He was neither a man of rhetoric nor an intellectual. He laid down no overarching political theories, articulated no comprehensive ideology, and the only political institution that he established – the Kadima Party – has barely outlived him. He belonged for many years to the Likud, though he saw himself as embodying Mapai’s tenets. He was an intuitive not an analytical thinker who admired deeds and actions over ideas. Indeed, he was often referred to as a “bulldozer.” It is, therefore, difficult to speak of Ariel Sharon’s legacy.

Yet, if we were to venture, nevertheless, to do so, it would be Sharon’s ferocious loyalty to the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and his unique ability to shape military and political realities in a way which he believed served his people’s cardinal interests.

As a ruthless, gifted, and fearless warrior, Sharon played a key, often controversial, role in many of the central crossroads of Israel’s military and political history. During the 1950s he led Commando Unit 101, which carried out bloody cross-border retaliation attacks against Palestinians; attacks such as the 1953 Kibiyeh massacre, which aroused serious moral questions about the limits of force.

In the 1967 Six Day War, his military wits in the battle of Abu Ageila, a strategic turning point in the eastern Sinai, played an important role in clinching a sweeping Israeli victory on the southern front. In the process, he broke new ground in military tactics.

In the early 1970s, Sharon created a counter-terrorism unit that operated in the Gaza Strip eliminating Palestinian terrorists, instituting collective punishment, and applying a shoot-to-kill policy against suspected terrorists.

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he confounded the Egyptians by crossing the Suez Canal, cutting off the Third Army, and snatching victory from seemingly certain defeat.

As a politician, he was instrumental in settling large swathes of the West Bank, including places with tremendous historical and religious resonance like Elon Moreh, Beit El, and Shiloh. He once told a reporter that, “If we were a normal nation, when a visitor arrived here we would take him not to Yad Vashem, but rather to Hebron.”

And he saw that the Jews’ unique ties to these places were essential for Jewish continuity. In the late 1970s, he leveraged his position as agriculture minister into an instrument for promoting settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, establishing more than a hundred Israeli outposts and boosting the Jewish population there from just a few thousand to tens of thousands.

In 1982 as defense minister, he launched a war on Palestinian terrorist groups based in Lebanon and bore a great measure of the responsibility for the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian Phalangists.

In the early 1990s, he spearheaded a huge state-run residential construction project both inside and beyond the Green Line for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel.

In 2001 and 2002, he successfully fought a wave of terrorism by recapturing areas such as Jenin, which had become launching bases for suicide bombings.

In 2004, realizing that controlling the West Bank and Gaza jeopardized Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Sharon embarked on his disengagement plan for evacuating Jewish settlements in Gaza and northern Samaria.

Even after his dramatic shift regarding some of the settlement project, Sharon was no liberal romantic. Indeed, he was perhaps among the most clear-eyed realists in Israeli politics. He was not party to the Left’s belief in a process that would bring about peace with the Arabs in a new Middle East. But neither did he share the religious faith found among many on the Right that Judea, Samaria, and Gaza were God-given and could never be ceded, no matter how high the price Israeli society was forced to pay.

Despite – or because of – that change in his belief of how to safeguard the country, Israelis supported Sharon in his last years. They voted for him in 2001 and 2003, and were about to vote for him in large numbers in 2006. Israelis sensed that Sharon really had their interests at heart and that he had the ability to act to protect those interests.

Sharon’s legacy, then, is to be found in his fervent Zionism, his ferocious loyalty to the Jewish people, and his unique ability to shape reality in a way which he believed would protect and promote Israel’s interests. Today, the day of his funeral, we should all join together as a nation to bow our heads and salute a great Israeli leader.

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