Former prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon was buried today.
In Commentary Magazine, I offered my thoughts about the passing of a man I worked with closely during his years as prime minister, and some of the words President Bush had planned to say when attending Sharon’s funeral--in 2006. We had all expected that Sharon’s stroke in January 2006 would lead quickly to his death, and President Bush intended to attend the funeral.
In 2003, Bush sent Steve Hadley and me to see Sharon and listen to him: not to pressure him, or tell him what we wanted, but to see what he thought, feared, predicted, desired. We had a long conversation that day in his residence. Here’s some of what he said:
I took risks personally but never took any risks with the security of the State of Israel. I appreciate Arab promises but will take seriously only tangible performance. For tangible performance I will take tangible steps. Israel is a tiny small country. From the Jordan River to Jerusalem is only 17.5 miles. Before 1967, the Knesset was in range of machine guns south of Jerusalem. From the Green Line to Tel Aviv is 11 miles. From the sea at Netanya to Tulkarm is 9 miles. Two-thirds of the Jewish population lives is a narrow strip on the coastal plain. Between Haifa and Ashdod, which is 80 miles, is two-thirds of the Jewish population, our only international airport, and most of our infrastructure. All of that is overlooked by the hills of Judea and Samaria.
I am a Jew above all and feel the responsibility to the future of the Jewish people on my shoulders. After what happened in the past, I will not let the future of the Jewish people depend on anyone, even our closest friends. Especially when you saw the crowds cheering Saddam who killed even members of his own family and government. With the deepest friendship and appreciation, we do not choose to be the lamb, but not the lion either. I will not sacrifice the nation. I come from a farm family who settled here but I deal with these problems with a cold mind. I met with the Pope, who said this is Terra Sancta to all, but Terra Promisa for the Jews only.
As I say in Commentary, "Sharon left the political scene in his prime, not physically but politically: on top of Israeli politics, a leader whom opponents and rivals feared and whom everyone understood was almost unstoppable. Sharon was born on a moshav in 1928, two decades before the state. The Israel he leaves finally, today, is a tower of strength and stability in a region being torn apart. Many Israelis contributed their lives to that achievement, but very few can match the contribution of Arik Sharon."
The full text is here.