Ariel Sharon: Champion of Controversy

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

For more than a week, just as the newspapers were retrieving those “Arik and me” plates that had been set aside briefly as the mourning for Arik Einstein dissipated, Ariel Sharon mocked those awaiting an official announcement. Just as in those nature films about the whale that survives the brutal hits by hunters, Sharon proved once again that his stubbornness was unparalleled.

Unlike Yitzhak Rabin, whose funeral in 1995 was organized by the Israel Defense Forces, Sharon left enough time for the police to prepare. In police terms, this will be a cross-district event. It will begin in Jerusalem, continue with a procession that brings Sharon’s coffin to his Sycamore Ranch, and end at his grave on Kalaniot Hill, under the auspices of the Southern District’s Lachish police.

Thus, the film that began on a winter’s night eight years ago will be played backward. Then, Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi sat in his branch office in Tel Aviv as the Southern District reported on the lengthy trip to Hadassah University Hospital and the handing of the baton to the Jerusalem District. It will be a trip that doesn’t just cross districts but eras, the last journey of the last representative of the 1948 generation of Israeli leaders – except for President Shimon Peres, of course.

So what will be taught about Ariel Sharon in civics classes? On balance, detached from tradition and momentary experience, he cannot – even with the greatest effort – be described as a role model. Getting a majority of the votes in an election or in the Knesset, as required to reach the premiership, is not enough to white out the shadows.

Both in the IDF and politics, Sharon was the champion of investigations and entanglements. In the dispute between Sharon and Rehavam Ze’evi – both problematic lieutenant colonels – on the question of sending paratroopers into a death trap at the Mitla Pass during the Sinai Campaign of 1956, Ze’evi was found to be more reliable. Paratroop officers rebelled against brigade commander Sharon and he was put into cold storage. Those above him who irritated him – from Haim Laskov to Haim Bar-Lev – got repaid when they were appointed chief of staff and he was not.

As a politician, he replaced his Mapai membership booklet with membership in the Liberal wing of the Gahal party that eventually became Likud. In the mid-1970s he formed Shlomtzion, the party that, aside from him, got only prominent statesman Itzhak Itzhaky into the Knesset, after which he returned to Likud and then, in 2005, formed Kadima. Like a paratroops officer who retrains for the Armored Corps in order to advance, the only importance he ascribed to the setting was as a frame around the commander’s picture as he rose in rank.

The main thing that helped him remain in government was the leniency of the various attorneys general. After the Kahan Commission report on the first Lebanon war got him booted out of the Defense Ministry, Yitzhak Shamir allowed him to remain as minister without portfolio. Former attorney general Yosef Harish ignored the conflict of interest inherent in the relationship between then Trade and Industry Minister Sharon and his benefactor Meshulam Riklis, who had helped cover Sharon’s expenses when he successfully sued Time Magazine in New York in 1986, even as he was discussing the purchase of Israel Chemicals with him.

Elyakim Rubinstein and Menachem Mazuz used learned reasoning to explain their emotional reluctance to bring Sharon to trial in a variety of scandals. Mazuz’s impression of his performance in government helped Sharon in a practical sense but also cast a pall: The prime minister was given a pass on actions taken in his name by the Sycamore Ranch Company because he was not in control of the details.

Eighteen years after he fell from grace because of Israel’s embroilment in the first Lebanon war, he returned thanks to Palestinian violence, which was a direct result of Israel ending that war by pulling out with no agreement.

When he similarly pulled out of Gaza and laid the foundation for the Hamas takeover, he helped realize the nightmare scenario that had previously served him as a political accessory: Gaza became a launching pad for rockets on the entire south. The ability of Gazan terror groups to rain fire on his ranch and the hill on which he will be buried is, like the many investigations, part of Sharon’s legacy.

Ariel SharonCredit: Haaretz
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Sharon and George W. Bush, Texas 2005Credit: Reuters
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Begin and Sharon in Elon Moreh, 1978Credit: Herman Hananya / GPO
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Ariel Sharon in Beirut, 1982Credit: AP

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