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Saturday 11 January 2014

Ariel Sharon: A Bulldozer in War and Peace

Sharon was always consistent in his desire to secure Israel’s borders and was often photographed with a map in hand....

Israel’s indomitable lion Ariel Sharon, a bulldozer in war and peace, died on Saturday, eight years after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma from which he never awoke.

Perhaps the most revered and often reviled of the country’s politicians, perceived alternately as a peacemaker and a warmonger, for decades his actions as a military commander and statesman shaped both Israel’s self-perception and the world’s image of the Jewish nation.

From the time he fought in Latrun as a young soldier to save Jerusalem in 1948 to his orchestration as prime minister of the Gaza pullout in August 2005, Sharon was at the center of the modern nation’s historical moments. And like the country he served for most of his 85 years, his life was marked by controversy, deep loss, harsh defeat and miraculous victory.

Sharon was always consistent in his desire to secure Israel’s borders and was often photographed with a map in hand. During his tenure as the 11th prime minister he was determined to redraw those borders based on his vision of the new strategic and demographic concerns of the 21st century. In this pursuit he was not afraid to tear down his own physical, ideological and political works. His health failed him before the task was finished.

Strikingly, throughout his life, either or by chance or design, much of what Sharon built or cherished was lost, destroyed or tarnished. His ability to sustain loss made him fearless in his public pursuits.

Sharon the soldier had seen his friends die in battle by age 20. The family man buried one son and two wives. The gallant military leader with a white bandage across his wounded forehead played an instrumental role in capturing the Sinai desert, only to return it to Egypt years later as a politician. The spiritual father of the settlement movement, Sharon claimed to know the driver of every crane building homes in the territories. But then, as defense minister, he was charged with the razing of the Yamit settlement in Sinai in 1982 and, as prime minister, he ordered the destruction of the Gaza settlements in 2005.

The leader of the Likud Party he had founded in 1973, Sharon catapulted it in 2003 from 19 to 40 Knesset mandates. But then, in November 2005, he crippled it by bolting to form the centrist Kadima Party, taking a host of prominent politicians from across the spectrum with him.

And as the avuncular elder statesman widely, though by no means universally, perceived to know better than his rivals how to steer Israel forward, he was well on his way to a third term in office when his stroke on January 4, 2006, halted his plans to shepherd the nation into a new dawn.

With his white hair, heavyset build, grandfatherly smile and the reading glasses that occasionally slipped down his nose, his image in his later years as well his conciliatory words belied his reputation as an authoritarian political leader and a brutal military commander.

For all the Israelis he alienated throughout his larger-than-life career, however, he was a man generally well-liked on the most personal levels – friendly, courteous and solicitous.

Sharon never left the spotlight for long after he came to national prominence as the dashing war hero of the 1950s. He was lauded as a master military strategist in the Sixties and Seventies. In the early Eighties as defense minister, he was blamed for the failures and excesses of the Lebanon War as well as the massacre of more than 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp at the hands of Christian Phalangists. As opposition leader in September 2000, his visit to the Temple Mount was used by the Palestinians as a pretext for the second intifada, and he was often a scapegoat for the continued conflict. Five years later, when he was felled by illness, his sudden forced departure from the political stage was perceived as a crisis for peace.

The sabra son of an immigrant Russian farmer who preferred his own counsel to the communal decisions of his neighbors, as prime minister Sharon turned his own similar preference for solo leadership into a diplomatic platform of unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians. It was a move that broke a deadlocked period in the conflict. But Sharon’s seemingly swift turnabout from right-wing leader who coined the famous phrase “the fate of Netzarim was the fate of Tel Aviv” to one who evacuated the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, left his dizzied supporters gasping at the betrayal.

  • Sharon liked to describe himself first and foremost as a Jew and then as a farmer. In addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005 at the pinnacle of his popularity, he said, “My first love was and remains manual labor: sowing and harvesting, the pasture, the flock and the cattle.”

Circumstances intervened, he said, and instead his life’s path led him “to be a fighter and commander in all Israel’s wars.”

Now, he told world leaders, he had a different purpose. He was reaching out to the Palestinians in “reconciliation and compromise to end the bloody conflict and embark on the path which leads to peace. I view this as my calling and my primary mission for the coming years.”

