Ariel Sharon, the man who, as a popular Israeli song put it, does not stop for anything, was stopped by a hemorrhage. The man who for most of his life projected hostility, is ending his long and influential public career enveloped by the empathy and concern of the entire country. The soldier, politician, shameless glutton was stopped a moment before the dish he boiled up was about to burn his family.
There is no clear separation fence between body and soul; was Sharon defeated by an overdose of anticoagulant agents or some other physiological cause, or because the soul signaled to the body that it could no longer bear the situation? Perhaps it is a decisive fact and perhaps merely a symbolic sign: Sharon's health weakened right around the time that his son, Omri, was to be punished for the acts of fraud ascribed to him in the internal Likud elections that made Sharon prime minister. Since Omri Sharon's plea bargain with the state was made public - a deal that might put the son behind bars - the question hovered, How would the father respond?
Sharon, who has been accused of treating people in a purely exploitative manner, could not, apparently, disavow his son's fate. The son, who sacrificed himself for his father, resigned from the Knesset last week, stigmatized by a mark of infamy, and is due to be sentenced within three weeks. Ariel Sharon, who always looked upon the family nest as the warm, protective cell where he could let his guard down, could not withstand the emotional burden that stemmed from the fact that his son, his flesh and blood, is about to pay a heavy price for the flak jacket with which he covered his father.
Sharon left his mark on the history of the state more than most prime ministers before him. As a young officer in his 20s, he influenced defense policy in the governments of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, and Israel's relations with its neighbors. Through the reprisal operations he initiated, or carried out, he marked out a strategic route that led to the Sinai Campaign of 1956. As head of the Northern Command headquarters in the early 1960s, he played an important part in instilling a fighting spirit in the military top brass and in the pressure they exerted on Levi Eshkol's government to attack the Egyptians and Syrians. As GOC Southern Command in the War of Attrition, he led an aggressive operational policy toward Egypt and shaped the Palestinians' awareness of Israel's determination to fight them. His role in the Yom Kippur War requires no elaboration.
After entering politics, he remained a major player in determining the country's fate: He founded the Likud, was a minister in the governments ofMenachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, and made his presence felt in each of their key moves. He nurtured Gush Emunim and expanded the settlement enterprise, which definitively determined the state's position on resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. He played an important role in completing peace negotiations with Egypt, and he played a devastating role in the Lebanon War.
His impact on Israeli history only grew since he was elected prime minister. He will be remembered as the one who began to collapse the Israeli hold on the territories and as the one who created a historic precedent by withdrawing from Gaza.
Sharon turned his election as prime minister into a journey of self-compensation for past deficits. Since he was a child in Kfar Malal, he was taught to be suspicious of others. His family was not popular in the rural community, and he grew accustomed to using force to get what he wanted. That pattern recurred throughout his life, until his election as prime minister: as paratroops commander, as a major general on the General Staff, as a Likud leader, as a minister - he was considered different.
He was a griper and a plotter who frequently clashed with those around him. After the Mitla Pass battle, during the Sinai Campaign, he suffered accusations from paratroops commanders, trial-by-friend style. As a member of the General Staff, on one occasion most of the generals, one after another, attacked him for uncollegial behavior and for using the press to besmirch them. Sharon left the room in a huff, asking: "What's this, friends telling on Arik?"
As a cabinet member, newspapers reported almost weekly on his clashes with other ministers. After the Lebanon War, when he was summoned before the Kahan Commission, which examined Israeli responsibility for the Sabra and Chatila massacres, he accused Begin of not backing him up.
Sharon failed to develop harmonious relations with colleagues; he thought they envied his skills and were trying to keep him in check. His promotion in the army had been slow, and his political career was very bumpy. He ascribed this pace to external harassment, not his own conduct. He always believed he did not receive the glory and recognition he deserved, and that he was the victim of ambushes by rivals. He compensated himself by limitless overeating and by creating a tight circle of fans before whom he would scheme his plans and express his critical opinion of the country's civilian and military leaders.
The 2001 elections got him what he wanted: He became prime minister, the most powerful position in Israel. Satisfaction was his at last: From a leper he became the beloved father of the whole country. From being persona non grata in the world's living rooms, he became a welcome and intriguing guest worthy of red-carpet treatment. From an officer and politician who chased after reporters, he became the most sought-after media subject. He was completely
legitimized and grew more at peace.
He came to realize that what you see from here, you don't see from there. The prime ministership not only gave him a chance to see the country's needs from a broad perspective, but also to enjoy the pampering warmth of being a popular leader upon whom the people are relying. His departure from the political stage leaves behind a country in leadership chaos.
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