Ariel Sharon is one of the outstanding--and most controversial--figures of Israeli public life. Born in 1928, he joined the Haganah (the leading Zionist military force) in the mid-1940s and served as a platoon leader during Israel's war of independence. In 1953, he formed the famed "Unit 101," which carried out daring and controversial reprisal raids in surrounding Arab states. He had very important roles in the 1956, 1967, and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, then entered politics in 1974. Sharon has served as minister of agriculture, defense, trade and industry, and housing, as well as minister without portfolio. He planned and executed the war in Lebanon in 1982, then had to resign as defense minister due to circumstances surrounding the Sabra and Shatila massacre. In recent years, he has been a candidate to lead the Likud Party. At West Point, cadets learn that Sharon "is the most brilliant combat tactician living today." This interview was conducted for Penthouse magazine in Hebrew in Tel Aviv on December 25, 1995 by Ranan R. Lurie, an internationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for Time International and a senior adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The interview appears here with the permission of Penthouse magazine.

THE OSLO AGREEMENT

Ranan R. Lurie: Are you pleased with the Oslo agreement?

Ariel Sharon: No. The basis for our government to persuade Israeli public opinion to accept the Oslo peace agreement was the government's contention that [Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir] Arafat will subdue Arab terror better than we Israelis could. Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin and Foreign Minister [Shimon] Peres frequently used the expression, "Arafat will execute this in his own way--without high court appeals, without involving committees protecting civilians' rights, without Peace Now, without groups of mothers protesting."

Lurie: In brief, Arafat will handle Hamas and Islamic Jihad with a kind of brutality that works?

Sharon: Definitely. Well, their basic assumption failed! It is important to emphasize that all Israeli intelligence services--Mossad, the General Security Service, and Military Intelligence--warned ahead of time that Arafat will not confront or fight Hamas. Point one, Arafat will simply not fight other Arabs, especially not on behalf of Jews. Secondly, he is a manipulator, an arbitrator. He never confronted other Arabs in the open. He indeed murdered Arabs, but he always avoided an open confrontation with other Arab terrorist groups.

YASIR ARAFAT

Lurie: You still consider Arafat, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, to be a terrorist?

Sharon: Very definitely so! It is true, however, that he almost doesn't act against Jews now. But he does commit acts of murder against Arabs who cooperated with Israeli forces in the past. About three months ago, on direct order from Arafat, ten Arabs, one of them a uniformed policeman in the Israeli police, were murdered in Tulkarim by a group of his, the Fatah Hawks. The ten Arabs' "crime" was that they cooperated with Israeli forces, thereby helping to prevent the loss of many innocent lives, Jewish and Arab.

Lurie: How were they killed?

Sharon: Most of them were shot to death. But Fatah has terrible methods of killing: hanging a person by his chin on a butcher's hook, vivisecting him with axes, burying him alive, or sticking a hose in a victim's mouth and filling him with water 'till the poor human being explodes. Sometimes they chop limbs off of seven- and eight-year-old children in front of their parents to punish the parents and set an example for other parents.

Lurie: Which is the most vicious among the Arab terror groups?

Sharon: Definitely Arafat's Fatah.

Lurie: Are the Fatah Hawks Arafat's own legitimate units, under his command?

Sharon: Yes. The Fatah Hawks in the Gaza Strip have become part of the Palestinian police, and even part of Arafat's special security forces, which have a higher security classification.

Lurie: What do you conclude from this?

Sharon: That only Israel can take care of the safety of her citizens against terrorists' acts.

Lurie: Have you ever met Arafat?

Sharon: No.

Lurie: Would you like to meet him?

Sharon: No. By any criteria, he is a war criminal, a person whose hands are heavily stained with Jewish blood--more than can be found on the hands of any person since the end of the Nazi regime. He is a person that every single government of Israel tried physically to get rid of.

Lurie: Mossad tried to kill Arafat?

Sharon: I won't go into details on who tried to kill him--but I can tell you with absolute certainty that all the governments of Israel tried to get rid of him. There was not one Israeli government that did not see it as a main objective of hers.

Lurie: Why didn't they succeed?

Sharon: Because of his secretive moves, because of the danger of hurting innocent civilians, and many more reasons.

Lurie: Nevertheless, he won the Nobel Peace Prize...