Hard-line right-wingers who had long believed the prime minister was one of their staunchest advocates felt abandoned by his sudden shift to the Center. His opponents argued that Sharon was simply an opportunist, willing to pay any price and betray any ideal in the pursuit of power. Some said his political shift was designed to deflect corruption allegations, others that he had gone soft.

But Sharon himself had long said that he was not married to one specific path or ideology. “There is no advantage to the person who steadfastly maintains the same position over the years just for the sake of consistency," he said, as early as 1977.

In his autobiography, Warrior, he referred to himself as a “pragmatic Zionist,” a man of action rather than words. When he believed Jewish settlements created security, he constructed them. Persuaded that a security barrier was needed, he built that too.

Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the US and a long-time adviser, said Sharon was foremost “a pragmatist.” He belonged to a small group of similar-minded soldiers-turned-statesmen such as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin whose primary consideration was security, rather than ideology, said Shoval. “So you never knew how they would act under certain circumstances.”

Proactive, rather than reactive, in this single-minded pursuit of his goals, Sharon pushed forward with a confident winner-take-all attitude.

Back in 1974, The Jerusalem Post predicted that this style of charging into battle would take him far. “Arik Sharon only knows frontal attacks. That is how he fought the Arabs, that is

how he captured the Likud and that is how he intends to storm and capture the State of Israel,” the Post said.

It was not by chance that in the 1970s, solders in his unit were already chanting, “Arik, king of Israel.”

His longtime friend, journalist Uri Dan, said Sharon loved challenges: “When he was told a mission was impossible, that is what he wanted to do.”

Like his biblical hero, Joshua, who blew down the walls of Jericho with a ram’s horn, Sharon bulldozed his way past all military and political obstacles. In the army, he dodged charges that he failed to follow orders and really accurate information to his superiors. In politics he brushed off his image as a has-been politician who attacked both friend and foe. Teflon-style. he survived unscathed allegations of financial corruption.

Former Likud MK Bennie Begin once said acerbically of Sharon that he was as likely to head their party as he was to become a tennis champion. But at the nadir of Sharon’s checkered army career, after he was forced to resign as defense minister in 1983 following Sabra and Shatilla, Dan made a different prediction.

“Those who rejected [Sharon as chief of staff got him in due time as defense minister,” said Dan. “And those who rejected him as defense minister will get him in due course as prime minister.”

Sharon said that his steadfast determination was rooted in his childhood work on a farm.

In an op-ed article for the Post in 1999 Sharon recalled a day he spent with his father at Kfar Malal. “I was working out in the field with my father on an intensely hot day as thirst plagued us and thousands of flies and gnats buzzed around us, getting into our eyes and noses. We, hoes in hand, continued to work. When my father Shmuel, of blessed memory, who was an agronomist, agricultural scientist and also an outstanding farmer, saw I was getting tired, he would stop a minute, point towards the ground we’d covered and say, “Look how much we’ve already done. And with renewed strength, we would continue work.”

It was this mind-set, wrote Sharon, that came to characterize his own indomitable approach - to daily life and to leading Israel.

“This has always been my way: to appreciate what we have already accomplished and to look forward optimistically.”  



  1. Key events in the life of Ariel Sharon ....

    Here is a timeline of key events in the life of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon who died on Saturday aged 85 after spending eight years in a coma.

    - February 27, 1928: Born into a farming community just north of Tel Aviv in British mandate Palestine, to Belorussian immigrants.

    - 1945: Joins the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish militia which fought in the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's independence.

    - 1967: Leads tank division during the Six Day War when Israel captures the West Bank and Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.

    - 1973: Called out of retirement to lead tank division during the Yom Kippur War against armies led by Egypt and Syria.

    - 1982: As defence minister, Sharon masterminds the invasion of Lebanon, during which Christian militiamen allied with Israel massacre between 800 and 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.

    - 1983: Forced to resign as defence minister after an inquiry finds him indirectly responsible for the massacre.

    - 1999: Takes over as head of the rightwing Likud party

    - September 28, 2000: Makes a highly provocative visit to the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, sparking riots that set off the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

    - February 2001: Elected prime minister by a landslide.

    - June 2002: Following a wave of deadly suicide bombings, Israel begins building a vast separation barrier through the West Bank.

    - November 2004: Sharon's nemesis, the veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, dies of a mysterious illness in a Paris hospital after falling ill while besieged by Israeli troops in Ramallah.

