I've just tonight finished up with a 2-day academic conference at Bar-Ilan University, and left the hotel just 2 hours ago to return to my friend's house in a north-Tel Aviv suburb. I turned on the TV here at my friend's house to relax and watch a European Texas No Limit championship broadcast, when I saw the news bulletin that Sharon was again being rushed to the hospital. This time (we're now here about 90 minutes into the public announcement of this new health crisis), Israeli TV is reporting a significant stroke and serious complications, and governmental responsibilities have been handed over to Vice Premier Ehud Olmert (I explained in a previous post Olmert's importance from here on out). Israel channel One is reporting that Sharon is "fighting for his life." This 2nd stroke in 3 weeks, on the eve of Sharon's scheduled bypass operation, is obviously very serious, and throws many political plans into disarray. Newly crowned Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered all the lingering Likud ministers to resign by Sunday in preparation for the campaign (now 82 days off), but early speculation now has those resignations on possible hold.
At the academic conference Monday we were all subjected to a 20-minute campaign speech by Likud-diehard and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (who reluctantly accepted Netanyahu's demand that he resign by Sunday). In an ironic twist, Shalom spoke of the political "instability" of many neighboring Arab countries -- this as headlines reported that very morning that he and 4 other governmental ministers were being cajoled into resigning for political considerations, thus creating gigantic ministerial vacuums in key Israeli governmental posts. Whether a fragile democracy (Israel) or a military junta (Syria), political instability is a key ingredient in the A-I conflict, and does not bode well for either side. Especially tonight.
I plan to stay up an extra hour or so tonight beyond my usual bedtime (I'm exhausted from the conference) because I've got a bad feeling about all of this. I've been in Israel before for the sudden and unexpected death of a ruling Prime Minister (I was present at the rally in Tel Aviv 10 years ago when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated), and it is something I do not want to see repeated. Keep your fingers crossed....but as of 0030 Israel time, it does not look good.
Update at 0940, Jan. 5:
Sharon has now emerged from a 7-1/2 hour surgical procedure and is now in critical post-op care. The Israeli Stock Exchange opened this morning with a nearly 8% drop, the point at which some automatic brakes are placed on trading. It is clear that the Sharon era is over. It is as if the country was given a 2-1/2 week warning in order to prepare for this scenario, and no one paid attention to the signs. For the moment, all political machinations are on hold, and Olmert held a quick meeting of the government at 9 am. Emerging from the early moments as new possible leaders of Kadima (if it holds together) are of course Ulmert, and then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and finally Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Update at 1600, Jan. 5:
Everyone asks each other on the street about Sharon's condition, but everyone continues to conduct normal business. This is a day for psychologically letting go of this historic elder leader, for it is now widely believed that Sharon has ceased to be a force in Israeli politics. As one young man said on a Tel Aviv talk radio station: "It is somewhat like the day after Rabin's assassination -- once again we had found a leader who might have brought us peace, and then he is gone -- I feel so bad, but that is the way life goes, it seems." Israelis had convinced themselves that only Papa Arik would be able to bring the long-sought after peace, but now they feel bereft and leaderless, and the sense that there was out there some magical solution in Sharon's little black book -- itself a preposterous fiction -- has now given way to a dreary future .