Ariel Sharon

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Ariel Sharon, the eleventh Prime Minister of Israel, spent many years in the Israel Defense Forces before being elected in March 2001.
Ariel Sharon, the eleventh Prime Minister of Israel, spent many years in the Israel Defense Forces before being elected in March 2001.

(Hebrew: אריאל שרון, born February 27, 1928) is a long-serving Israeli political and military leader, and has been Prime Minister of Israel since March 2001, the eleventh holder of that office. He is also leader of Likud, the largest party in the governing coalition of political parties in the Israeli Knesset (parliament). He was born Ariel Scheinermann and is also often known by his nickname Arik.

Sharon is a controversial figure, both inside and outside Israel, attracting diverse and often polar views. Many Israelis and supporters of Israel regard Sharon as a strong leader battling terrorism and promoting Zionism. Conversely, many Arabs and supporters of the Arab-Palestinian cause and some other critics refer to him as "the Butcher of Beirut"[1] [2] and have sought his prosecution as a war criminal. His opponents on the Israeli right believe he is compromising too much with the Palestinian leadership and unnecessarily giving up land captured by Israel in return for what they say is an illusory and undeliverable promise of peace.


Early life

Sharon was born Ariel Scheinermann in 1928 to a German-Polish father and Russian mother in Kfar Malal village in the British Mandate of Palestine. Sharon's parents were Second Aliyah veterans, that is, socialists with a secular worldview, but with a willingness to both compromise and fight.

In 1942 at the age of 14, he joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion, and later Haganah, the underground paramilitary force and the Jewish military precursor to the Israel Defense Forces. At the creation of Israel (and Haganah's transformation into the Israel Defense Forces), Sharon was a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade. Sharon was severely wounded in the groin by the British-led Arab Legion in the Second Battle of Latrun, an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the besieged Jewish community of Jerusalem. His injuries healed.

In 1949, he was promoted to company commander and in 1951 to intelligence officer. He then took leave to begin studies of history and Middle Eastern culture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A year and a half later, he was asked to return to active service in the rank of major and as the leader of the new Unit 101, Israel's first special forces unit.

Unit 101 undertook a series of retaliatory raids against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states that helped bolster Israeli morale and fortify its deterrent image. However, the unit was also criticized for targeting civilians as well as Arab soldiers, resulting in the widely condemned Qibya massacre in the fall of 1953, in which more than sixty Palestinian civilians were killed in an attack on their West Bank village. In the documentary "Israel and the Arabs: 50 Year War" Ariel Sharon recalls what happened after the raid, which was heavily condemned by many countries in the West, including the U.S.: I was summoned to see Ben-Gurion. It was the first time I met him. and right from the start Ben-Gurion said to me: "Let me first tell you one thing: it doesn't matter what the world says about Israel, it doesn't matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won't survive."

Shortly afterwards, just a few months after its founding, Unit 101 was merged into the 202nd Paratroopers Brigade (Sharon eventually becoming the latter's commander), which continued to attack military targets, culminating with the attack on Qalqilyah police station in autumn 1956.

Sharon has been widowed twice. Shortly after becoming a military instructor, he married his first wife, Margalith, with whom he had a son, Gur. Margalith died in an auto accident in 1962, and Gur died in October 1967 after being shot while playing with his father's rifle. After Margalith's death, Sharon married her younger sister, Lily. They had two sons, Omri and Gil'ad. Lily Sharon died in 2000.

Mitla incident

Ariel Sharon's military service has been questioned over the years.
Ariel Sharon's military service has been questioned over the years.

In the 1956 Suez War (the British "Operation Musketeer"), Sharon commanded the 202nd Brigade and was responsible for taking over ground east of the Sinai's Mitla Pass and eventually overtaking the pass itself. Having successfully carried out the first part of his mission (joining a battalion paratrooped near Mitla with the rest of the brigade moving on ground), Sharon's unit was deployed near the pass. Neither reconnaissance aircraft nor scouts reported enemy forces inside the Mitla Pass. Sharon, whose forces were initially heading east, away from the pass, reported to his superiors that he was increasingly concerned with the possibility of an enemy thrust through the pass, which could attack his brigade from the flank or the rear.

