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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Six months to the night when former prime minister Ariel Sharon suffered the stroke that ended his political career, Sharon's confidants said Tuesday that his absence was never felt more - militarily, politically and personally - than now, when he lay in bed at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer.
Politicians, advisers and friends who were close with Sharon said that had he been in power today, the country would be safer, Kadima would be larger and the people of Israel would be more unified. They lamented that the night Sharon lost consciousness on his way to the hospital, the country suffered a great loss as well.
While making a point of not criticizing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Sharon's confidants said that even if the two men were to have handled the recent events in the Gaza Strip the exact same way, the public would have felt more confident had Sharon been in charge.
"When Arik was in power, you knew that he knew what he was doing, whether or not you agreed with him," said Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, who was a close confidant of Sharon for many years before becoming a political foe. "In the six months without Arik, there has been no one to rely upon, to criticize or to blame. There is a lonely feeling, as if Daddy is no longer at home."
Sharon's confidants said the differences in personality, character and style between Sharon and his successor have become more stark during the operations in the Gaza Strip. They said that while Olmert has made numerous speeches justifying the IDF's tactics, Sharon would have remained silent and allowed the actions to speak for themselves.
"When Arik took a risk, he knew it and he took responsibility for it," said Rivlin, who opposed Sharon's Gaza Strip withdrawal plan. "He never would have had to explain his policies, and he never would have apologized for them."
Kadima MKs and activists said that building a party in Sharon's image has proven difficult and that the party has not succeeded in stepping out of the shadow of the three-story poster of Sharon on the outside wall of Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters.
Sharon's political confidants said that had the stroke not occurred, Kadima could have won more than 40 seats and been able to implement its agenda without having to rely so much on coalition partners for support.
Olmert has come under fire in Kadima for not doing enough to build up the political infrastructure of the party. Olmert canceled the inaugural Kadima council meeting that had been set for Monday due to the events in Gaza, causing dozens of follow-up events across the country to be postponed.
Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who had grown close to Sharon over the past five years, said he believes that just like Kadima was built in Sharon's image, the party's chances for survival will depend on whether Olmert succeeds as prime minister.
"The internal organs of Likud and Labor have only harmed them," Hanegbi said. "The challenge is to build the Kadima leadership without Sharon, not necessarily the party infrastructure. What will decide the party's future is the success of the leader, not how many party branches we have."
Other Kadima officials said that had Sharon been in power, he would not have made mistakes that turned off Russian immigrant voters, supporters on the Right and people who wanted more experienced leadership and ended up voting for the Pensioners' Party.
But Sharon's confidants said that his presence was missed most of all on a personal level. They said that he had a unique personality that made everyone who knew him like him personally and respect him, even when they disagreed with him politically.
Journalist Uri Dan, who is writing a book based on his conversations with Sharon over the past 50 years, said he has not given up hope that Sharon will recover from his stroke, regain consciousness and "get the country out of this mess."
"The steady navigation of captain Sharon is missing," Dan said. "He always knew what to do - that was his greatness as a leader."