Sharon as Saddam Hussein

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Many in the Arab world portray Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon virtually the same way as the Bush administration portrays Saddam Hussein. The parallels are astounding.

The Bush administration says that Saddam has twice invaded his neighbors -- Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. Well, Israel has invaded its neighbors three times -- Egypt in 1956; Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1967; and Lebanon in 1982.

Saddam claimed he was fully justified in his attacks. Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini had been urging Iraqi Shiites to overthrow Saddam's secular Baath regime as part of the Iranian leader's insidious scheme to export his Islamic revolution. Kuwait had to be stopped from stealing Iraqi oil from a shared oil field on their border.

Similarly, Israel claimed self-defense in its incursions. Its Arab neighbors employed terrorism, used the Palestinians to subvert the Jewish state, and threatened war. Sharon fought in all three wars and actually planned the 1982 advance into a helpless Lebanon.

The motives of Saddam and the Iraqis and Sharon and the Israelis can certainly be called into question. Self-serving interests -- control of waterways and oil for Iraq, and control of land and marginalizing Palestinians for Israel -- lay behind their so-called defensive strikes.

The Bush administration says that Saddam terrorizes and represses people under his control. The Iraqi dictator incarcerates his opponents or assassinates them at will. The Kurds in northern Iraq have been systematically repressed and whole villages have been destroyed. Well, Sharon comes from a long line of prime ministers who have kept Israel's Arab citizens in second class, destroyed Arab villages, bulldozed Palestinian homes, laid siege to their leaders, assassinated their militants, and terrorized ordinary Palestinians.

The Bush administration says that Saddam continues to develop biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, and is seeking to develop nuclear arms. He has at least 20 Scud missiles tucked away, the administration claims, and has promised fierce resistance if attacked. Saddam threatens his neighbors and is too irrational to be deterred or contained.

Sharon, of course, actually has a robust stock of WMD, including an estimated 50 nuclear weapons. He controls the most lethal air force in the region and maintains a large arsenal of both cruise and ballistic missiles. Sharon has made no secret of the fact that Israel will retaliate with "weapons of its own choosing" if attacked.

The Bush administration links Saddam to international terrorism, including a definite connection to al-Qaida. He is also, Bush has said, "a guy who tried to kill my dad."

Israel has been known to hunt down opponents in far-off lands (even Sweden) and kill those on its list of enemies.

Finally, the Bush administration condemns Saddam for violating 16 UN resolutions, thereby flouting the will of the international community.

Well, Israel has flouted even more -- over 25 by one count. Only days ago, a UN Security Council resolution, approved with 14 votes to one abstention (the United States), demanded that Israel end its siege of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound. Sharon continued the siege even after receiving a personal message from Bush urging him to end it.

Is it any wonder that Sharon is Saddam for most of the Arab and Islamic world?

If Bush is willing, even eager, to go to war against "evil man" Saddam, it should surprise no one that many dream of doing the same against Sharon for essentially the same reasons.

There are aphorisms, of course, explaining why some like Sharon and hate Saddam and vice versa:

"Where you stand depends upon where you sit." The United States sits among a strong population devoted to Israel and who have enormous political clout. The Arabs and Palestinians sit next to a hard-line Israel.

"It all depends upon whose ox is being gored." Israel is a U.S. ally that can be counted on to gore Washington's enemies when the chips are down. Israel is goring Palestinians, much to the dismay of Arabs and Muslims.

All this adds up to the United States -- because of Israel -- having one hell of a time trying to convince the world that it has a righteous case for an assault on Saddam.

Nicholas Berry, director of ForeignPolicyForum.com in Washington, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.