefire].

Put like that, it all sounds quite reasonable, two roughly equivalent military responses probably causing roughly similar numbers of casualties. In fact, the bombing of the ‘two military targets in the Beirut suburbs’ caused the deaths of 210 civilians, including 60 dug from the ruins of a Palestinian children’s hospital. As for the PLO’s artillery barrage on the ‘Galilee towns and villages’, Oz records that most of the shells fell ‘somewhere between the villages... Only one person was wounded and almost no damage was done.’ So much for Sharon’s claims of Israeli ‘self-restraint’ and the PLO’s ‘intolerable provocation’.

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