Israel is in mourning. As Sharon fights for his life, the country realizes how much it came to rely and trust the man who spent his life defending and leading it.
I’ve met Sharon on several occasions between 1983 and 2003. A man of incredible, electric charisma, energy and self-confidence, he will forever live in the memories of those who knew him.
Sharon's contribution to Israeli security has been tremendous. He was probably the best tactician and battlefield general Israel had since her birth in 1948.
Sharon is a man of great personal bravery and leadership. He was left for dead in the bloody Latrun battle of 1948, when newly-formed Israel was attacked by five neighboring Arab countries, and later left his studies of law at Hebrew University to become the founder and leader of Commando 101 in the early 1950s - a unit which revolutionized special operations in the Israeli Defense Forces аnd in the world.
Sharon was a highly successful general in the Six Day War of 1967. And in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he surrounded the 3rd Egyptian Army to the West of the Suez Canal against the direct orders of his superiors, who also had blocked his career and squeezed him out of the military only a year earlier. However, his flanking maneuver brought Egypt to the brink of collapse. This breakthrough in classic ground operations is studied in military academies the world over. Many times, I have heard many Israelis vets saying, “I fought under Arik and I would follow him to hell."
He entered politics after the surprise Arab attack that started theYom Kippur War, which caused a crisis of confidence over Israel’s lack of preparedness. Sharon created the Likud Party in 1975, which won its first victory in the 1977 elections, when the late Menachem Begin became Israel’s first non-socialist Prime Minister. When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat arrived for his historic visit to Jerusalem, his first question at the Ben Gurion airport was, “Is Arik here?”
But Sharon often over-reached. The 1982 Lebanon War, of which he was the architect аs Begin’s Defense Minister, was a mixed bag for Israel strategically. The Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasir Arafat, which had triggered the Lebanon Civil War in 1975 and had been attacking Israel from South Lebanon, was evacuated and dispersed from Tunis to Yemen to Iraq. However, as a result of Syrian and Iranian-led resistance, hundreds of Israeli soldiers died, and Israel was stuck in Lebanon for years, bleeding and hounded by Hizballah.
Sharon's last hurrah was his unflinching leadership in putting down the Palestinian Terror War (the so-called "Second Intifadah") from 2001-2004. He was elected Prime Minister in huge landslides twice - very much a father figure to the embattled and insecure Israelis.
Twenty years ago, a veteran Israeli journalist, Uri Dan, Sharon's friend for decades, said, "Those who did not want him as a Chief of Staff (of the IDF), will get him as Minister of Defense, and those who didn't want him as a Minister of Defense, will get him as a Prime Minister.” He was right.
Sharon created a change of world-view. He started out as a hawk and supporter of Biblical Israel. Once he took power, however, he became a moderate, almost a peacenik, abandoning his own baby, the Likud, in which he lost support, in November 2005. He started the Kadima party with his life-long friend and rival Shimon Peres.
He will not head his last political creation in the March 28th parliamentary elections, however, nor will he lead Israel beyond that. And without Sharon's popularity and leadership, his new party, Kadima, will be left to the whims of Shimon Peres and Ehud Ulmert, who are not known to be election vote-getters. In fact, Peres lost every national election in which he ran. For now, Israelis say they will vote for “Sharon’s legacy," but it is likely that by March the party may disintegrate even before the poll.
If Hamas and other terrorist organizations resume the terror war at full ferocity, as they threaten daily, the Kadima may lose support, аnd many of its founders will likely return to their original political homes on the left and right: Labor and the Likud, and these two historic opponents will resume jockeying for power. This is good news for the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who will pick up the pieces and could become the next Israeli Prime Minister.
Sharon has accepted President Bush’s vision of a democratic Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with Israel. It may be a nice vision, but far from reality.
Тhe price Israelis are required to pay for this apparition of peace is high: the 2005 Gaza withdrawal split Israeli society like never before. And the current riots and snowballing terrorist eruptions in Gaza demonstrate that Israeli hopes for a Palestinian peace partner may have been the naïve cry of old battle-weary veterans like Sharon and Peres, who lost too many friends and fellow countrymen to wars and Arab terror.
Many believe that the Gaza retreat may cost Israel many lives as the terror-mongers now feel empowered. Israel's -- and Sharon’s -- withdrawal under terror fire was perceived as a sign of weakness in the Arab street. It is likely to trigger another terror onslaught led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are supported by Iran and Saudi Arabia. These death merchants have already promised that the "third Intifadah" will begin soon, while rocket fire and suicide bombings continue.
In 2003, Sharon said that Israel needs to stick to its guns for thirty more years, by which time new technologies could render oil obsolete. This still may be the case. But his optimism regarding redrawing Israel’s borders and achieving peace with the Palestinians may have been part of the can-do, overreaching personality which so many Israelis admired. In the end, his long-term strategy may be have been miscalculated, and his panache destroyed by the frailty of his body.
Sharon is also a man of a truly Biblical fate, both happy and tragic. He loved his country and bled for it many times. He lost his first wife early and married her sister, Lily, with whom he lived happily for over 25 years. His young son shot himself by accident with his father’s weapon and died in his hands. He loved classical music, which was a surprise to many, and good food, which was obvious to all. He was hounded by accusations of corruption, but he also vindicated himself by becoming one of the greatest Israeli leaders.