Israel Wakes Up to Ariel Sharon as Former Prime Minister Nears Death

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Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the lighting of a Hanukkah candle at his Jerusalem office, on Dec. 27, 2005.

During the eight years that Ariel Sharon lay in a hospital bed, sustained by a feeding tube and turned at regular intervals to prevent bedsores, his great body shrank and his legacy slowly shifted. Both admired and reviled as Israel’s signature warrior during 58 of his first 72 years of life, Sharon in his coma has been more remembered for his only term as prime minister, five years marked first by restraint, then by actions both bold and unexpected, starting with the decision to pull Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.

“The things you see from here, you don’t see from there,” he once reportedly said, explaining the difference in perspective when you head up your nation’s government. The quote, which likely did not originate with Sharon, was in recent years frequently attributed to him, along with a certain sagacity. A figure who had a reputation for impulsive action gradually lost his rough edges.

“I think there are two Sharons,” says Efraim Inbar, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. “One is the military man, who was a great hero, a maverick, excellent commander. He crossed the canal, was adored by his troops. As an ex-paratrooper I can testify to that.” That would be the Suez Canal, which Egyptian troops breached in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Sharon led the unit that took it back.

“And the second Sharon – the politician — was full of contradictions. He built the Likud and he destroyed it,” he says, naming the right-wing party that has dominated Israeli politics since the late 1970s. “He built the settlements and he destroyed the Gaza settlements. It’s a mixed legacy,” Inbar goes on, referencing Sharon’s role in establishing some 200 Jewish communities on occupied Palestinian territory.

In truth, Sharon’s military record was not all one thing, either. The 1982 massacres by Christian militiamen at two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, where Israelis forces had posted guards, cemented his reputation in the Arab world as a gleeful killer.

There’s also the question of how Israeli troops happened to be in Beirut in the first place: The 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which lasted 18 years, was largely Sharon’s project – he was then Minister of Defence under Prime Minister Menachem Begin – and carries consequences to this day. Intended to root out Palestinian militants, the incursion damaged Israel’s image and gave Iran the excuse to create Hizballah, the Shiite militia that remains, long after Israel’s 2000 withdrawal. Hizballah now dominates Lebanon politically and militarily, and is the major military threat on Israel’s border, with tens of thousands of rockets pointed at Israel’s north, and lately has moved more dangerous longer-range missiles closer to Israel, including an anti-ship cruise missile that travels at the speed of sound. With operatives working in other countries, Hizballah is also the most formidable covert threat Israel faces globally.

“That was a long, long time ago,” insists Dov Weissglass, who was Sharon’s chief of staff during his tenure as Prime Minister, insisting that his former boss’s legacy in office is far more important. “From 2001, when he became Prime Minister, more and more people have learned to appreciate him as a political leader, as a premier and most of all for political courage.” The evidence is there in Friday’s weekend edition of Yedioth Ahoronth, Israel’s leading daily. “How would Ariel Sharon have acted in this situation?” columnist Nahum Barnea asks of Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort this week to force agreement from Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. “Sharon as prime minister would not have reached this situation. Instead of letting the American secretary of state manage him, he would have aspired to a unilateral move, which would ease Israel’s security situation and relieve it of international pressures.”

The Gaza pullout, which removed 8,500 Jewish settlers and the troops that had protected them from the Palestinian coastal territory, was such a move, intended, says Weissglass, not as a gesture of peace but to spare spending further resources on a place Israel knew it would not keep in any final arrangement. Sharon planned something similar on the West Bank, where he extended a physical barrier that will run 400 miles, unilateral actions that relied not on negotiations but bald certainty. Weissglass, the former chief of staff, quoted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as calling Sharon “‘a hard liner, but yet with him, yes was yes, no was no. And he was a man of truth.'” It was said in the context of comparison to the present controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“People are longing for [Sharon's] personality, for his leadership,” says Weisglass. “I’m amazed to see how for three days he’s on top of the news. I thought after eight years where he’s not here, neither there, this would be local news, not international.”

