Missing Ariel Sharon

Five years after the former prime minister’s public life came to an end, we still feel the leadership void.

ariel sharon 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file[)
ariel sharon 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file[)
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 controversial.
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 government.
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.
Last 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.
The 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 decade.
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 site.
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