Underlining differences of strategy between his old boss and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon’s former bureau chief Dov Weissglass said Saturday night that Sharon did not believe Israel should lead the struggle to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons drive, and stressed that Sharon did his utmost to elevate Israeli-American relations.
In a conference call for The Israel Project a few hours after Israel’s eleventh prime minister passed away on Saturday, Weissglass said Sharon and president George W. Bush established a relationship of deep trust and open affection. The strength of that bond between the two leaders and their administrations, he said, helped ensure firm backing from the US for Sharon’s battle against Palestinian terrorism in the Second Intifada.
The partnership also yielded two “significant political accomplishments” for Israel, Weissglass added — citing what he said was written support from the US president for Israel’s retention of major settlement blocs under a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians, and for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state “rather than in Israel.”
Weissglass’s description of the warm Sharon-Bush relationship contrasted sharply with the strains in ties between the administrations of Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, which have been openly at odds over Israeli settlement expansion and over strategies for thwarting Iran. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has repeatedly slammed the interim accord on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, negotiated by the US and other world powers in Geneva in late November, as a historic mistake.
Weissglass would not be drawn on how Sharon would have been handling peace efforts with the Palestinians, or whether he would have ready to withdraw from the West Bank if he were prime minister today, saying he didn’t want to speculate on what Sharon might have done.
He did highlight Israel’s current regional strength, however, saying that, as a consequence of the Arab spring and current instabilities in neighboring states, “no single Arab state jeopardizes the existence of the state of Israel.”
On Iran, he specified that Sharon saw the nuclear threat as “an international problem, for the international community to deal with.” Sharon viewed a nuclear Iran as a threat “not just to the Middle East but even to Europe,” Weissglass said. He said Sharon believed Israel “should play a part” in the effort to stop Iran, “but not … a leading role.”