Tuesday will mark five years since Ariel Sharon’s involvement in the State of
Israel’s life came to an end.
From the of age 14 and until his last day
in the prime minister’s office – for 63 straight years – Sharon’s life story and
this country’s history were intertwined.
He left his mark on everything:
security, settlements, diplomacy and the political structure of the state. Few
leaders experienced as much popularity as he did.
Few leaders stood, as
he did, at the heart of sharp public criticism.
This is the fate of great
men. Their special personality allows them to shape the face of the nation they
lead. However, their willingness to make bold decisions makes them intensely
SINCE MY youth, I have closely followed Sharon. His wife
Lily and my mother Geula Cohen were close friends.
We visited their ranch
in the South many times. We celebrated Arik’s birthday on February 26, which
happens to be mine as well.
When I decided to take the path to public
life, reality placed us on opposite sides. Sharon, as minister of defense in
1982, was in charge of evacuating the Jewish communities in Sinai as part of the
peace agreement with Egypt. I, as head of the student body, barricaded myself
together with my colleagues at the top of the monument in Yamit to protest
against the uprooting of flourishing settlements there.
Later, our paths
rejoined, and I had the privilege of serving in Sharon’s first government as
minister of the environment, and in his second government as minister of
internal security and minister in charge of strategic and security relations
with the US.
Those were especially challenging and demanding years for
The outbreak of Palestinian violence after the failed
negotiations between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000 claimed
a heavy toll in Israeli civilian casualties. Operation Defensive Shield, ordered
by Sharon after the horrific Park Hotel massacre in Netanya during the Passover
Seder in 2002, represented the turning point in the fight back.
week, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) published its yearly report, which
showed that 2010 saw the fewest terrorist attacks and the lowest number of
terror victims since 2000. This was not by chance. It is the direct result of
two dramatic decisions made by Sharon’s government: The decision to retake
control of all the Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria, in which
sophisticated terror infrastructures had developed after the Oslo Accords and
from where suicide bombers were dispatched relentlessly into the heart of
Israel; and the decision to erect the security fence, to prevent terror groups
from operating freely within the country’s sovereign area.
combination of these two difficult decisions, in addition to the unique
expertise of the Shin Bet and the bravery of IDF soldiers, restored the quality
of life which had been taken from Israel’s citizens at the beginning of the
I COULD write a thick book about the fascinating years working
close to prime minister Sharon.
There was the morning he asked me to meet
him at his ranch and accompany him on a helicopter flight to Jerusalem so that
he could point out the multiple piles of dumped building materials that polluted
the landscape, and direct me, as environment minister, to prepare a national
plan to treat these eyesores that so infuriated him.
I could write about
his firm, unequivocal position on the Iranian nuclear program, which he
explained to me in great detail before I left for Washington to conduct the
strategic dialogue with the Bush administration.
I could write about his
uncompromising instructions to me, as interior minister, to reopen the Temple
Mount to visitors of all religions after the Palestinian Authority, at Arafat’s
behest, had for years not allowed a Jew to set foot on our religion’s holiest
I could write about the fierce arguments we had when I explained to
him that, despite the special bond that had developed between us over the years,
I would vote against his initiative to uproot Gush Katif communities as part of
the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
It is not yet time to
share all the details of these and many more personal moments and national
events that I was privileged to experience with him. In the meantime, all I can
do is pray for a medical miracle that will improve his condition – and, mainly,
miss him, like very many Israelis who, for the fifth year now, feel the enormous
leadership void he left behind.
The writer is a former Kadima minister