Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University





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Ariel Sharon's doctors have said he is unlikely to recover sufficiently from a massive haemorrhagic stroke to be able to resume office as Prime Minister

The Fall of a Giant
The wave of shock and sadness that swept over Israel on the news that a massive stroke has incapacitated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon --apparently permanently -- is understandable: It was to the aging warhorse that the Jewish State had often turned for security in its hours of greatest need, relying on his courage and skill as a tank commander to turn the tide of the October 1973 war against Egypt and Syria, and electing him prime minister in 2000 to put down the Palestinian intifada. His resurrection as a political contender had seemed improbable after an official Israeli inquiry found him "indirectly responsible" for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by falangist militiamen in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982, and he had been forced to resign as defense minister. When he was elected Prime Minister in 2000, the event seemed almost accidental, a product of the combined errors of Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. Where many of his detractors had expected only harsh tactics from Sharon, the former general instead proved to be a master strategist -- his withdrawal from Gaza earlier this year signaled a victory not only over recalcitrant right wingers from his own party, but also in burying the Oslo Peace process and winning unprecedented U.S. support for the principle of Israel acting unilaterally. He rejected the Oslo idea outright, and paid lip-service to the "roadmap," but insisted there was "no Palestinian partner" and instead, via the Gaza withdrawal and the West Bank security wall, sought to unilaterally "disengage" from the Palestinians along boundaries of his own choosing. And at the moment of his collapse, he had looked set to break the mold of Israeli politics, having created a new party, Kadima, in his own image, that had looked set to trounce both Labor and Likud in the March 28 election.

But it is the to his passing from the political stage that reveals more of the qualities that made Sharon unique among Israeli leaders. As much as they loathed Sharon, many Palestinian leaders and analysts clearly respected him as a man of action, willing to act decisively in pursuit of his own vision even when that involved taking unpopular decisions at great risk. While extremist elements expressed joy at his passing from the scene, the response from much of the Palestinian political class was fear. That's because no matter who succeeds him, it is unlikely that any Israeli leader in the near future will muster Sharon's ability to take bold steps. (Haaretz, January 5, 2006)

  • Veteran Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea assesses Sharon's legacy and the vacuum he leaves, writing that his self-confidence, composure and courage put him in the rank of historic actors as Israel's founder, David Ben-Gurion. (YNet, January 5, 2006)
  • Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz offers a thoughtful assessment of the secret of Sharon's political success, noting that he cast himself as the answer to the desires and fears of Israeli voters: "He had a vast middle ground of confused Israelis wanting to believe that he knew what he was doing - that he, and only he, could steer the country to security and tranquility," writes Horovitz. "He achieved this following despite never fully detailing the course he was pursuing; indeed, that very vagueness was one of the secrets of his popularity. Trust me, the implicit message ran. Keep me in power, and everything will be all right." (Jerusalem Post, January 5, 2006)
  • Graham Usher, in a piece published days before Sharon's stroke, details the extent of Sharon's victory over the Palestinian national movement, rolling back not only the Oslo Accord but even the very expectation from the U.S. that Israel is required to negotiate with the Palestinians at all. (Al Ahram, December 27, 2005 -January 4, 2006)
  • The political analysts of Haaretz offer a range of views on how Sharon's demise will affect the forthcoming election. They see a poll whose outcome had once been a relative certainty -- a resounding victory for Sharon's new party -- suddenly thrown wide open. (Haaretz, January 5, 2006)
  • Chris McGreal sees Sharon's departure leaving Israeli voters no clear choice. They supported Sharon because he made clear that he had no intention of negotiating with the Palestinians despite paying lip service to the idea, but they are unlikely to be convinced by any of the potential successors from within his own party. Likud likely leader, Bibi Netanyahu, remains implacably hostile to a Palestinian state and to Sharon's Gaza withdrawal. And Labor's Amir Peretz wants to negotiate a final agreement along Oslo lines, which many Israelis remain wary of. (The Guardian, January 5, 2006)
  • Palestinian-American commentator Ray Hanania sees an ironic symmetry between Israel without Sharon and the Palestinians without Arafat . "Israelis may find themselves in the same situation as Palestinian’s after Arafat’s death," he writes. "It is possible that no other Israeli successor will enjoy the same power or popularity that Sharon enjoyed, and that may empower his foes to block further withdrawals." (Ynet, January 5, 2006)
  • Palestinians in Disarray
    Even before Ariel Sharon's demise, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas had found himself in an increasingly untenable position. Violent chaos was mounting both in the West Bank and Gaza as Palestinian militiamen staked their claims to authority creating an increasingly treacherous environment for the January 25 legislative election. The situation highlighted the limits of Abbas's political authority, but that looked set to deteriorate even further as a result of the election: Hamas has swept recent West Bank municipal election, and many analysts believed it could carry a plurality of the Palestinian vote in protest against the corruption of the ruling Fatah party. Even within the party, Abbas has been forced to cede a considerable amount of the political spoils to a younger, more militant generation that has challenged his own for primacy. Abbas has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks from the Fatah old guard to postpone the election, using as a pretext the chaos and the Israeli threat to prevent Jerusalem residents from voting. But forces as diverse as Hamas and the U.S. government are insisting he proceed with the poll. If the Palestinians fear that the changes in Israel will create paralysis in any moves towards peace, the looming election highlights the same problem on the Palestinian side. (The Daily Star, January 5, 2006)