    - August 2005: Israel begins pulling out all troops and settlers from Gaza under Sharon's controversial "disengagement plan," ending 38 years of occupation.

    - November 2005: Sharon leaves Likud to create his own centrist Kadima party.

    - January 4, 2006: Suffers a major stroke and lapses into a coma from which he never recovers.

    - March 2006: Kadima wins legislative elections and Ehud Olmert is named prime minister.

    - January 1, 2014: Hospital says Sharon's health is rapidly deteriorating after surgery.

    - January 11, 2014: Sharon dies.

    Voice of Russia, AFP
    Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_01_11/Key-events-in-the-life-of-Ariel-Sharon-8097/

  2. Obama says Sharon 'dedicated his life' to Israel ....

    US President Barack Obama paid tribute to late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday, commemorating "a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel."

    "On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel," a White House statement said.

    "We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security," it added.

    Sharon, who died in hospital near Tel Aviv, aged 85, after eight years in a coma, was remembered in warm terms by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted that the long-ill ex-premier was "finally at rest."

    "I remember reading about Arik in the papers when I was a young lawyer in Boston and marveling at his commitment to cause and country," said Kerry, who is currently leading global efforts to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians.

    "I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became prime minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace," said Kerry.

    "In his final years as prime minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger."

    Sharon was also praised in a joint statement by former US president Bill Clinton and wife Hillary, Kerry's predecessor as Secretary of State.

    "Ariel Sharon gave his life to Israel -- to bring it into being, to sustain and preserve it, and at the end of his long service, to create a new political party committed to both a just peace and lasting security," the Clintons said.

    "It was an honor to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country."

    Other US politicians also paid tribute.

    "I join the people of the Jewish state of Israel in mourning the loss of Ariel Sharon, one of the greatest warrior-statesmen in modern history," said Republican John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

    "Sharon's contribution to establishing and defending Israel's independence is incalculable and his devotion to peace undisputed," Boehner added.

    Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, hailed Sharon's courage "in his decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip," by pulling Israeli forces and settlers out in 2005.

    "It was a difficult choice founded in the same tenet that defined so much of Sharon's career: the national security interest of the people and the nation of Israel," Pelosi said in a statement.

    Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, praised Sharon as "a legendary military man," who "distinguished himself as a strategist and a soldier in virtually every major Israeli conflict of the second half of the 20th century."

    "Israel has lost one of its greatest sons and America a friend in the passing of Ariel Sharon," McConnell added.

    Voice of Russia, AFP
    Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_01_11/Obama-says-Sharon-dedicated-his-life-to-Israel-0390/

  3. World leaders are paying tribute to late Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, who passed away Saturday at the age of 85.............

    US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke of a leader "who dedicated his life to the State of Israel".

    In a White House statement, Obama said: "On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel." The statement reaffirmed "our unshakable commitment to Israel's security. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security."

    Israel's current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israelis would cherish Sharon's memory.

    "The State of Israel bows its head over the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Netanyahu said in a statement. "His memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation," added Netanyahu, who expressed "deep sorrow."

    "Ariel Sharon was an Israeli patriot who rendered a great service to his country," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "With his brave decision to withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, he took a historic step towards reconciliation with the Palestinians and a two-state solution."

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Israel had lost "one of the most significant figures" in its history while French President Francois Hollande said after a long military career Mr Sharon had "taken the choice to turn to dialogue with the Palestinians".

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted that Sharon was respected at home and internationally and highly praised the late politician's personal qualities and his activities to protect Israel's interests

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Sharon a "renowned military leader" who "pursued the security of Israel with unyielding determination that was recognized by friends and foes alike."

    Ex-US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State, said he "gave his life to Israel" and it was an honor to "work with him, argue with him and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country."

    "I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became Prime Minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process," US current Secretary of State, John Kerry, said in a statement.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "saddened" by the passing of the 85-year-old leader, who he said was "a hero to his people" throughout "a life dedicated to the State of Israel," both as a soldier and a statesman.

    Former US envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, pays tribute to Ariel Sharon, conceding that while he was a "controversial" political figure, Israel has "lost one of it's giants".
    - See more at: http://www.novinite.com/articles/157165/World+Leaders+Bow+to+Late+Ariel+Sharon#sthash.WkokQ3td.dpuf


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