Sharon asked for permission to attack the pass several times but his requests were denied although he was allowed to check its status so that if the pass was empty, he could receive permission to take it later. Sharon sent a small scout force which was met with heavy fire and became bogged down due to vehicle malfunction in the middle of the pass. Sharon ordered the rest of his troops to attack in order to aid their comrades. In the ensuing successful battle to capture the pass more than forty Israeli soldiers were killed. Sharon was not only criticized by his superiors, he was damaged by revelations several years later by several former subordinates (one of IDF's first major revelations to the press), who claimed that Sharon tried to provoke the Egyptians and sent out the scouts in bad faith, ensuring that a battle would ensue. Deliberate or not, the attack was strategically reckless because the Egyptian forces were expected to withdraw from the pass in the following one or two days.

Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War

The Mitla incident hindered Sharon's military career for several years. In the meanwhile, he occupied the position of an infantry brigade commander and received a law degree from Tel Aviv University. When Yitzhak Rabin (who within a few years became associated with the Labour Party) became Chief of Staff in 1962, however, Sharon began again to rise rapidly in ranks, occupying the positions of Infantry School Commander and Head of Army Training Branch, eventually achieving the rank of Major General (Aluf). In the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon commanded the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front which made a breakthrough in the Kusseima-Abu-Ageila fortified area. In 1969, he was appointed the Head of IDF's Southern Command. He had no further promotions before retiring in August 1973. Soon after, he joined the right-wing Likud political party.[3]

Sharon (in bandage) with Moshe Dayan (right) in 1973
Sharon (in bandage) with Moshe Dayan (right) in 1973

Sharon' s military career was not over, however. At the start of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, Sharon was called back to duty and assigned to command a reserve armored division. His forces did not engage the Egyptian army immediately but it was Sharon who helped locate a breach between the Egyptian forces, which he then exploited by capturing a bridgehead on October 16 and throwing a bridge across the Suez Canal the following day. He violated his orders from the head of Southern Command by exploiting this success to cut the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army, located to the south of the canal crossing, isolating it from other Egyptian units. The divisions of Sharon and Avraham Adan (Bren) passed over this bridge into Africa advancing to within 101 kilometers of Cairo. They wreaked havoc on the lines of supply of the Third Army stretching to the south of them, cutting off and encircling the Third Army, but did not force its surrender before the cease-fire. Tensions between the two generals followed his decision, but a military tribunal later found his action was militarily effective. This move was regarded by many Israelis as the turning point of the war in the Sinai front. Thus, Sharon is viewed by some as a war hero who saved Israel from defeat in Sinai. A photo of Sharon wearing a head bandage on the Suez Canal became a famous symbol of Israeli military prowess.

Sharon's hawkish political positions were controversial and he was relieved of duty in February 1974.

Sabra and Shatila massacre

See main article: Sabra and Shatila massacre

During the 1982 Lebanon War, while Ariel Sharon was Defense Minister, the Sabra and Shatila massacre took place, in which between 460 and 3,500 Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps were killed by Lebanese Christian forces under the command of Lebanese Maronite Phalange militia. The Security Chief of the Phalange militia, Elie Hobeika, was the ground commander of the militiamen who entered the Palestinian camps and killed the Palestinians. The Phalange had been sent into the camps to clear out PLO fighters, and Israeli forces had been sent to the camps at Sharon's command to provide them with logistical support and to guard camp exits. The following year, Hobeika defected to the Syrians, along with his supporters, and represented the Syrians in the Lebanese cabinet for 20 years, leading to speculation by victims' families that Hobeika was a double agent and that the massacres were a Syrian provocation.

