Last Wednesday night ushered in a new era in Israel's political history. As Israelis watch and worry as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dangles between life and death, one thing is absolutely clear. Sharon's massive cerebral hemorrhage on Wednesday night spelled the end of his political career. Sharon will never return to lead the State of Israel. He will never make a full recovery.
Whatever one's views of Sharon's policies and the quality of his leadership, no Israeli can feel anything but sorrow at Sharon's abrupt demise. A nation's sudden and dramatic separation from its leader is never a good thing. It is all the more debilitating when the leader in question is as popular and powerful as Sharon.
There will come a proper time to inquire into the reports we received about Sharon's health in the three weeks that passed since the premier suffered his initial stroke. Those questions will no doubt focus on statements by his spin doctors attesting to his good health and on the media's refusal to ask hard questions about Sharon's ability to continue in office after that first stroke. But now, as we enter the post-Sharon era, those questions are beside the point. The task that now besets our political leadership and the Israeli people as a whole is to focus on the country's present challenges -- for they suffer no delay.
Without a doubt, the greatest challenge facing the State of Israel today is Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Until Wednesday night, the rumor-mill running between Jerusalem, Washington and the capital cities of Europe was full of reports that Sharon planned to order an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear installations just before our general elections at the end of March. There was nothing new in these rumors. Similar ones have been making the rounds for over a year now. In autumn 2004 for instance, it was whispered that Sharon would order such an attack on the day of the US presidential elections in November 2004. This past spring it was claimed that Sharon would give the order during the IDF's withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria. And now, for the past two months or so, rumors have circulated that Sharon was planning a strike to destroy Iran's nuclear installations just ahead of the elections on March 28.
There can be no room for doubt. The need to conduct a military strike against Iran's nuclear program increases with each passing day. The threat that Iran's nuclear weapons program constitutes for Israel is the most egregious example since the Holocaust of what happens when states and societies where anti-Semitism is of a genocidal nature are allowed to acquire the means to attack the Jews.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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