Ehrlich Says He Fears Coup by Sharon if He Was Named Defense Minister

Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich, a leader of the Likud’s Liberal Party wing, has stated his belief that Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon is capable of a coup d’etat and the establishment of a military dictatorship in Israel were he to be named Minister of Defense with full control over the armed forces.

That view was contained in Ehrlich’s reply to a letter from another Liberal Party member questioning why the party is so adamantly opposed to the appointment of Sharon to replace Defense Minister Ezer Weizman who resigned on May 26. The writer cited Sharon’s record as a Yom Kippur War hero. He said that the Likud Hawk–who is the Cabinet’s most outspoken advocate of massive Jewish settlement in the occupied territories and harsh measures against Arabs who create disorders–has demonstrated excellent qualities as a soldier, has a deep in sight into military matters and does not make hasty decisions.

Ehrlich acknowledged Sharon’s soldierly qualities but alleged that the militant Sharon was dangerous to a free society and a democratic regime. If he reaches power, he may dissolve the Knesset, declare a military dictatorship and even set up detention comps for his political rivals, Ehrlich contended.

BEGIN EMBARRASSED BY “JOKE”

He also claimed that Sharon is unprincipled in his political activities. As evidence, Ehrlich said he saw with his “own eyes” an agreement allegedly entered into by Sharon with Moshe Kol, leader of the small Independent Liberal Party before the last Knesset elections in 1977. According to that document, Sharon and Kol agreed that territorial compromise was necessary on the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon also proposed that he would run on a separate ticket with Yossi Sarid, a Labor Party dove on a platform which Sarid would draft, Ehrlich claimed.

He concluded his letter by saying that the entire discussion over Sharon was superfluous because there was no indication that Premier Menachem Begin or anyone else would name Sharon to the defense post.

Begin meanwhile was apparently embarrassed by an off-hand remark he mode to reporters Friday that had Sharon been appointed Defense Minister he would have surrounded the Prime Minister’s Office with tanks. A question to that point was raised in the Knesset. Begin complained last night that Israelis lack a sense of humor. His office issued a statement later that Begin’s remark about Sharon was a “joke” and should have been taken as such.

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