Latest update: January 13th, 2014
Ariel Sharon, aka Arik, Israel’s 11th Prime Minister and perhaps its most heroic and controversial leader, passed away today at age 85.
On December 18, 2005, then Prime Minister Sharon suffered a mild stroke, followed on January 4, 2006 by a second, far more serious stroke, from a massive cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain).
On April 6, then President Moshe Katsav (now in jail for sex abuse) formally asked Ehud Olmert (convicted on, and still facing corruption charges) to form a government, making him Prime Minister-Designate.
Thus came to an abrupt end a stellar military and political career, rife with victories, betrayals, achievements and losses.
Israelis from my generation grew up with stories of Arik Sharon the legendary founder and commander of special forces Unit 101. Fifty young men, mostly former paratroopers, were ordered in 1951 by then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to retaliate for attacks across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders by fedayeen irregulars, against Jewish civilians and their property. Eventually, Unit 101 began to carry out offensive guerrilla warfare missions.
In the fall of 1953 came the first stain on Sharon’s reputation as a warrior, during his unit’s reprisal action for a fedayeen attack in the Israeli village of Yehud. They attacked the village of Qibya, in the disputed territories under Jordanian rule. 69 Arab civilians, including children, were killed when Sharon’s troops dynamited buildings there.
Unit 101 was eliminated and its men were assigned to the Paratroopers Brigade, which Sharon eventually commanded.
The next key controversy in Sharon’s career took place during the Sinai Operation of 1956, when his forces emerged victorious from the bloodiest battle of that war, at the Mitla pass. Historians have blamed then Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan for the way the battle developed, and assigned additional blame to Sharon for his unnecessary aggressiveness, which ended with 38 Israeli dead.
Over those volatile years, Sharon was losing the support of Israel’s political class, which didn’t trust his judgment, despite his obvious leadership skills and his intelligence. Ben Gurion is reputed to have quipped about Sharon: “Is he still having problems with the truth?” For this reason, after several years as commander of the southern front, Sharon was passed up for an appointment as IDF chief of staff.
In August, 1973, Sharon left the military and began his political career, first with a left-leaning party named Shlomzion, and then with the right wing Likud. But a short time later, as the Yom Kippur war erupted and Israel political and military leadership were in a state of near-panic, Sharon was given command over a division at the southern front. That’s when the controversial general, defying his orders–and jeopardizing another division with which he was supposed to cooperate–changed the outcome of the war, taking the fighting to the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal.
In 1981, Sharon joined Likud leader Menachem Begin’s second term as prime minister, landing the position of Defense Minister. Those who didn’t want him as IDF chief of staff now had to accept him as the political boss of the chief of staff.
Sharon’s next, possibly most infamous scandal took place during the 1982 Lebanon war, with the massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila that was perpetrated by the Christian Falange in retaliation for the assassination of their president. Sharon was accused—and later found guilty by an investigating committee—of providing logistical support to the Falange.
Sharon was forced to resign from his Defense post, but continued to serve as government minister under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Throughout his years as Likud minister in various capacities, Sharon was considered the friend and patron of the settlement movement, to the point where his name was synonymous with Jewish life in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan. His contribution in terms of budgets and support was unequaled by any other Israeli politician.
Which is why it came as such a shock to the settlers and to all the lovers of Eretz israel, when, in May 2003, Prime Minister Sharon endorsed the Road Map for Peace proposed by the U.S., the E.U. and Russia, starting a dialogue with the PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Around that time, Sharon was investigated for his involvement in the Greek Island Affair and illegal fundraising during the 1999 election campaign. In the Greek Island Affair, Sharon was accused of promising (as Foreign Minister) to help Israeli businessman David Appel in a development project on a Greek island in exchange for large payments to Sharon’s son Gilad.
Shortly thereafter, Sharon decided to impose a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, including the removal of some 8,600 Jewish residents in the settlement block known as Gush Katif.
Miraculously, the corruption charges against him were dropped due to “lack of evidence.”
This plan was met with opposition inside his own Likud party, and so, on November 24, 2005, Sharon left his Likud party—of which he was the leader—and announced the establishment of Kadima, with many from the left wing of Likud, and right-leaning Labor politicians.
Kadima was created for one reason – the expulsion of 8,600 Jews from gush Katif. In August, 2005, the IDF and the police deported these Jews, many of whom had been placed there by Minister Ariel Sharon. Their homes, synagogues, hothouses and industrial structures were demolished as part of Israel’s unilateral “disengagement.” Whatever had been left behind, was burned down by the Gaza Arabs.
These unfortunate Jews, some of whom still live as refugees in their own country, impoverished and isolated, couldn’t help feeling that Sharon’s stroke, only a few months after he has inflicted so much pain and suffering on them, had to have been meted by a Higher Power.
To date, most of the public servants who were involved in the Gush Katif uprooting have been demoted from their jobs, some because of corruption and criminal behavior, others because the voters have turned their backs on them.
Sharon’s death may serve as a message from the Divine, coming as it has done when some in the government, may they all live to 120, are considering a far wider expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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