Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon
אריאל שרון
Ariel Sharon at the Pentagon in May 2002.
11th Prime Minister of Israel
In office
7 March 2001 – 14 April 2006
(Ehud Olmert serving as Acting Prime Minister from 4 January 2006)
President Moshe Katsav
Deputy Ehud Olmert
Preceded by Ehud Barak
Succeeded by Ehud Olmert
Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel
In office
13 October 1998 – 6 June 1999
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Preceded by David Levy
Succeeded by David Levy
National Infrastructure Minister of Israel
In office
8 July 1996 – 6 July 1999
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Preceded by Yitzhak Levy
Succeeded by Eli Suissa
Housing and Construction Minister of Israel
In office
11 June 1990 – 13 July 1992
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
Preceded by David Levy
Succeeded by Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Industry, Trade and Labour Minister of Israel
In office
13 September 1984 – 20 February 1990
Prime Minister Shimon Peres (1984–1986)
Yitzhak Shamir (1986–1990)
Preceded by Gideon Patt
Succeeded by Moshe Nissim
Defense Minister of Israel
In office
5 August 1981 – 14 February 1983
Prime Minister Menachem Begin
Preceded by Menachem Begin
Succeeded by Menachem Begin
Personal details
Born 26 February 1928 (1928-02-26) (age 83)
Kfar Malal, British Mandate of Palestine
Political party Kadima (formerly Likud and Shlomtzion)
Spouse(s) Margalit Sharon (d. 1962);
Lily Sharon (d. 2000)
Children 3
Profession Military officer
Religion Judaism
Military service
Allegiance Israel Israel
Rank Aluf (Major General)

Ariel Sharon (Hebrew: About this sound אריאל שרון‎, also known by his diminutive Arik, אַריק, born Ariel Scheinermann, אריאל שיינרמן on 26 February 1928) is an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. He has been in a permanent vegetative state since suffering a stroke on 4 January 2006.

Sharon was a commander in the Israeli Army since its inception in 1948. As an army officer, he participated in the 1948 War of Independence, the Qibya massacre of 1953, the 1956 Suez War, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. After retiring from the army, Sharon joined the right-wing Likud party, and served in a number of ministerial posts in Likud-led governments in 1977–92 and 1996–99. He became the leader of the Likud in 2000, and served as Israel’s Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006.

During his long military and political career, Sharon was considered a controversial and polarizing figure.

In 1983 the commission established by the Israeli Government found that as Minister of Defense during the 1982 Lebanon War Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for the massacre by Lebanese militias of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila for having disregarded the prospect of acts of bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps and not preventing their entry.[1] The Kahan Commission recommended Sharon's removal as Defense Minister, and Sharon did resign after his initial refusal to do so.

In 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s Sharon championed construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, as Prime Minister, in 2004–05 Sharon orchestrated Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Facing stiff opposition to this policy within the Likud, in November 2005 he left Likud to form a new Kadima party.

On 4 January 2006, Sharon suffered a severe stroke that left him in a persistent vegetative state. In March 2006 elections, Kadima, led by Ehud Olmert following Sharon's stroke, went on to win plurality of Knesset seats, becoming the senior coalition partner in Israel's 31st government.


Early life

Sharon was born in Kfar Malal, then in the British Mandate of Palestine, to a family of Lithuanian Jews – Shmuel Sheinerman, of Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarus) and Dvora (formerly Vera), of Mogilev. His father was studying agronomy at the university of Tbilisi, Georgia (Georgian SSR) and his mother had just started her fourth year of medical studies when the couple married. They immigrated to the British Mandate Palestine from Russia, fleeing the early Pogroms associated with the Bolshevik Revolution. Apart from Hebrew, Sharon's father spoke Yiddish and his mother spoke Russian; their son also learned to speak Russian as a young boy.[citation needed]

The family arrived in the Second Aliyah and settled in a socialist, secular community where, despite being Mapai supporters, they were known to be contrarians against the prevailing community consensus:

The Scheinermans' eventual ostracism... followed the 1933 Arlozorov murder when Dvora and Shmuel refused to endorse the Labor movement's anti-Revisionist calumny and participate in Bolshevic-style public revilement rallies, then the order of the day. Retribution was quick to come. They were expelled from the local health-fund clinic and village synagogue. The cooperative's truck wouldn't make deliveries to their farm nor collect produce.[2]

Four years after their arrival at Kfar Malal, the Sheinermans had a daughter, Yehudit (Dita), and two years after, they had a son, Ariel. At age 10, Sharon entered the Zionist youth movement Hassadeh. In 1942 at the age of 14, Sharon joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion, and later the Haganah, the underground paramilitary force and the Jewish military precursor to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Military career

From 1948 War to Suez Crisis

Sharon as a young soldier

At the creation of Israel (and Haganah's transformation into the Israel Defense Forces), Sharon became a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade. He was severely wounded in the groin by the Jordanian Arab Legion in the first Battle of Latrun, an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the besieged Jewish community of Jerusalem. In September 1949, Sharon was promoted to company commander (of the Golani Brigade's reconnaissance unit) and in 1950 to intelligence officer for Central Command. He then took leave to begin studies in history and Middle Eastern culture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A year and a half later, he was asked to return to active service in the rank of major and as the leader of the new Unit 101, Israel's first special forces unit.

