Global Policy Forum

Twenty Years On, Sharon Is Up To No Good


By Robert Fisk

June 27, 2001

Ariel Sharon is telling the Americans some very old stories. The Palestinians are involved in "international terrorism". The south of Lebanon is a "centre of international terror". There are 2,000 long-range missiles in Lebanon.

This is what he's been telling his American friends in Washington. And it's exactly what he told Ronald Reagan's administration in 1981 and early 1982. Then, he was looking for a "green light" for a major military adventure. Is he doing the same again today? Mr Sharon's first accusation was at the expense of Lebanon. The Iranians, he announced two months ago, had shipped through Lebanese airports 2,000 missiles that were capable of hitting central Israel.

But there are no such missiles in Lebanon. Beirut airport is one of the most secure in the Middle East and not a single satellite picture has been produced to support this nonsense. Then last week, Mr Sharon was telling the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, that the south of Lebanon has been "infiltrated by Iran" and is a "centre of international terror". The Lebanese government, he announced, would be held "responsible".

Which is even more perverse. For, despite several attacks in the past 12 months, southern Lebanon is quieter now than it has been for 25 years. Israeli and Lebanese casualties in the border area have been the lowest for a quarter of a century. Not surprisingly - because they've been through this before - the Lebanese are asking if the Israeli Prime Minister is preparing the ground for another conflict. So are the Palestinians. And it's worth going back to the record to recall how Mr Sharon, then Defence Minister in Menachem Begin's Likud government, said almost exactly the same things about the same people 20 years ago, before a bloodbath that ended in the camps of Sabra and Chatila.

In 1981, the UN had brokered a ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians along the south Lebanese border. If there were no Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, there would be no Israeli air raids on Lebanon, not unlike the current US-brokered truce. Then in 1982, Abu Nidal's anti-Arafat extremist group tried to murder the Israeli ambassador to London. Mr Sharon blamed Yasser Arafat and started bombing Beirut. The Palestinians fired back across the border and the Israelis blamed the Palestinian leader for breaking the ceasefire. Sound familiar? Then Israel invaded Lebanon. In Israel today, where many on the right are urging the Israeli army to invade Palestinian towns and cities after the wicked suicide -bombing in Tel Aviv, the same Mr Arafat is being accused by the Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, of having "links" with the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden. There is no more proof that Mr Arafat is connected to Mr bin Laden than there was that he had "links" with Abu Nidal. In fact, Abu Nidal hated Mr Arafat. And Mr bin Laden always opposed Mr Arafat's policies. But with Mr bin Laden, and Iran, variously blamed by America for bombing attacks against US embassies, military bases and a warship in Yemen, Mr Sharon is using a formula calculated to have wide appeal to the Bush administration.

Back in 1982, he went to see Alexander Haig for a "green light" to invade Lebanon. So the Arab press are asking if he is not now seeking a "green light" for an offensive against the Palestinians from the US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. For it's also worth remembering just what the Israelis did when they reached Beirut in 1982; they surrounded it with gunboats and tanks and bombed it from the air. Mr Sharon's men have already done the same, on a smaller scale, against Gaza. The story of Gaza in 2001, complete blockade, attacks with F-16s and gunboats and tanks, is exactly the same story as Beirut in 1982.

And, of course, it was Mr Sharon in 1982 who invented the 2,000 "terrorists" in Sabra and Chatila - in reality packed with unarmed civilians - before sending the Phalange into the camps. And we all know what happened then. Today, instead of 2,000 fantasy "terrorists", he's invented 2,000 fantasy missiles and has been telling the Americans the same rubbish about Arafat's "terror" links. In all seriousness, the Los Angeles Times yester- day carried a headline that Mr Sharon was "pitching retaliation" as a possible policy. Pitching? Policy?

If Mr Sharon is looking for a "green light", he may get it.

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