Part of the reason surely is Sharon’s larger-than-life qualities – starting with the stomach, a significant part of his legend. An Israeli officer once recalled being asked by an Egyptian counterpart if it was true that Sharon ate an entire sheep for breakfast. Told otherwise, the Egyptian appeared to prefer to believe the legend.

But part of it is the passing of the “founder’s generation”—Israeli leaders who emerged from the crucible of the nation’s 1948 war for independence, rather than the television screen.

A year before Sharon’s first stroke, a New York Times Magazine profile asserted that “Now 76, Sharon can plausibly lay claim to having shaped his state’s geographic and moral terrain and international image — for better or for worse — more than any other Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion. There is no single American figure to compare him with. He is Andrew Jackson, George Patton, Robert Moses.”

That still goes, says his former media advisor, Ra’anan Gissin – perhaps more so for the time hovering between one world and the next.

“I think what you are seeing is Sharon being re-born again,” Gissin tells TIME. “People are forgiving him for what happened in the past, and he is seen as a national icon today. I believe that’s what’s going to happen. He is the only Israeli prime minister who will be labeled as having something of significance for the future, in terms of what he did. He is actually the whole history of the state of Israel, made in one person, through his deeds…He went through all the aspects of Israeli life, full scale.

“This is the reincarnation of Israel that people would like to see in the future.”

59 comments
Abubakar Umar
Abubakar Umar

If one can recalled Mr. Sharon's duplicitous & decietful acts when he was a leader, it's enough to say; THE MEANS JUSTIFY THE END, a worthy end can never be accomplished with an unworthy means... Even though it may apper it's possible for those that think 'The End Justify The Means,' but there are unintended consequences that are not seen or evident at first that will eventually destroy the end... It's obvious if we are to take a look back to History of Evil & Diedliest Leaders, one can found that they had similar mind-set with Mr. Sharon, they have thought an admirable end can be falsely attained through the wrong means. And the ends ultimately turn to dust in their hands.. In my opinion Sharon deserves such a terrible end, because i strongly belief that 'no evil deed can go unpunished.'

gaetano49
gaetano49

Even the Devil has been reluctant to take him on.

Nnamdi Ohia
Nnamdi Ohia

Ariel Sharon didnt respect word of Almighty God that why he is on sick bed til now.

jalangaya
jalangaya


Sharon was & is a common thug.

mks
mks

This is a curse on him. He will not die soon Insa' Allah. He will feel more pain in his life and Insha' Allah he will be in deepest hell fire after his death.

He in this condition is a spiteful admonition for all cruels.

AhmedKhayal
AhmedKhayal

there is only one sharon who likes blood and war, killed thousands of innocent people in Palestine and Lebanon, one of the most hated and mentally  sick in this world , hope he will stay years in this condition to feel 1% of the pain that mothers of palestine felt when they lost their sons because of this murder

Sayerr Secka
Sayerr Secka

he is one of history's most evil men, may the fire burn him!

Nana Ghezewi
Nana Ghezewi

Wasn't he like responsible for the murder of hundreds of people?!

Alex Mazilu
Alex Mazilu

Please tell us about his war crimes, because TIME certainly wont.

Ammar Alsaied
Ammar Alsaied

I dont know much about him at all except that his intentions were apparently to pull out from Palestine, which I thought is a good thing but can anyone else enlighten me please?

Markim Mk
Markim Mk

satan is worry now. your kingdom is threatened.

Al Khayl
Al Khayl

And coldblooded mass murderer. Like the ones in the Oval Office

Al Khayl
Al Khayl

What legacy. Effing psychopath

richard.draucker
richard.draucker

“People are forgiving him for what happened in the past, and he is seen as a national icon today.