Unit 101 undertook a series of military raids against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states that helped bolster Israeli morale and fortify its deterrent image. The unit was known for raids against Arab civilians and military,[3] notably in the widely condemned Qibya massacre in the fall of 1953, in which 69 Palestinian civilians, some of them children, were killed by Sharon's troops in a reprisal attack on their West Bank village. In the documentary Israel and the Arabs: 50 Year War, Sharon recalls what happened after the raid, which was heavily condemned by many Western nations, including the U.S.:

I was summoned to see Ben-Gurion. It was the first time I met him, and right from the start Ben-Gurion said to me: "Let me first tell you one thing: it doesn't matter what the world says about Israel, it doesn't matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won't survive."

Sharon, top second from left, with members of 890th Paratroop Battalion after Operation Egged (November 1955). Standing l to r: Lt. Meir Har-Zion, Maj. Arik Sharon, Lt. Gen Moshe Dayan, Capt. Dani Matt, Lt. Moshe Efron, Maj. Gen Asaf Simchoni; On ground, l to r: Capt. Aharon Davidi, Lt. Ya'akov Ya'akov, Capt. Raful Eitan

A few months after its founding, Unit 101 was merged with the 890 Paratroopers Battalion to create the Paratroopers Brigade (Sharon eventually became the latter's commander). It continued to attack military, culminating with the attack on the Qalqilyah police station in the autumn of 1956.[4][5]

In 1952–53, Sharon attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, taking History and Oriental studies.

Sharon was widowed twice. Shortly after becoming a military instructor, he married Margalit, with whom he had a son, Gur. Margalit died in a car accident in May 1962. Their son, Gur, died in October 1967 after a friend accidentally shot him while they were playing with a rifle.[6][7][8] After Margalit's death, Sharon married her younger sister, Lily. They had two sons, Omri and Gilad. Lily Sharon died of cancer in 2000.

From 1958 to 1962, Sharon served as commander of an infantry brigade and studied law at Tel Aviv University.

Mitla incident

Sharon (left), with other commandos

In the 1956 Suez War (the British "Operation Musketeer"), Sharon commanded Unit 202 (the Paratroopers Brigade), and was responsible for taking ground east of the Sinai's Mitla Pass and eventually taking the pass itself. Having successfully carried out the first part of his mission (joining a battalion parachuted near Mitla with the rest of the brigade moving on ground), Sharon's unit was deployed near the pass. Neither reconnaissance aircraft nor scouts reported enemy forces inside the Mitla Pass. Sharon, whose forces were initially heading east, away from the pass, reported to his superiors that he was increasingly concerned with the possibility of an enemy thrust through the pass, which could attack his brigade from the flank or the rear.

Sharon asked for permission to attack the pass several times, but his requests were denied, though he was allowed to check its status so that if the pass was empty, he could receive permission to take it later. Sharon sent a small scout force, which was met with heavy fire and became bogged down due to vehicle malfunction in the middle of the pass. Sharon ordered the rest of his troops to attack in order to aid their comrades.[citation needed] In the ensuing successful battle to capture the pass, 260 Egyptian and 38 Israeli soldiers were killed. Sharon was criticized by his superiors and he was damaged by allegations several years later made by several former subordinates, who claimed that Sharon tried to provoke the Egyptians and sent out the scouts in bad faith, ensuring that a battle would ensue.[citation needed]

Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War

The Mitla incident hindered Sharon's military career for several years. In the meantime, he occupied the position of an infantry brigade commander and received a law degree from Tel Aviv University. However, when Yitzhak Rabin became Chief of Staff in 1964, Sharon began again to rise rapidly in the ranks, occupying the positions of Infantry School Commander and Head of Army Training Branch, eventually achieving the rank of Aluf (Major General). In the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon commanded the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front which made a breakthrough in the Kusseima-Abu-Ageila fortified area (see Battle of Abu-Ageila). In 1969, he was appointed the Head of IDF's Southern Command. He had no further promotions before retiring in August 1973. Soon after, he joined the Likud ("Unity") political party.[9]

