In the end Sharon set up a new party called Shlomtzion ("Peace of Zion"), which was a dismal failure on election day. The next day, he rejoined the Likud.
The Likud had won the elections and Begin became Prime Minister. If Sharon had hoped to be appointed Minister of Defense, he was soon disabused. Begin did not trust him. Sharon looked like a general who might organize a coup. The powerful new Finance Minister said that if Sharon became commander-in-chief, he would "send his tanks to surround the Knesset."
(There was a joke making the rounds at the time: Defense Minister Sharon would call for a meeting of the General Staff and announce: "Comrades, tomorrow morning at 06.00 we take over the government!" For a moment the audience was dumfounded, and then it broke out into riotous laughter.)
However, when Begin's preferred Defense Minister, the former Air Force chief Ezer Weizman, resigned, Begin was compelled to appoint Sharon as his successor. For the second time I chose Sharon as Haolam Hazeh's Man of the Year. He took this very seriously and sat with me for many hours, in several meetings at his home and office, in order to explain his ideas.
One of them, which he expounded at the same time to the US strategic planners, was to conquer Iran. When Ayatollah Khomeini dies, he said, there will begin a race between the Soviet Union and the US to determine who will arrive first on the scene and take over. The US is far away, but Israel can do the job. With the help of heavy arms that the US will store in Israel well before, our army will be in full possession before the Soviets move. He showed me the detailed maps of the advance, hour by hour and day by day.
This was typical Sharon, His vision was wide and all-embracing. His listener was left breathless, comparing him to the ordinary little politicians, devoid of vision and breadth. But his ideas were generally based on abysmal ignorance of the other side, and therefore came to naught.
AT THE same time, nine months before the Lebanon War, he disclosed to me his Grand Plan for a new Middle East of his making. He allowed me to publish it, provided I did not mention him as the source. He trusted me.
Basically it was the same as the one he wanted to propose to Arafat.
The army would invade Lebanon and drive the Palestinians from there to Syria, from whence the Syrians would drive them into Jordan. There the Palestinians would overthrow the king and establish the State of Palestine.
The army would also drive the Syrians out of Lebanon. In Lebanon Sharon would choose a Christian officer and install him as dictator. Lebanon would make official peace with Israel and in effect become a vassal state.
I duly published all this, and nine months later Sharon invaded Lebanon, after lying to Begin and the cabinet about his aims. But the war was a catastrophe, both militarily and politically.
Militarily it was a demonstration of "the Peter principle" -- the brilliant battle commander was a miserable strategist. No unit of the Israeli army reached its objective on time, if at all. The Israeli-installed dictator, Bachir Gemayel, was assassinated. His brother and successor signed a peace treaty with Israel, which has been completely forgotten by now. The Syrians remained in Lebanon for many years to come. The Israeli army extricated itself after a guerrilla war that lasted 18 full years, during which the despised and downtrodden Shiites in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon became the dominant political force in the country.
And, worst of all, in order to induce the Palestinians to flee, Sharon let the barbarous Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, where they committed a terrible massacre. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, and Sharon was dismissed from the defense ministry.
At the height of the Battle of Beirut I crossed the lines and met with Yasser Arafat, who had become Sharon's Nemesis. Since then, Sharon and I did not exchange a single word, not even greeting each other.
IT LOOKED like the end of Sharon's career. But for Sharon, every end was a new beginning.
One of his media vassals, Uri Dan (who had started his career in Haolam Hazeh) once coined a prophetic phrase: "Those who don't want him as Chief of Staff, will get him as Minister of Defense. Those who don't want him as Minister of Defense, will get him as Prime Minister." Today one could add: "Those who did not want him as Prime Minister, are getting him as a national icon."