Ariel Sharon is a man who does not swallow his pride. He has a hard time admitting mistakes, and bears a grudge against anyone who hurts him. But lo and behold, this man, who has a developed sense of self-esteem, who makes a habit of demonstrating inner strength, independence and confidence in his way, is abandoning his son on the political battlefield and exposing him to a conviction - if not time in jail - for offenses committed, to say the least, in the service and on behalf of his father.

Omri Sharon pleaded guilty yesterday to a series of charges for which he could be sent to prison. Even if the court chooses to be lenient, the prime minister's son is paying a heavy price for his criminal deeds. He is nipping in the bud a promising political career in which he has flourished (in his own way); he is tainted now with the label of a criminal; and he will have to endure an unpleasant punishment (even if not in the form of imprisonment). This hell is raining down on Omri Sharon because he is taking the bullet for his father.

The offenses to which Omri Sharon has admitted were committed for the purpose of funding his father's election campaign for the Likud leadership race in 1999. Moreover, it is difficult to escape the impression that the plea-bargain deal that led to the son's conviction was designed, among other purposes, to spare the father embarrassment - lest it were to emerge in the trial that he was somehow involved in or knew about the deeds that placed his son in the dock (Ariel Sharon has denied any connection to the charges, claiming he was not involved at all in the funding of his election campaign; former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg found, in one instance at least, a check written and signed by the prime minister and made out to a service provider for his headquarters).

It is strange to see that the prime minister is allowing the process to move along without intervening on behalf of his son: He is not standing up and taking responsibility for the mess; he is not trying to limit the damage to his son by providing testimony that would make things easier for him; and he is acting like someone who has come to terms with the harsh outcome. The son is paying the price for the father's political ambitions.

This response goes against a father's natural instinct - to save the fruit of his loins from trouble. And it certainly goes against the prime minister's image as a dedicated and warm father whose children and grandchildren are at the forefront of his concerns. Neither does it sit well with moral principles. After all, the offenses for which Omri Sharon has been convicted were committed on behalf of his father. How is the father now abandoning him to his fate?

The picture that emerges is that, in the Sharon family, the sons have assumed the role of defending their father (Omri, with regard to the offenses pertaining to the funding of the election campaign; and Gilad, in the case of the investigation into the Cyril Kern affair), while the father's sensibilities and moral perceptions accept it.

Until now, one could understand Ariel Sharon's reluctance to respond: As long as the police investigation and judicial process continued, the prime minister had the right to await the developments, in the hope that Omri would extricate himself under his own steam. Now, the time of truth has come: The son has been convicted and is facing a prison sentence. Will the father's self-respect allow him to continue to look on from the sidelines?

Some will say that intervention on the part of the prime minister would serve no practical purpose: The offenses to which his son has admitted were committed by him, and any assumption of overriding responsibility for them on the part of Ariel Sharon would be meaningless; the government he heads is coming to the end of its term in office in any event, such that his resignation - a called-for move under the circumstances, just as Yitzhak Rabin did in the affair concerning his wife's foreign bank account - would not result in a different outcome to the political developments that are about to take place in the coming days.

Others will say that Ariel Sharon's behavior in this instance is the antithesis of the ethos he has nurtured all his life: Never abandon an injured man on the battlefield.