Sharon (laughing): This, indeed, is one of the most terrible absurdities to think that a certified war criminal who was already lying on the floor, virtually a dead corpse, was lifted by a Jewish government . . .

Lurie: Why was he a corpse?

Sharon: His status was weakened very much after supporting Saddam Husayn, which resulted in the cut-off of financial support from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Other Arabs stopped their political support. He became persona non grata all over the world. America learned to disrespect him. One of the things that stunned the U.S. administration was why the Israeli government pumped new oxygen into that cadaver. . . . They were really perplexed.

Lurie: Maybe that was a good time to negotiate with him, when he was so weak and vulnerable?

Sharon: How can such a weak and vulnerable leader bring down Arab terror and rebellion, which was one of the main objectives of the so-called peace?

Israel made two critical mistakes in that Oslo agreement: the first, a moral mistake, considering the nature, character, and past of our so-called peace partner; and the second, which is a very practical mistake, is surrendering the security issue to Arafat.

Lurie: Is Arafat a wealthy individual?

Sharon: Arafat himself leads a modest life. But he directly and very personally controls assets of over US$1 billion spread all over the world. Arafat is big business.

Lurie: Is Arafat corrupt?

Sharon: He definitely is, but indirectly, through his close relatives. Also, Israeli intelligence says that Arafat's immediate circle is totally corrupt. That is the main reason why the donating countries, who pledged plenty of money for the Palestinian autonomy, do not deliver their financial pledges.

Lurie: Arab, European, and American financial organizations claim that they're not sending the money because Arafat is disorganized and has never met an accountant.

Sharon: That's a formal excuse. The fact is, Arafat refuses any oversight whatsoever on the moneys to be granted to him.

RABIN AND PERES

Lurie: How is it possible that Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres ignored the three Israeli intelligence services' warning that Arafat will not and cannot deliver on his promise to control terrorist activities in areas to be under his control?

Sharon: The prime minister and the foreign minister are trying to make our intelligence services adjust their professional conclusions to conform to Rabin's and Peres's political agenda. A few weeks ago, the prime minister vehemently attacked Brigadier General Jacob Amidror, one of the most excellent military intelligence generals we have, second-in-command to the head of military intelligence in charge of research, and one of the finest brains we have in Israel now. Amidror was sharply reprimanded because he dared to report to the Special Parliamentary Committee of Foreign and Security Affairs that President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria "fulfills only the agreements that are comfortable for him." The general described systematically concrete cases from the past, showing how, over the years, Asad breached agreements that he was not pleased with.

Two weeks ago, Peres aggressively criticized the head of military intelligence, General Uri Saguy, for proclaiming that Arafat's unwillingness to control terror originating in Gaza will bring "Lebanonization" to the entire Gaza Strip. The foreign minister made a special point of attacking his own head of military intelligence--in the media, openly!

Lurie: How can you explain that two such brilliant men, both of whom served as prime minister and defense minister of Israel, ignore severe warnings of three accomplished intelligence services?

Sharon: At the very beginning Rabin hoped that it would work out. Then he became a prisoner of Arafat's words that he would install law and order in his new territories.

Rabin and Peres took the path of national suicide. People who serve their country as Rabin and Peres have are not immune to mistakes. Great generals, like Marshal Pétain, the hero of Verdun and the man who saved France in the First World War, collapsed and surrendered to the Germans in the Second World War.

In the Labor Party, the younger generation wants to get rid of both Rabin and Peres. They can survive only by holding each other's hand. Peres is much the faster of the two and has absolutely no moral restraints. He has two agendas: to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which he did, and to become the secretary-general of the United Nations.1

Lurie: How can you say that with such certainty?

Sharon: Let me call it a concrete evaluation, which I can back up. Peres considers Israel too small a stage for him. I consider him dangerous without comparison and totally unscrupulous.

Lurie: Is he capable of sacrificing Israeli national interests for those reasons?

Sharon: Definitely yes. He is a most dangerous person, dangerous to Israel like no one else.

Lurie: Would you call Peres or Rabin an Israeli Pétain?

Sharon: No, no . . . their local names are enough.

Lurie: They depend mutually on each other to survive in power?

