Court rules Sharon misled Begin in 1982

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JERUSALEM — An Israeli court has ruled that Ariel Sharon, defense minister during the 1982 war in Lebanon, misled Prime Minister Menachem Begin regarding the extent of the military operation that he planned to implement.

With its ruling Tuesday, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected a libel suit filed by Sharon against the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz.

Sharon, now Israel's national infrastructure minister, sued the newspaper over a 1991 article maintaining that Begin had been deceived by Sharon regarding the wider objectives of the first incursion by Israeli troops into Lebanon.

"The evidence brought before me substantiated the arguments of journalist Uzi Benziman that Sharon was not honest with the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and exploited his trust in him," Judge Moshe Talgam wrote in his decision.

"Benziman has proven that Begin and the government did not approve a full-scale war, but a limited operation.

"Approval for wider military actions was given later, when they were presented as essential for security needs."

The judge said that Sharon had planned in advance for a large-scale operation, "though it was never approved by the government."

Talgam said he was aware of the sensitive issue at hand.

"I do not want to rule on a historical period. I am aware that Sharon views himself as the target of libel and his opponents view him as a possible future leader and a real danger."

The court ordered Sharon to pay some $10,000 in legal expenses.

Sharon's attorney, Dov Weisglass, said he would appeal the verdict.

"We disagree with every bit of the ruling," said Weisglass. "No evidence was brought before the court that Begin knew Sharon deceived him."

Benziman said in light of the decision, Sharon should relinquish all political responsibilities. "The grave significance of this is that Sharon, in 1982, misled a prime minister.

"In the Lebanon war, Sharon implemented a pre-planned operation without the prime minister intending to do so," Benziman said. "As a citizen, I wonder why Sharon continues to be active in state affairs."