Sharon, Ariel

Major-General Ariel Sharon, the eleventh Prime Minister of Israel, was born on 27 February 1928 in Kafr Malal, Palestine, with the name Ariel Shinerman. At the age of fourteen he was aware of the strong Zionist sympathies of his family, and he joined the Haganah. He holds an LL.B in Law and Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1962), and has published a book and numerous articles in local and foreign newspapers. He is widowed and has two sons.

During the 1948 War of Independence in 1948 he commanded an infantry company in the Alexandroni Brigade, and following the war he remained in the army. He was given charge of intelligence work and retaliation attacks on Arab neighbours. During 1953 he founded and led the “101” special commando unit, which carried out retaliatory operations against Palestinian villages. Women and children died during the attack. The massacre in the West Bank village of Qibya on 14 October 1953 was possibly the most notorious when Sharon’s troops blew up 45 houses. Sixty-nine Palestinian civilians were killed.

Sharon was appointed commander of a paratrooper brigade in 1956 under Yitzhak Rabin, and fought in the Suez-Sinai War, where he acted beyond orders, resulting in many casualties on Israeli side. It seriously impeded the advancement of his career. In 1957 Sharon attended the Camberley Staff College in Great Britain. For the period 1958-62 he served as an infantry brigade commander and then as Infantry School Commander. He was appointed Head of the IDF Northern Command in 1964 and Head of the Army Training Department in 1966.

Six-day War

He was appointed brigadier-general in 1967, and took part in the 1967 Six Day War as commander of an armoured division. By 1969 Sharon was appointed Chief of the IDF Southern Command, and in June 1972 he resigned from the army, but was recalled to active military service in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 to command an armoured division, which lead the crossing of the Suez Canal. All in all he previously served in the Israeli Defence Forces for more than thirty years and ended his career with the rank of Major-General, which he was promoted to in 1967.

Ariel Sharon was elected to the Knesset in December 1973, but resigned a year later, serving as security advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1975-76). He joined the Gahal party, and was one of the co-founders of the Likud party. He was again elected to the Knesset in 1977 via the Shlomzion party, which was established by him in 1976, and was appointed Minister of Agriculture in the first government created by Menachem Begin.

In 1981 he became Minister of Defence. In November he brought about the first strategic cooperation agreement with the USA, and widened defence ties between Israel and many nations. He also assisted in bringing thousands of Jews from Ethiopia through Sudan. However, following the brutal attack on Lebanon, he was forced to resign as Minister of Defence on 14 February 1983 after heavy pressure from Israeli public and media as being an unfit person to head the Department. He lost the elections in 1984 and became the new leader of Likud. Later that year he became Minister of Trade and Industry under Prime Minister Shimon Peres. During this period he concluded the Free Trade Agreement with the USA in 1985. He held this portfolio until his resignation in 1990 when the government was overthrown.

In May of the same year Sharon was appointed Minister of Construction and Housing in the government of Yitzhak Shamir. He sped up the establishment of settlements in Palestine, and made himself even more unpopular than he was before. Between 1990-1992 Sharon also served as Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption. Following the fall of the USSR, and the waves of immigration from Russia, he initiated and carried out a programme to absorb the immigrants throughout the country. It included the construction of 144,000 apartments. From 1992 to 1996, he served as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. In 1996 Sharon was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure and was involved in fostering joint ventures with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians. He also served as Chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Bedouin advancement.

On 9 October 1998 Sharon was appointed by Netanyahu as Minster of Foreign Affairs. Discussions with the Foreign Minister of the USA, Madeleine Albright, failed as she rejected a meeting due to Israel not fulfilling the signed agreements with the Palestinians. On 27 May 1999 he became the new leader of the Likud party following the resignation of Netanyahu

Sharon as Prime Minister

On 6 February 2001 after the election campaign, which focused on Sharon as the family man and loving grandfather, he was elected prime minister in a landslide victory against Ehud Barak with nearly 60% of the cast votes. He proposed to Ehud Barak to form a coalition government. Barak could become the Minister of Defence, but Barak refused. Sharon introduced his new government to the Knesset on 7 March 2001, and retained the Immigrant Absorption portfolio. During December the verbal and military disagreement with Palestinian president Yassir Arafat reached a crucial point. After several Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, he ordered the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure. Both terrorists and civilians were killed, and Sharon put Arafat in an effective house arrest in Ramallah.

In early 2002 Sharon lost the moral initiative in the eyes of the USA government. For the first time in his leadership he was under pressure to withdraw military personnel from areas defined as under the authority of the temporary Palestinian Authority. As the same time it became clear that Israel had fewer friends than before, and that its friends were generally considered right wing, and frequently with extremist views e.g. strong anti-Arab sentiments. Sharon nevertheless became very popular in Israel, or better, 3 of 4 Israelis back his politics with regard to Palestine and its people. He has never been accused of hiding his political views and aims and. always stands by his principles even in times when it has made him unpopular and denounced.

The government of national unity broke up during October 2002, compelling Sharon to announce elections for early 2003. It resulted in a Likud victory. In 2003 his government accepted the internationally supported “road map for peace”, and resumed talks with the Palestinians until violence once more broke out in August. As recently as 2005 he withdrew Israeli settlers and forces from the Gaza Strip. This amendment, which occurred for security reasons, was opposed by many of his followers, and forced him into a coalition with the Labour Party.

On 20 November 2005 Sharon resigned from the Likud due to the opposition from Amir Peretz and some of his followers, and formed a new centrist party, Kadima. New elections for the Knesset were planned for March 2006, but on 4 January 2006 he suffered a significant stroke, with bleeding in the brain. He underwent surgery to stop the bleeding, but went into an induced coma. Ehud Olmert, the Deputy Prime Minister, became acting Prime Minister.