Sharon: Exactly. Rabin gives in to Peres, even when he thinks Peres is mistaken, in order to continue as prime minister of Israel. Peres moves faster and does things much quicker than Rabin, so he drags the latter with him.For instance, Rabin saw that it would be enough to grant Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and believed that autonomy in Jericho was a great mistake, but he surrendered to Peres on this point. He probably says to himself: "It's true that I am making dangerous concessions, but as long as I am navigating, at least I can avoid even greater dangers."

Lurie: An unofficial rapport exists between you and Prime Minister Rabin. You worked closely together in the past. You once were his advisor; he was your advisor when you were Israel's minister of defense and invaded Lebanon.

Sharon: Yes, he was my advisor then, though not in an official capacity.

Lurie: Do you continue to meet with Rabin privately, intimately?

Sharon (pauses): Yes, we do meet, to discuss military-political subjects. We have an unwritten rule between the both of us, established forty years ago, that our one-on-one discussions never, ever come out. Both of us maintained this rule for forty years.

Lurie: Is that how you know what agreements Rabin and Asad have reached?

Sharon: I have that information by a totally different source, an American source high-up in the U.S. administration. That source has an interest in bringing the Syrian-Israeli agreement to fruition. Because I have good sources, and because I don't want to hurt my special relations with Rabin, I deliberately avoid talking with him about the Golan subject.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Lurie: Israel's nuclear power is a very great concern to the Arab states; aren't they right to worry?

Sharon: Israel has never admitted that it has nuclear power. That said, once we have a total and complete peace in the Middle East that includes such countries as Iraq and Libya, then definitely we should aim not just to rid the entire area of nuclear arms. We should also seek a reduction of conventional weapons. Then we'll have to bring the weaponry status in the Middle East to an equilibrium where Israeli armament will be equal to the Arabs'. All this depends on sincere peace.

We have it from most reliable sources that Iran will have a nuclear bomb by 1999. Now--you cannot reach candid peace with dictatorships, totalitarian ones, since their decision to go to war or to cancel a peace agreement will be a one-man decision. Israel, being a real democracy, faces, naturally, a much more complicated procedure leading to the cancellation of any agreement or the declaration of war with a foreign state, since our leaders would have to accept the voting judgment of the mothers of the sons who will be killed in such a war. The Arab leaders, as we know them today, are free of such uncomfortable considerations.

Democracy among our neighbors would very much help establish Israeli confidence that would allow a partial disarmament.

IF LIKUD WINS

Lurie: You recently declared that if your party, Likud, wins the next elections, probably in November 1996, it will not recognize the Oslo agreement signed by Rabin and Peres. Is that still your view?

Sharon: Those Oslo political agreements will be the main theme of the parliamentary elections to occur in less than two years. In other words, they [the elections] will take place before temporary political agreements in the West Bank territories become permanent. And although they may take place after a final agreement with Syria is signed, only a tiny withdrawal will have occurred by then, giving back to Syria just a couple of Druse villages. We will still be sitting on almost all of our existing positions in the Golan.

Lurie: And what about Oslo?

Sharon: If the Rabin/Peres government is reelected, we can assume that the original Oslo plan (which I consider to be dangerous) will be executed.

Lurie: And you and your party will accept it?

Sharon: We live in a democracy, don't we? I will definitely have to accept it. It may turn out to be a terrible disaster, but I will have to live with it.

However, if we will be elected to lead Israel, that means the Israeli voters did not accept the Rabin government's peace plan and will have given us a mandate. It will then be the duty of the new government to execute what the Israeli voter elected it for, that is, to execute a different plan.

We will probably not take Gaza back, and I don't propose to take back the tiny piece of the Golan that may be handed over to Syria before the elections. But we will execute the will of the people who know that by voting for us they're voting against the Rabin-Peres-Arafat agreement.

Lurie: To sum it up: a Likud government will not respect the Oslo agreement?

Sharon: Correct.

THE SYRIAN TRACK

Lurie: You mentioned by-the-by that a small section of the Golan might be returned to the Syrians; could this be done without a national referendum?

Sharon: The gap between Asad and Rabin today is very small. They agree that Israel shall relinquish all the Golan Heights. They agree on a three-year period to execute this retreat.

