Egyptian Chief of Staff remembers

Exclusive: Says he hopes Ariel Sharon, his former enemy, will live.

halabi 298 (photo credit: )
halabi 298
(photo credit: )
In 1973 as a young colonel, Salah Halabi fought kilometers from the Israeli major general who had the gumption to take his troops across the Suez Canal in a daring military operation. Thirty-two years later, as his former nemesis, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, lay in critical condition in a hospital bed in Jerusalem, Halabi told The Jerusalem Post that he hoped the man whom he and his men tried to kill in war would now live. "I hope that he will return to the leadership of the state and make peace," said Halabi in a phone conversation from his home in Cairo. Remembering back to those critical days of war in October 1973, Halabi said Sharon's reputation preceded his arrival. "When we heard he had crossed the Suez [not far from where Halabi's troops were] we knew who he was," said Halabi. "He was a known high ranking army leader and we had full details about him. We knew the name of Sharon." Although Halabi insisted that were it not for a UN cease-fire, he and his fellow commanders would have "completely destroyed" Sharon's invading forces, Halabi gave Sharon high marks for the daring operation Sharon made across the canal against the orders of then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. "Sharon was a good military leader. We cannot deny this," said Halabi. He chuckled then added: "But he wasn't very disciplined." Halabi's own leadership prowess earned him the highest rank. Some twenty years after that war he became the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. War on Israel, said Halabi, "was not a goal. It was a means. When the political track failed after 1967 and there was no way to get peace, we returned to war." Halabi's impression of Sharon changed recently. "I saw that he recently began to understand the international and local political situation properly - especially regarding resolving the Palestinian issue," said Halabi, who commanded the Egyptian Forces who freed Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation. "He began to bring the political right to the center and not leave it as an extreme right." Like many Arabs, Halabi praised Sharon's leadership qualities. "He is a very strong man. And Israel always needs strong leaders to make difficult decisions. Like Begin and Rabin. One who can take difficult decisions to make peace. Halabi wants Sharon to live. "He was my enemy during the time of war. Now he is an agent for establishing peace. He is now needed to create peace in the region. Our best wishes for Mr. Sharon. May he be well." At the end of the conversation, Halabi expressed surprise to discover the journalist was calling from Jerusalem. "May I say one more thing?" he asked. "I wish for the Israeli people that you choose the strong leader who will make peace with the Palestinians so that you can live with them side by side."