Former Mossad Chief Expects Palestinians to Test New Israeli Leader -- 01/06/2006

Former Mossad Chief Expects Palestinians to Test New Israeli Leader
By Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief
January 06, 2006

Jerusalem ( - The Palestinians may try to test a new Israeli leadership by increasing terrorism, said the former head of Israel's Mossad (secret service).

"It is possible that some warped minds on the Palestinian side might be tempted to test the mettle of a new Israeli leadership," Ephraim HaLevy said in a telephone interview.

It would be a "grievous mistake" on their part, he said, because Israel would be "hard pressed" not to respond.

Israel's capabilities go beyond one man [Sharon]," said HaLevy. "We have a very strong defense and security structure in Israel," he noted. HaLevy is the former head of Mossad, former head of Israel's National Security Council, and a former security adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

With Sharon's grave condition deteriorating after a massive stroke, his authority has been transferred to his deputy, Ehud Olmert, who is now assumed the duties of acting prime minister.

Sharon was rushed back into surgery on Friday because of more bleeding in the brain, and he is not expected to recover his faculties, assuming he even lives through the surgery.

Before Sharon's collapse, Israel was already scheduled to hold general elections on March 28, but it's not clear who will succeed Sharon.

HaLevy noted that Sharon ordered Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip over the summer, giving Palestinians the opportunity to take the next step and show that they are serious about the peace process.

But it didn't happen, he said. The Palestinians are in disarray, the central authority is weak, lawlessness and infighting are rising, and there are daily Kassam rocket launchings into Israel, he said.

"No sovereign country can accept this. Now with Mr. Sharon no longer active, the question is even more acute," he said.

After Sharon

Most Israelis believe it will be very difficult for any leader to take Sharon's place. Sharon has served his country for decades, in the military and then in politics.

With the exception of former Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, who is not as well-liked as Sharon, Sharon is among the last politicians of the generation that founded the state of Israel.

Finding a new leader is not a legal problem but a "huge personality problem," said retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto.

"With the kind of renown that Sharon created for himself [in both the Arab and Jewish world] it will be very hard to step into his shoes," said Tsiddon-Chatto in a telephone interview. While Olmert has not yet been tested, Tsiddon-Chatto said he lacks Sharon's forceful personality.

Historically speaking, Sharon was right to withdraw Israel from Gaza, Tsiddon-Chatto believes. He also said Israel has made a number of "geo-political" errors since 1967 -- but Sharon "could bridge those mistakes...and do something about it," he said. "Other people will find it very difficult."

Tsiddon-Chatto said at the moment, he does not see anyone with the necessary "leadership, aggressiveness, assertiveness, or experience" to be able to do what Sharon could do. Nevertheless, he believes a new leader will emerge because events demand it.

A longtime friend of Sharon, Uri Dan, said his departure from the world stage would "create an unprecedented leadership-security vacuum."

"His loss is a veritable natural disaster, a leadership-security catastrophe of colossal proportions," Dan wrote in Friday's Jerusalem Post.

Dan predicted that Israel's Arab enemies would interpret Sharon's collapse as a sign that Israel was weakening, which would be an "invitation to step up hostilities."

Palestinian Authority leaders expressed their condolences over Sharon's demise but some Palestinian terror leaders said they considered it a gift from God.

Not surprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad, who recently said Israel should be wiped off the map, said he hopes Sharon dies.

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