Existing disputes between them, however, still exist. First, while Asad demands a retreat to the borders of 1967, Rabin wants to retreat to the former international borders only. Both of these borders are beneath the Heights of the Golan and give the Syrians an absolute topographical superiority. But there is a difference: In the very early fifties, the Syrians grabbed small portions of land, such as Al-Hamma and the Banias Heights. While these areas are important in themselves, Rabin also has a political reason for confronting Asad; he wants to tell the voters in 1996 that unlike Prime Minister Menachem Begin with the Egyptians, he did not return to the Syrians all the territories.

Second, they disagree how much and to where Israel should retreat in phases during those three years. Rabin wants to agree about this with the Syrians before the Israeli elections, but to execute most of the retreat (which will include the traumatic dismantling and evacuation of the Jewish settlements) only after the Israeli elections. So, according to Rabin the first phase of the Golan retreat, which would give back to Asad a few Druse villages, and leave the Israeli military positions almost intact, would be the only phase that would happen before the elections. Two years later, the Israelis would retreat to their last line of defense that would still be on the Heights of Golan, on their Western edge, and a year later, they would relinquish said Heights as their final withdrawal. The two last phases will happen already after our elections (in short, the last two phases will happen only if the Rabin/Peres team will win the elections - RRL). Asad is concerned that the Israeli elections may very well bring the Likud back to power; he wants the second phase, the major one, before the Israeli elections.

Lurie: What does Syria give up?

Sharon: Nothing.

Lurie: Hasn't Asad, in return, accepted a full-fledged peace?

Sharon: He hasn't proclaimed that until today.

Lurie: The same way that Israel did not proclaim its willingness to retreat until today?

Sharon: Maybe.

Lurie: What would you do with Syria if you were in Rabin's shoes?

Sharon: I would not retreat from the Golan Heights, period. The Israeli strategy should be a negotiation with the intention of gaining time until the day that Asad will not rule Syria anymore.

Lurie: Why?

Sharon: His heart is not healthy, and preparations are underway in Syria for a change of the guards. Asad's first son was recently killed in a mysterious accident, so he appointed his second son commander of a combat brigade. The problem is that this guy is an eye doctor who didn't even pass officers' school. To make things easier for the young ophthalmologist, his father dismissed several generals, some of them very good officers, who were very unhappy about this appointment.

All this shows you with what peculiar atmosphere we are dealing here in the Middle East. It will be a big mistake for us to return the Golan Heights, which besides defending Israel provides a very efficient deterrent for us, Damascus being so vulnerable to our forces from the Golan Heights. That explains why we don't have any terrorism whatsoever on the Golan. Indirectly, the entire West benefits from our control of the Golan, as a potential warning and deterrent to the Syrians who may wish to cooperate with, let's say, Iran. And let us not forget that Damascus is the capital of almost all Arab terrorist organizations, which have their headquarters there.

CONCLUSION

Lurie: General Sharon--do you want peace with the Arabs?

Sharon: I want peace very much, but a real one, not a Chamberlain-like peace, not a false one. We haven't had one day of quiet here since that infamous handshake with Arafat on the White House lawn. What kind of peace is that?

Lurie: But Israel's prestige and status in the world has grown immensely, more countries have recognized Israel, more economic opportunities have opened.

Sharon: During the last two years of the Likud's government under Shamir, during 1991-1992, thirty-four countries, including China, India, and Russia, recognized Israel. What's the value of hugging and kissing, of popularity among the nations of the world, when you participate here in funerals of murdered Israelis almost every day? I relinquish the pleasure of being kissed by the nations for the privilege of being alive.

Rejoinder to the Ariel Sharon Interview

Comments by Fawaz Turki

Fawaz Turki, a Palestinian writer, was born in Haifa and grew up in Lebanon, Australia, Europe, and the United States. His latest book is Exile's Return: The Making of a Palestinian American (Free Press).

What can beleaguered hawks like Ariel Sharon do these days, now that they are out of government, out of fashion, and out to lunch? They can give interviews in which they hark back wistfully to the days, before the Oslo agreement was signed, when they used to go out, with sword in hand, looking for dragons to slay and terrorist demons to hunt down.

