He fought in each of Israel’s conflicts, knowing any war that the Jewish nation lost would be its last.
In death, Ariel Sharon, general, strategist, prime minister and diplomat, leaves a legacy like nobody else. Because of him, Israel has survived – the mission to which he devoted his life.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaking to Isreal’s Knesset parliament (Israeli government photo)
He was a masterful military commander before he retired and turned politician. After his assault of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula during in the Six-Day War, then his encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army in the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli public nicknamed him “The Lion of Israel,” a Hebrew pun on his first name.
He was born to Russian refugees on February 26, 1928, in a farming kibbutz in what was the British Mandate of Palestine. His parents were agronomist Shmuel Scheinerman and medical student Vera Schneirov Scheinerman, who met while studying in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. The couple fled to Palestine when the Russian Communist government intensified its persecution of Jews.
His final job was Israel’s 11th Prime Minister – until 2006 when he lapsed into a coma after a series of strokes. He never regained consciousness and eight years later passed away quietly.
As a paratrooper, he participated prominently in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and was a key military leader during the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition, and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. As Minister of Defense, he directed the 1982 Lebanon War.
“To Israelis who remember his bravery, starting with the War for Independence in 1948, he was a paratrooper known as ‘the Bulldozer,’" eulogized the editors of the Washington Times newspaper. “Others recall his dash across the Suez to encircle two Egyptian armies when the Yom Kippur War was hanging in the balance and regard him as the man who saved his country. Some cannot forgive him for failing to prevent the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila camps by Christian Phalangists. They call him ‘the butcher of Beirut.’”
Sharon presiding over the Knesset (Israeli government photo)
“There’s probably no issue in the world more contentious, or more heavily litigated, than the Israel-Palestine conflict,” noted Max Fischer in the Washington Post. “That has all come out with the death this weekend of Ariel Sharon, whose long career in Israeli politics included five years as prime minister, from 2001 to 2006. Sharon’s legacy, like his country and the conflict it is still engaged in, is treated with something much more complicated than mere controversy. The debate around his life and actions has been, and will long continue.”
“War hero, statesman, strategist and pragmatist, Ariel Sharon died just when the perpetually stalled Middle East Peace ‘process’ could use his brand of decisiveness,” wrote the Washington Times editorial board. “Eulogists have scoured Sharon’s remarkable achievements and the matching contradictions, and some observe that his life was the stuff of Greek tragedy.
“He fought for his country — in all of Israel’s wars — and tried to find the formula for a lasting peace in the region. He was capable of changing course, even late in life. As the minister of agriculture, he encouraged Israelis to establish settlements in what they regarded as their biblical ancestral land in the West Bank, but later pushed for the unilateral withdrawal of 25 settlements in the Gaza Strip (and a few in
the West Bank) in 2005, when he concluded there was no Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate peace.
During Knesset debate, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confers with his brother Omri (Israeli government photo)
“He was tough, and he was stubborn. As Israel’s foreign minister, he had refused to shake Yasser Arafat’s hand when they met at Wye Plantation in Maryland in 1998. He later said that he had spent years trying to kill Arafat and was not about to shake his hand.”
“One of the most important lessons that Sharon applied to the battlefield and to politics was that Israel had to seize the initiative, not simply react to events,” writes Robert M. Danin “He, more than any, appreciated the country’s basic security dilemma: while possessing a strong and highly motivated army, Israel is dwarfed in size and numbers by an inhospitable region. For him, taking the initiative was the enduring legacy of Jewish history, of his military experience, and of his political success.”