The Kahan Commission investigating these massacres recommended in early 1983 the removal of Sharon from his post as Defense Minister. In their recommendations and closing remarks, the commission stated:

We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense [Ariel Sharon] bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office - and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which "the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office."[4]

Sharon was dismissed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin but he remained in successive governments as a Minister.

In 1987, TIME magazine published a story implying Sharon was directly responsible for the massacres. Sharon sued Time for libel in American and Israeli courts. Time won the suit in the U.S. court because Sharon could not establish that Time had "acted out of malice", as required under the U.S. law, although the jury found the article false and defamatory. [5]

On June 18, 2001, relatives of the victims of the Sabra massacre began proceedings in Belgium to have Ariel Sharon indicted on war crimes charges [6]. In June 2002, a Brussels Appeals Court rejected the lawsuit because the law was subsequently changed to disallow such lawsuits unless a Belgian citizen is involved. [7] (original: [8])

Political career

Defence minister Sharon speaking to journalists
Defence minister Sharon speaking to journalists

Sharon had never been a political officer or general. He avoided Begin's Herut party in the 1940s and 1950s and seemed to be personally devoted to the ideals of Mapai, and then Labor. After he retired from the military and started a political career, Sharon even considered joining Labor, but was turned off by its cronyism. However, Sharon did propose a joint list of Labor and his own list party, Shlomtzion. When Labor rejected Shlomtzion, Sharon tried to form a joint list with the centrist Shinui party, though his party met denial there as well.

Only after two rejections did Sharon form a political alliance with Menachem Begin. In combination with Begin, the center-right won the Israeli elections of 1977 for the first time ever.

Sharon was a member of the Knesset 1973–1974, and then from 1977 to the present. In 19751976, he served as the security adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He then served as Minister of Agriculture (1977–1981), and as Defense Minister (1981–1983) in Begin's Likud government.

During this period, Sharon supported the Gush Emunim settlements movement and was viewed as the patron of the messianic settlers' movement. He used his position to encourage the establishment of a network of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to prevent the possibility of the return of these territories to Palestinian Arabs. Sharon doubled the number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip during his tenure.

After being dismissed from the Defense Minister post for his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Sharon remained in successive governments as a Minister without portfolio (1983–1984), Minister for Trade and Industry (1984–1990), and Minister for Housing Construction (1990–1992). In Benjamin Netanyahu's 19961999 government, he was Minister of National Infrastructure (1996–1998), and Foreign Minister (1998–1999). Upon the election of the Barak Labor government, Sharon became leader of the Likud party. After the collapse of Barak's government, he was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, United States President George W. Bush, and Ariel Sharon after reading statement to the press during the closing moments of the Red Sea Summit in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, United States President George W. Bush, and Ariel Sharon after reading statement to the press during the closing moments of the Red Sea Summit in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003

According to the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon has followed an aggressive policy of non-negotiation. Palestinians allege that the al-Aqsa Intifada was sparked by a visit by Sharon and an escort of several hundred policemen to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex, site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. Sharon's visit came after archeologists claimed that extensive building operations at the site were destroying priceless antiquities and a few months before the election. While visiting the site, Sharon declared that the complex would remain under perpetual Israeli control. Palestinian commentators accused Sharon of purposely inflaming emotions with the event to provoke a violent response and obstruct success of delicate ongoing peace talks.

Others, however, denied this claim vehemently, and claimed that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority planned the intifada. [9] [10] [11] [12]. They state that Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub provided assurances that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. They also often quote statements by Palestinian Authority officials, particularly Imad Falouji, the P.A. Communications Minister, who admitted months after Sharon's visit that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon's visit, stating the intifada "was carefully planned since the return of (Palestinian President) Yasser Arafat from Camp David negotiations rejecting the U.S. conditions."[13][14] According to the Mitchell Report, the government of Israel asserted that

President George W. Bush, center, discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003
President George W. Bush, center, discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003
the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on 25 July 2000 and the “widespread appreciation in the international community of Palestinian responsibility for the impasse.” In this view, Palestinian violence was planned by the PA leadership, and was aimed at “provoking and incurring Palestinian casualties as a means of regaining the diplomatic initiative.”