It is as if these people are not aware there is a peace process in the works that, popular or not in Israeli and Palestinian societies, is beyond the ability of anyone to reverse. Despite the limitations and even contradictions that it is riddled by, this is an agreement that has already started a negotiating process that embodies its own logic, reach, and authority. It may finally enable Palestinians and Israelis to shed their worn skin of perpetual conflict and bring about the end of night.

That, at least, was how those of us who believe that the Oslo agreement may very well be the last call for peace initially viewed that agreement.

That is not the way, it seems, that Israeli hardliners see it at all. Sharon tells us that "the basis for our government to persuade Israeli public opinion to accept the Oslo peace agreement was the government's contention that Arafat will subdue Arab terror better than we Israelis could."

In other words, Yasir Arafat and the strong police force he brought with him to Gaza and the West Bank will act as agents of Israel, relieving it of the burden of subduing Palestinian resistance to occupation and bringing the intifada to an end. That, we are told, "was one of the main objectives of the so-called peace."

If we are to believe Sharon, that in fact there were invidious motivations behind Israel's willingness to sign the Oslo agreement, the terminus of negotiations was not a peace settlement but an end to resistance. If that's so, then surely Palestinian rejectionists are the smart folks here, and those who support the peace process the dupes.

Sharon is asked if, were he and his fellow hardliners to win the next election, "a Likud government will not respect the Oslo agreement." His answer is a categorical "correct," it will not. About the Golan Heights he has this to say: "I would not retreat from the Golan Heights, period."

The man is relentless. He is also a hypocrite. He sounds almost comical when he tells us that the reason Yasir Arafat was not pursued and killed, presumably when he was in Beirut, was "because of the danger of hurting innocent civilians." To believe that Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, would show concern for the lives of innocent civilians would be like believing that an alcoholic would lead a crusade for prohibition.

And where on earth did Sharon get the gruesome imagery, other than from the depths of his fertile imagination, about the purported methods of punishment meted out to Palestinian recalcitrants by the PLO? Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, is involved, we are told, in "hanging a person by his chin on a butcher's hook, vivisecting him with axes, burying him alive, or sticking a hose in a victim's mouth. . . . Sometimes they chop the limbs off of seven- and eight-year-old children in front of their parents." And the rest of it.

We can accuse the PLO officials of all sorts of acts, including corruption, ineptitude, cynicism, and all types of political buffoonery, but vivisecting people with axes? I have been involved in the Palestinian struggle as an activist intellectual with intimate connections to the movement for the last quarter century, and I have never heard mention of these types of atrocities.

In the end, there is no substitute to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The Oslo agreement is not perfect, and its implementation is going to be long and arduous. But as a basis for a settlement, it can work. Indeed, it must be made to work; for without it, without hope that a settlement is in the making, the old anarchic compulsions will rise to the surface again, nurturing those oppositional forces, on both sides, that want to drive the Jews into the sea and truck Palestinians across the river.

But it is precisely because of what that long conflict has wrought on Israeli and Palestinian societies--the poison in the blood, the eroded social energies, the processes of hatred and frustration, all thickening at crucial nerve ends of political life--that both parties have to respond to the accusing challenge of peace. The status quo ante cannot be resurrected.

There is a very important question that not very many people have asked, and few in the Middle Eastern public debate have pressed home. Can any people be subdued, as the Palestinians have, indefinitely without, at a certain moment of historical immediacy, their staging a revolt? It can be argued, with a good deal of supporting evidence, that in every victimized society -- whether victimized by occupation or colonization, social injustice or slavery -- there is an inescapable drive towards rebellion. And once the elaborate machinery of that rebellion slips into gear, society itself, en masse, will slip into a kind of automatism: rebellion become's Everyman's milieu, the norm, the ideal, the conditioned reflex of everyday life.

God told us that at the beginning was the word. He never told us what comes at the end -- probably because He wanted us to determine that for ourselves or, conceivably, because He did not know. We have a peace agreement here, a beginning, shot through as it is with all kinds of contradictions. We can do with it as we please. The end could be a genuine settlement or continued conflict. We know what people like Sharon want. The issue is, what do the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians want?


1 Four months after this interview was conducted, The Jerusalem Report (Mar. 23, 1995) revealed that Peres "has been toying with the idea for several months, and during recent visits to the U.S. and France sounded out presidents Clinton and Mitterrand. The reaction . . . was enthusiastic enough for Peres to consider starting serious lobbying."