Ariel Sharon died the way he lived – at war.
The eight-year struggle into
which he maneuvered the Angel of Death was a fitting capstone to a life of
confrontation, daring and heroism that has long been, and will surely remain,
the subject of legend.
What began with a severe injury in the bloody
Battle of Latrun in 1948 eventually produced a warrior as fearless as Samson and
a general as gifted as Hannibal.
Sharon’s military imprint came in three
phases: as a commando in the ’50s he created Unit 101 that inspired the IDF’s
ethos of initiative, stratagem and assault; as a general in 1973, he spearheaded
the crossing of the Suez Canal that overturned the Yom Kippur War; and last
decade, as prime minister, he inspired the counteroffensive that defeated the
In morphing from soldier to politician, Sharon smoothly
transplanted his ability to reinvent situations, as he welded four parties to
form the Likud, paving the way for its historic defeat of Labor three years
However, in between these feats, the hero in Sharon repeatedly
crossed the fine line between boldness and adventurism. What first surfaced in
his unauthorized and costly assault on the Mitla Pass as a colonel during the
1956 Sinai Campaign, later reappeared as Sharon made the transition from
politician to statesman.
The invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the
blanketing of the West Bank with settlements, all of which followed his
appointment as defense minister in 1981, divided Israeli society in a way many
thought it could not absorb politically, digest socially or afford
Then again, his improbable arrival at the premiership
unveiled yet another Sharonesque surprise, as Sharon produced a new
Sharon arrived at the helm as a settled septuagenarian, whose
adventurist instincts had been tempered, perhaps also by the tragic passing of
his beloved wife Lily shortly before he reached their joint journey’s
Sharon the premier impressed both allies and rivals as a seasoned
pragmatist who blended experience, counsel, resolve, a sense of direction and a
steady hand on the wheel. It was a combination that few contemporary world
The respect Sharon won from leaders like US president
George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin reflected a post-heroic era’s
longing for historic heroes.
Sharon may or may not be counted in the
future alongside the likes of de Gaulle, Adenauer, Begin or Sadat, but he was
clearly a product of their era.
Besides defeating Palestinian terror,
Sharon made three moves that – had he not fallen comatose – might have
eventually undone his political career’s two main legacies: the Likud and the
Sharon first built the anti-terror fence, then retreated
from Gaza and finally established Kadima. In between these he reversed his
historic hostility to Palestinian statehood and came out openly in its
While he built the fence grudgingly, realizing it would
potentially compromise Israel’s grip on what sprawled beyond it, Sharon seemed
to be leaving Gaza with no compunctions.
By the time he launched Kadima,
where the doyens of Greater Israelites emerged under one canopy with Oslo
mastermind president Shimon Peres, Sharon had in mind a political big bang that
would reboot Israeli politics and hopefully untie the Middle east conflict’s
Eight years on, the Likud is back at the country’s helm and
the settlements remain where Sharon left them. Historians will therefore break
pens debating both Sharon’s ability and his intention to do in the West Bank
what he did in Gaza.
One thing, however, will not be debated: The
ostracized Sharon returned transfigured, as the beloved embodiment of the very
consensus he had once shattered.
Today, even his adversaries admit that
beloved he also leaves.