Ariel Sharon, the hard-charging Israeli general and prime minister who was admired and hated for his battlefield exploits and ambitions to reshape the Middle East, died Saturday, eight years after a stroke left him in a coma from which he never awoke. He was 85.
As one of Israel’s most famous soldiers, Sharon was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as “the bulldozer”, a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.
He led his country into a divisive war in Lebanon in 1982 and was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman.
Sharon’s son Gilad announced the death on Saturday afternoon. Sharon’s health had taken a downturn over the past week and a half as a number of bodily organs, including his kidneys, stopped functioning, and doctors on Thursday pronounced his condition “grave”.
“He has gone. He went when he decided to go,” Gilad Sharon said outside the hospital where his father had been treated in recent years.
The life and career of the man Israelis called “Arik” will be remembered for its three distinct stages: his eventful and controversial time in uniform, his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel’s settlement movement and mastermind of the Lebanon invasion, then his successful term as a pragmatist prime minister, capped by a dramatic withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip and curtailed at the height of his popularity by his sudden stroke.
Ariel Sharon was born to Russian immigrant parents on Feb. 26, 1928, in the small farming community of Kfar Malal, north of Tel Aviv.
He joined the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish defense force, at 14 and later went on to command an infantry platoon during the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. He was seriously wounded in battle with the Jordanian Legion over control of the road to Jerusalem.
Domestically, Sharon became the latest in a long line of Israeli prime ministers whose terms were marred by corruption probes.
Sharon, who lived on a ranch in southern Israel, was widowed twice. He is survived by two sons. A third died as a child in a firearms accident in 1967.
Sharon transformed India-Israel ties
Jerusalem: Ariel Sharon, the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India, can be credited with transforming bilateral relations from diminutive defence and trade co-operation to the strategic ties of today. A retired Israeli defence official, who was involved in coordinating efforts with the Indian political and military leadership during the 1999 Kargil war, said the conflict helped “sow the seeds of trust” but Sharon’s premiership “transformed this trust into a long-lasting bond”. It is undeniable that his visit to New Delhi in 2003 gave a big impetus to ties between the two countries, the defence official told PTI. Sharon’s faith in Indo-Israel ties is said to have also had a positive impact on India’s ties with the United States. PTI
Barack Obama (US President): “On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel… We join with the Israeli people in honouring his commitment to his country.’’
Tawfik Tirawi (Former Palestinian, Intelligence chief): “He wanted to erase Palestinian people from the map… He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive.’’
David Cameron (British Prime Minister): “Ariel Sharon is one of the most significant figures in Israeli history and as Prime Minister he took brave and controversial decisions in pursuit of peace, before he was so tragically incapacitated. Israel has today lost an important leader.”