  • Robert Blecher offers a detailed exposition of the contending factions and possible outcomes of January's vote, and warns that it may presage a fundamental reimagining of the Palestinian national movement. (MERIP, January 1, 2006)
  • Palestinian editor and Hamas candidate Ghazi Hamad argues that holding the election is an essential step towards achieving a new Palestinian consensus, and that cleaning the Palestinian political house will have a positive impact on Israel's forthcoming elections. (Daily Star, January 5, 2006)
  • One piece of hopeful news for the long-suffering residents of Gaza: Turkey has initiated a plan to invest in revitalizing Gaza's industrial zone, and hopes the move will eventually create 100,000 jobs. (Daily Star, January 5, 2006)
  • Iraq: The Endgame Begins
    The talk from the Bush administration and its British ally on the situation in Iraq has become relentlessly positive, even amid a new round of vicious bloodletting and mounting sectarian tension that may have been exacerbated in the recent elections. The upbeat assessments may be designed to prepare the public of a substantial withdrawal of coalition forces -- a declaration of victory based on an understanding that things in Iraq right now may be as good as they're going to get. (The Bush administration has already declared an end to its own financial investment in Iraq's reconstruction by seeking no new funding for that purpose from Congress.) Veteran British correspondent Simon Jenkins noted this trend in Tony Blair's Christmas visit to British troops at Basra "to tell them how much things were improving." Blair told troops the security situation was “completely changed” from a year ago, Jenkins writes. "What he meant was unclear. It was as if Gladstone had visited Gordon during the siege of Khartoum. Did it not seem strange to Blair that he could not move outside his walled fortress, could not drive anywhere or talk to any Iraqis? Did he wonder why British troops have withdrawn from two anarchic provinces? Was he really told that security is transformed for the better? If so he is horribly deceived."

    Whle the Coalition presence is essential for the negotiation of a compact that can hold Iraq together, it also impedes the emergence of an independent Iraqi government. And even U.S. commanders on the ground fear that the newly minted security forces may become sectarian militias. Still, he argues, a move to withdrawal may be for the best: "The next stage in Iraq is no longer within the capacity of America or Britain to determine," writes Jenkins. "All they can do is postpone it. The country is about to acquire its third government in as many years. Left to its own devices this government might just find enough authority to hold its country together. Imprisoned in its green zone castle as a puppet of the Pentagon, it will certainly not. That is why withdrawal needs a date, and an early one." (The Sunday Times, January 3, 2006)

