Sharon's contribution

Posted: Apr 15, 2002 12:00 AM
My vote is that Ariel Sharon's offensive is the stupidest campaign in recent memory. Defined here as a campaign that has solved nothing, increased Israel's problems, intensified Palestinian hatred of Israel, estranged many Europeans and Americans, and fanned Islamic hostility. What is General Sharon up to?

What he said was that he was determined to destroy the "infrastructure" of the suicide terrorists.

Well, how do you do that?

We Americans are trying to do that to al-Qaida. This involved a war on the government of Afghanistan, a nation formally identified with terrorists it sheltered, trained and dispatched to do their grisly work. The United States, in effect, declared war on the Taliban government and pursued that war as best it could. Having toppled Kabul, our anti-terrorist forces are now deployed here and there, doing such things as raiding a terrorist nest in Pakistan and hauling in a suspect leader.

Sharon's policy is scorched-earth. Under his command, the Israeli army has engaged not in isolating the infrastructure of the suicide terrorists. What he is engaged in is wanton damage. The New York Times' Serge Schmemann, reporting from Jerusalem, tells it in a dispatch on Thursday with a memorable lead:

"The images are indelible: piles of concrete and twisted metal in the ancient casbah of Nablus, husks of savaged computers littering ministries in Ramallah, rows of storefronts sheared by passing tanks in Tulkarm, broken pipes gushing precious water, flattened cars in fields of shattered glass and garbage, electricity poles snapped like twigs, tilting walls where homes used to stand, gaping holes where rockets pierced office buildings." And he uses Sharon's missionary mandate without apparent irony: "It is safe to say that the infrastructure of life itself and of any future Palestinian state -- roads, schools, electricity pylons, water pipes, telephone lines -- has been devastated."

How's that for retaliation for the Passover massacre?

What Sharon has been doing is to give way to Israeli rage. The rage is hot, deserved and purposive. But to proceed on the assumption that water and electricity lines and schools and hospitals are vital organs of terrorist excursions is untenable except on an understanding that General Sharon hasn't articulated. If you say: The poison that animates the suicide bombers is endemic in every stick and stone that make up the West Bank, then it would follow that a destruction of everything and of everybody standing would follow, as an inoculation would serve to chase down the infection in any part of the diseased body. Sharon hasn't ordered his soldiers to mow down every Palestinian standing, but his artillery and air force haven't been discriminating.

There is no way to be entirely discriminating in a military offensive designed to find something that can't be found, namely the fuse box that causes an 18-year-old Palestinian girl to arm herself with a bomb and detonate it in an Israeli mall. There aren't, sitting about, neat paramilitary kiosks with explosives and rosters of willing terrorists. The search for these was bound to be fruitless, rather like looking for the infrastructure of lechery in Gomorrah.

General Sharon might have sent in a platoon, pulled out Arafat and his 100 lieutenants and executed them on the entirely reasonable grounds that they embodied the terrorist movement in the West Bank. A bullet into the heart of Arafat is not a wayward contribution to the search for the infrastructure of the evil and genocidal war against Israel. So Palestine would be left leaderless? Such a problem would be that of the Palestinians who have tolerated Arafat for so many years.

What has been done is to enhance and even legitimize Palestinian grievances. "After four days of heavy fighting," the Times dispatch goes on, "the Casbah, as the centuries-old warren of shops and homes at the center of this city (Nablus) is known, has been utterly destroyed."

How would we feel in analogous circumstances? What happened to Atlanta in 1864 at the hands of Gen. Sherman was perceived through the lens of a great civil war, a surrender of the losing side, and the heart and mind of a magnanimous national leader who sought to heal the wounds of a nation torn asunder. Such elements aren't there in the Mideast. Sharon has wounded the state of Israel incalculably, causing ache and pain not only to Palestinians, but to his people, and to friends of Israel everywhere.