The Mitchell Report, based on a subsequent investigation, also found that the Sharon visit did not cause the Al-Aqsa Intifada, though it was poorly timed and would clearly have a provocative effect.[15]

Palestinians doubt the existence of popular support for Sharon's actions. Polls published in the media, as well as the 140% call-up of reservists (as opposed to the 60% in regular periods) seem to indicate that the Israeli public is quite supportive of Sharon's policies. A survey conducted by Tel Aviv University's Jaffe Center in May 2004 found that 80% of Jewish Israelis believe that the Israel Defense Forces have succeeded in militarily countering the Al-Aqsa Intifada, [16] indicating widespread faith in Sharon's hard-line policy.

On January 20, 2004, an Israeli court charged property developer David Appel with trying to bribe Sharon (through his son Gilad) while Sharon had served as Israel's National Infrastructure Minister in the 1990s. On June 14, 2004, Israel's Attorney General, Meni Mazouz, decided to close the case due to lack of evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon meet in the White House on 14 April 2004
President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon meet in the White House on 14 April 2004

On July 20, 2004, Sharon called on French Jews to emigrate from France to Israel immediately, in light of a purported increase in French anti-Semitism (94 anti-Semitic assaults reported in the first six months of 2004 compared to 47 in 2003). France has the third largest Jewish population (about 600,000 people), after Israel and the United States. Sharon claimed that an "unfettered anti-Semitism" reigned in France. The French government responded by describing his comments as "unacceptable", as did the French representative Jewish organization CRIF, which denied Sharon's claim of intense anti-Semitism in French society. An Israeli spokesperson later claimed that Sharon had been misunderstood. France has indefinitely postponed a visit by Sharon.

While some believe that his recent efforts have been damaging to the peace process, he has embarked on a risky course of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, while maintaining control of its borders and airspace. It has been welcomed by both the Palestinian Authority and the left-wing in Israel, as well as by many abroad, including the United States and the European Union, as a step towards a final peace settlement. However, it has been greeted with opposition from within his own Likud party and from other right-wing Israelis, on security, military, and religious grounds. Other detractors have publicly distrusted Sharon's motives for this plan, and their suspicions were further roused when top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass was quoted in Haaretz on October 6, 2004, as saying the purpose of disengagement was to destroy Palestinian aspirations for a state for years to come. This incident has bolstered the position of critics that Sharon is intentionally trying to destroy the Peace Process, an accusation denied by the Prime Minister's camp. See Israel's unilateral disengagement plan of 2004.

On December 1, 2004, Sharon fired five ministers from the Shinui party for voting against the government's 2005 budget. In January 2005 Sharon formed a national unity government that included representatives of Likud, Labour, and Meimad and United Torah Judaism as "out-of-government" supporters without any seats in the government (UTJ rejects having ministerial offices as a policy). Between August 16 to August 30, 2005, Sharon controversially removed 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza. After Israeli soldiers bulldozed every settlement structure except for several former synagogues buildings, Israeli soldiers formally left Gaza on Sunday, September 11, 2005 and closed the border fence at Kissufim. While his decision to withdraw from Gaza sparked bitter protests from Right Wing members of the Likud Party and the Settler movement, opinion polls showed that it was a popular move among most of the Israeli electorate. On September 27, 2005, Sharon narrowly defeated a leadership challenge initiated within the central committee of the governing Likud party by his main rival, Binyamin Netanyahu who had left Cabinet in protest at Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza by a 52-48% vote. The measure was an attempt by Netanyahu to call an early primary in November 2005 to choose the party's leader.


See also

External links

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Preceded by:
Ehud Barak
Prime Minister of Israel
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Menachem Begin
Minister of Defense of the State of Israel
Succeeded by:
Moshe Arens
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