  • Jill Carroll and Dan Murphy write that the planned withdrawals and reconstruction funding cuts, together with the recent election results, will sharply accelerate the erosion of the Washington's ability to influence events in Iraq. (Christian Science Monitor, January 5, 2006)
  • General John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the region, has made clear that the U.S. plans to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to local forces. At the same time, President Bush has indicated that the role of U.S. forces in Iraq is to change substantially to one of supporting local forces, and that this will allow a significant draw-down. (LA Times, January 5, 2006)
  • An early indication of the nature of the changing U.S. military role comes in the form of a five-fold increase in the monthly total number of air strikes by U.S. planes in November and December. But reports of civilian casualties highlight the danger of using air power against insurgents in urban areas. (The Times, January 5, 2006)
  • Former Democratic presidential contender Senator Gary Hart points out that the Bush administration has consistently evaded calls to declare that it seeks no permanent military bases in Iraq, and warns that this creates a dangerous mistrust of U.S. intentions among important Iraqi constituencies. (The Financial Times via Huffington Post, January 5, 2006)
  • Iraq's Finance Minister Ali Allawi offers a fascinating look at the economic policy of the U.S. occupation authority in the first months following Saddam's overthrow, arguing that it failed because it was based on a crude free-market dogma and required "shock therapy" that would have been politically suicidal. Now, he says, there's a great danger that once the U.S. withdraws from the reconstruction process, the problems of corruption and cronyism will intensify. (Foreign Policy, January, 2006)

  • Improvised Explosive Device, as described by Globalsecurity.org

    Dealing with Iraq's IEDs
    The insurgent weapon that has claimed the most American lives in Iraq is also one of the simplest: The Improvised Explosive Device or IED. Recognizing that these homemade charges assembled from a variety of easily accessible munitions poses a grave threat to U.S. forces not only in the current war in Iraq, but as insurgents share knowledge across borders it will likely become the norm in anti-American insurgencies elsewhere, the U.S. military has called for the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to counter the danger. But, says Center for Defense Information researcher Hannah Levine, that may be the wrong approach. The IED threat is always evolving as insurgents adapt their technology to U.S. responses, she notes. The only effective counter must be similarly adaptive. The analogy, she suggests, is combatting a mutating flu virus. If vaccine programs are based on an earlier version of the virus, they are ineffective. (Center for Defense Information, January 4, 2006)

    A cemetery at Asmara for Eritrean victims of the last border war with Ethiopia

    Ethiopia, Nepal and Sri Lanka to ICG's Conflict Watch List
    As a troubled world entered 2006, the International Crisis Group identified the insurgencies in Sri Lanka's Tamil areas and in Nepal, as well as the potential for a new border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea as the most dangerous looming conflicts. In the latest edition of its extremely useful "Crisis Watch" summary, it described 11 conflict situations as having deteriorated over the past month, including the usual suspects in the Middle East, Bangladesh which has recently become an al-Qaeda target, Chad, China, Colombia, North Korea, Pakistan and Peru. The group did, however, have some good news to report: "The Democratic Republic of Congo held its first democratic vote in four decades as an overwhelming majority of the population approved a draft constitution. In Afghanistan, the first elected parliament in 30 years was inaugurated by President Karzai. Bolivia saw the election of its first indigenous head of state in a free and fair poll. And in Côte d’Ivoire, after months of political deadlock, all parties accepted Charles Konan Banny as interim prime minister." (International Crisis Group, January 4, 2006)

    Artist's rendering of a hypothetical 'bullet hitting a bullet' scenario

    It Doesn't Work, But That's No Reason Not to Deploy It: Missile Defense Update
    The Pentagon's multibillion dollar missile defense program is in full swing, with the tenth interceptor missile having been deployed in California last month. Soon, the U.S. will begin seeking a European host for parts of the system, currently confined to California and Alaska. One small problem, writes Victoria Sampson, is that so far, the system has failed to prove itself viable. "The interceptors fielded in Alaska and California are part of a weapons system that suffered two flight test failures within three months. In December 2004 and February 2005, the interceptor rockets not only failed to intercept their test targets -- they could not even leave the launch pad. The United States has been launching rockets for decades now; while missile defense requires an accuracy that has been likened to 'hitting a bullet with a bullet,' rocket launches should be well within our capabilities.

    "Following these recent setbacks, MDA officials took a hard look at their testing program and scaled things down. On Dec. 13, 2005, a test of the interceptor rocket was held, and finally it managed to get off the ground. No target was used; nor will a live target be incorporated in the tests for some time.

    "Yet somehow, the Pentagon argues with a straight face that this system can provide a 'limited' defense for the United States against missile attack. It is theoretically possible that it may do so in the future, but missile defense, as it stands today, tomorrow, and really, for the next few years, does nothing more than divert funding and resources from programs that actually do work. Still, it continues to grow." (Center for Defense Information, January 4, 2006)

    U.S. Central Command's website and Newsletter
    Updating Info on Iraq, Afghanistan. the Middle East and the Horn of Africa