Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, has died aged 85, eight years after the stroke that left him in a coma. In the past two weeks, Sharon's condition deteriorated sharply, and today his long illness ended.
Ariel Sharon, whose original family name was Sheinerman, was born on February 26, 1928, in Moshav Kfar Malal in mandatory Palestine. He will be remembered as one of Israel's most daring military commanders, and as the politician of the right who initiated Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from settlements on the West Bank.
As a young officer, Sharon commanded the IDF's 101 unit, that carried out reprisal operations against the Arab irregulars in the 1950s. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when after the Egyptians had pushed the IDF back from the Suez Canal, Sharon, then a reserve general, led a counter attack across the canal that ended with Egypt's Third Army surrounded. But although Sharon won military glory, he was also criticized by his superiors for exceeding orders, for example when in the 1956 Sinai campaign he ignored warnings not to attack the Mitla Pass, and his assault was beaten back with heavy casualties.
After he left military service, Sharon turned to politics, and was among those who founded the Likud party out of a group of right wing factions. In 1981, he was appointed minister of defense in Menachem Begin's government, and a year later, after the shooting of Israel's ambassador in London, he launched Operation Peace for Galilee, which turned into the First Lebanon War. What was supposed to be a limited operation became a protracted campaign with Israeli troops reaching Beirut. Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister following the Kahan Commission enquiry into responsibility for the massacre carried out by Christian Falangists in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut.
As minister of housing and construction in the early 1990s, Sharon led a surge of construction in the West Bank, partly to house the influx of immigrants from countries of the disintegrating Soviet Union.
In September 2000, as leader of the Likud, then in opposition, Sharon made a highly publicized visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, sparking the Second Intifada, although the main cause of that outbreak of Palestinian violence, which lasted four years, was the failure of the Camp David peace talks between Israel, led by Ehud Barak, and the Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat.
In February 2001, Sharon defeated Barak in a general election, to become prime minister. In the Spring of 2002, he ordered Operation Defensive Shield, in which the IDF set out to uproot the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
Following the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, relations between Sharon and US President George W. Bush became close, and they saw themselves as allies in the war on terror. Despite the security situation and an economic recession, Sharon won a convincing victory in the 2003 elections, doubling the Likud's Knesset representation to 38 seats. He appointed Benjamin Netanyahu as finance minister, and through a program of budget cuts and economic reforms Israel emerged from recession.
In the summer of 2005, despite huge demonstrations against the move, Israeli settlers were removed from settlements in the Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria. The IDF withdrew from the Gaza Strip completely. Critics of the move alleged that it was designed to deflect allegations of corruption against Sharon and his family.
In November 2005, Sharon announced the formation of a new political party, Kadima, with a group of Knesset members who split from the Likud and defectors from other parties, including Shimon Peres, who left Labor to join Kadima. But in December 2005, Sharon, then aged 77, suffered a light stroke. After a few days in hospital, he returned to work, but on January 4 the following year he suffered a much more severe stroke that left him in a coma.
Sharon married twice. His first wife Margalit died in a car accident in 1962. Five years later, their son Gur, aged eleven, died after accidentally shooting himself when playing with an old gun that belonged to his father. Sharon married Margalit's sister Lili, and they had two children, Omri and Gilad. Lili died in 2000.
Paying tribute to Sharon today, President Shimon Peres said, "My dear friend, Arik Sharon, lost his final battle today. Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel's great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision. He knew how to take difficult decisions and implement them. We all loved him and he will be greatly missed. I send my condolences to the Sharon family. May he rest in peace." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The State of Israel bows its head on the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Ariel Sharon played a central role in the struggle for the security of the State of Israel over all its years. He was, first and foremost, a courageous fighter and an outstanding general, and was among the IDF's greatest commanders. From his youth, he served the people of Israel on the battlefield. He did so as a soldier in the War of Independence, a commander in the  Sinai campaign and the Six Day War, and up to his decisive role in the battle over the Suez Canal that led to the turning point in the Yom Kippur War. He established Unit 101 and took the initiative in the war against terrorism, which became a central pillar of the State of Israel. Upon leaving the military, he continued to work on behalf of the people of Israel both in his many government roles and as the 11th prime minister of the State of Israel. His memory will be enshrined forever in the heart of the nation."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 11, 2014
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