Netanyahu surrounded by hawks Cabinet: The names and faces are familiar from the most turbulent chapters of recent history. Political need makes it likely that the new prime minister will appoint hard-liners.

June 02, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- If liberal Israelis had bad dreams about the rightward turn that Benjamin Netanyahu has promised for Israel's peace policies, they will find a nightmare in likely members of his Cabinet.

Netanyahu, who defeated Shimon Peres in elections last week for prime minister, is almost certain to include in his inner circle of ministers faces familiar from the most turbulent chapters of the country's history.

Figures such as Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and David Levy are well known to Israelis and to American policy-makers, who squirmed at their actions during previous Israeli governments led by Netanyhau's Likud bloc.

Netanyahu, 46, is of a new generation of Likud leaders. But some of those who will surround him are battle-scarred warriors still intent on their personal goals or their dreams of carving out a greater Israel.

"Netanyahu will be the most dovish factor in his coalition," said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University.

"Anyone who had any illusions that the results of these elections wouldn't mean we are going backward will be disappointed as soon as the government is presented."

The premier-elect, whose razor-thin victory was confirmed Friday after two days of counting votes, has 45 days to name the members of his Cabinet and to win a vote of confidence from the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

He will take office after the parliament vote.

To win the Knesset's approval, Netanyahu must form a coalition of parties, and each of the parties will dictate some of his Cabinet choices. Backed by their own constituencies, some of these individuals have significant power of their own -- and have the reputation of being wild cards.

No one embodies that image more than Ariel Sharon, whose stature within the Likud virtually guarantees him a ministerial appointment.

Sharon's background embraces some of the darkest chapters of Israel's history. As defense minister, he was responsible for aggressively expanding Israel's 1982 war against Lebanon, widely seen here as a debacle. A government commission found him indirectly responsible for the 1983 massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut.

His hallmark is attack. In 1953 he blew up houses and a school in a Jordanian village, killing 69 Arabs. In 1956 his own officers demanded his resignation for unnecessary aggressiveness. In 1967 he was accused of using brutal force in Gaza. In 1973 he ignored orders and crossed the Suez Canal.

Ignoring orders has been another Sharon trait; he has often boasted about how often he has done so. After the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, he became housing minister and set about to build thousands of homes for Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza.

'A constant underminer'

When he left the Housing Ministry in 1992, the state comptroller found corruption, sloppy planning and spending that was totally oblivious of the government budget.

"He is a constant underminer who cares only about furthering his personal ambitions," Netanyahu said of Sharon in May 1994. "He refuses to accept democratic institutions."

"In most normal countries, he would have been sacked and subject to a thorough police investigation," said Hirsh Goodman, editor of the Jerusalem Report, in 1992. "If he were in Japan, Sharon would have thrown himself on his sword."

Throughout the scandals, Sharon, 68, has remained bluff and unapologetic. He has continued to write occasional newspaper columns demanding that Israel get tough on Arabs.

"Many Arabs are afraid of what will happen under Netanyahu," Mohammed Amara, a lecturer at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, said last week after Netanyahu's victory. "And they have good reason to fear with people like Sharon and Raful."

Rafael "Raful" Eitan is also slated to get a top post in the Netanyahu Cabinet, as a political payoff for dropping his own bid for prime minister and bringing his right-wing Tsomet Party into the Likud.

Eitan, 67, was army chief of staff when Sharon was defense minister and along with Sharon was named by a government commission as indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres.

Eitan's attitude about Arabs was summed up when he called them "drugged cockroaches in a bottle."

Eitan has clashed bitterly with most of his political allies, who describe him as high-handed and dictatorial.

The Israeli public is normally unconcerned with their leaders' high jinks in personal life. But they took notice when Eitan's wife divorced him for carrying on publicly with a mistress, and Eitan built a house for his mistress near his former wife's home.

A temperamental pouter

David Levy also, reluctantly, joined Netanyahu's ticket in return for the promise of a top ministerial post, probably as foreign minister. Levy, 58, filled that job in the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir from 1990 to 1992.

Levy was seen as a moderating influence in Shamir's government. But he felt he deserved to be prime minister and occasionally pouted in public in a display of his unhappiness.

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