Vice President Joe Biden praised the political courage of late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday and called him a “complex man” at a memorial ceremony for the statesman who died Saturday.
Biden joined former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other world dignitaries at the state farewell for Sharon, who died after eight years in a coma, the Associated Press reports. “He was indomitable,” Biden said, noting his decades-long friendship with Sharon. “But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a North Star that guided him. A North Star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His North Star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided.”
A general who led Israel’s turnaround in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon was known as “the bulldozer,” a hardline politician who was elected prime minister in 2001. He oversaw Israel’s troop withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and later left the conservative Likud party to establish the centrist Kadima party.
“The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza, in order from his perspective to strengthen Israel… I can’t think of a more difficult and controversial decision he made,” Biden said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Sharon’s cabinet in protest of the Gaza withdrawal, called the late prime minister “a man of actions,” the AP reports.
“His pragmatism was rooted in deep emotion, deep emotion for the country and deep emotion for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said.
Authorities instituted heavy security around the ceremony remembering a man who was reviled in the Arab world. On Monday, Palestinian militants fired four rockets toward Israel, two of which landed in open areas on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza.
The prime minister of the Czech Republic and foreign ministers from Australia and Germany were among the dignitaries present at the ceremony, which even included a low-level diplomat from Egypt, the AP reports.
“The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy,” Blair said. “Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.