And that's why someone needs to remind the world that Sharon  "the Butcher of Beirut" is a war criminal known to have ordered the slaughter of innocent civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and even worse crimes elsewhere. 

NavyVeteran
NavyVeteran

An evil man..a butcher... did more harm to Israel than any man in her history. Started an interfada by his brazen trip to the dome of the rock...arrogance and living Chuzpah.

Have often felt that a "deal" was made somewhere that eliminated Arafat and Sharon...but Sharon  somehow lived....in a coma/but lived.

Netanyahoo is just as bad. Israel seems to have very good leaders (who may be killed,) or men like Sharon who make the gestapo look like Quakers. They stir up trouble constantly. lie about settlers and settlements,  and need to be reigned in by those countries who give them so much support.. .They buy our politicians...they buy the votes. it's disgusting...

momirul1979
momirul1979

I don't want him die. May God keep him in this condition so that he can feel the pain of the HELL. And if he dies, he will straight go to HELL.

DavidAdra
DavidAdra

a savage blood thirsty beast

saad1987
saad1987

he was a murderer and he deserves to die, what terrorists are you talking about?? he killed innocent defenseless people, israeli scum

Oleg
Oleg

He was doing the world a favour by killing his enemies and terrorists.

Oleg
Oleg

Exactly. Was he charged by ICC or Security Council of any war crimes? And if yes, when and for what crimes? What are the reference documents of those convictions?

Oleg
Oleg

Wasn't it Lebanese Phalange (like Elie Hubeika et al), who did the killing? Israeli troops failed to prevent the massacre. By the same token FDR and Winston Churchill should be considered war criminals because FDR had turned away the ship with Jewish refugees from Germany before WWII (most of those people were killed in the Holocaust) and both him and Churchill failed to bomb the concentration camps and railway tracks leading to them during WWII, so some people could be saved. They also did nothing to prevent the Holocaust. Same as majority of the "neutral" countries' leaders. Same war crimes could be attributed to Bill Clinton, who failed to prevent Rwandan massacre in 1994 as well as leaders of France and Belgium at the time.

saad1987
saad1987

are you a muslim or no?? your name suggests that you are an arab, how can you say that sharon did a good thing?? so u think he never did any crimes??? you stupid or what?

Oleg
Oleg

Any negative assessment of him by the hardline Moslems and Liberals means that he has a tremendous legacy.

jerry48
jerry48

@richard.draucker : he didn't order the massacre but did nothing to prevent it :

 In 1983 the Kahan Commission, established by the Israeli Government, found that as Minister of Defense during the 1982 Lebanon War Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for the massacre by Lebanese militias of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, for his having disregarded the prospect of acts of bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and not having prevented their entry."

Oleg
Oleg

He will go to Paradise. Ariel - the Lion of God, the Lion of Israel!

saad1987
saad1987

@Oleg sabra and shatila refugee camp massacre was one of his many war crimes....or you people don't consider killing arabs and muslims a crime??? murderer

Oleg
Oleg

What about FDR and Winston Churchill? Why did they fail to prevent Holocaust? Are they war criminals too?

richard.draucker
richard.draucker

@jerry48 @richard.draucker Only Israelis would put a small child in a cage, then send in a hungry lion, and still claim they didn't know the lion would attack the child.  Please, don't further the pretense with the whitewash that has been used to disguise his guilt.  Sharon is a war criminal and a mass murderer. 

saad1987
saad1987

@Oleg ariel is the scum of earth and he is going to hell for what he did, god wouldn't even want him

AlanTrum
AlanTrum

@Oleg  If you believe in "the Holocaust" why did Auschwitz have individual ovens? The Germans had allegedly planned and were engaged in daily extermination of thousands of Jews a day, and had to dispose of all their corpses but they installed *individual* cremation ovens in the camps? I thought the Germans were good at math, engineering and physics and built jet fighters and big missiles like the V-2... but they only put individual ovens in their "extermination" camps???