At the start of the Yom Kippur War on 6 October 1973, Sharon was called back to active duty along with his assigned reserve armored division. His forces did not engage the Egyptian Army immediately, despite his requests. Under cover of darkness Sharon's forces moved to a point on the Suez Canal that had been prepared before the war. Bridging equipment was thrown across the canal on 17 October. The bridgehead was between two Egyptian Armies. He then headed north towards Ismailia, intent on cutting the Egyptian second army's supply lines, but his division was halted south of the Fresh Water Canal.[10]

Abraham (Bren) Adan's division passed over the bridgehead into Africa advancing to within 101 kilometers of Cairo. His division managed to encircle Suez, cutting off and encircling the Third Army, but did not force its surrender before the ceasefire. Tensions between the two generals followed Sharon's decision, but a military tribunal later found his action was militarily effective. This move was regarded by many Israelis as the turning point of the war in the Sinai front. Thus, Sharon is widely viewed as a war hero who saved Israel from defeat in Sinai. A photo of Sharon wearing a head bandage on the Suez Canal became a famous symbol of Israeli military prowess.

Sharon's political positions were controversial and he was relieved of duty in February 1974.

Early political career

Beginnings of political career

In the 1940s and 1950s, Sharon seemed to be personally devoted to the ideals of Mapai, the predecessor of the modern Labor Party. However, after retiring from military service, he was instrumental in establishing Likud in July 1973 by a merger of Herut, the Liberal Party and independent elements. Sharon became chairman of the campaign staff for that year's elections, which were scheduled for November. Two and a half weeks after the start of the election campaign, the Yom Kippur War erupted and Sharon was called back to reserve service. In the elections Sharon won a seat, but a year later he resigned.

From June 1975 to March 1976, Sharon was a special aide to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He planned his return to politics for the 1977 elections; first he tried to return to the Likud and replace Menachem Begin at the head of the party. He suggested to Simha Erlich, who headed the Liberal Party bloc in the Likud, that he was more fitting than Begin to win an election victory; he was rejected, however. He then tried to join the Labor Party and the centrist Democratic Movement for Change, but was rejected by those parties too. Only then did he form his own list, Shlomtzion, which won two Knesset seats in the subsequent elections. Immediately after the elections he merged Shlomtzion with the Likud and became Minister of Agriculture.

When Sharon joined Begin's government he had relatively little political experience. During this period, Sharon supported the Gush Emunim settlements movement and was viewed as the patron of the settlers' movement. He used his position to encourage the establishment of a network of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to prevent the possibility of Palestinian Arabs' return of these territories. Sharon doubled the number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip during his tenure.

On his settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tzomet party: "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Judean) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them."[11]

After the 1981 elections, Begin rewarded Sharon for his important contribution to Likud's narrow win, by appointing him Minister of Defense.

Sabra and Shatila massacre

Minister of Defense Sharon (right) and Caspar Weinberger, 1982

During the 1982 Lebanon War, while Sharon was Defense Minister, the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred between 16 September and 18. Between 800 and 3,500 Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges—Lebanese Maronite Christian militias. The Security Chief of the Phalange militia, Elie Hobeika, was the ground commander of the militiamen who entered the Palestinian camps and killed the Palestinians. The Phalange had been sent into the camps to clear out PLO fighters while Israeli forces surrounded the camps, blocking camp exits and providing logistical support. The killings led some to label Sharon "the Butcher of Beirut".[12]

An Associated Press report on 15 September 1982 stated:

Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement, tied the killing [of the Phalangist leader Gemayel] to the PLO, saying: "It symbolises the terrorist murderousness of the PLO terrorist organisations and their supporters." Habib Chartouni, a Lebanese Christian from the Syrian Socialist National Party confessed to the murder of Gemayel, and no Palestinians were involved. Sharon had used this to instigate the entrance of the Lebanese militias into the camps.

Robert Maroun Hatem, Elie Hobeika's bodyguard, stated in his book From Israel to Damascus that Hobeika ordered the massacre of civilians in defiance of Israeli instructions to behave like a "dignified" army.[13]

Kahan Commission finds Sharon "personally responsible" for massacre

The investigative Kahan Commission found the Israeli Defence Forces indirectly responsible for the massacre and that no Israeli was directly responsible for the events which occurred in the camps. The commission also asserted that Israel had indirect responsibility for the massacre since the I.D.F. held the area.

The Commission determined that the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla was carried out by a Phalangist unit, acting on its own but its entry was known to Israel and approved by Sharon. Prime Minister Begin was found responsible for not exercising greater involvement and awareness in the matter of introducing the Phalangists into the camps.

The Commission also concluded that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon bore personal responsibility "for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge" and "not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed". Sharon's negligence in protecting the civilian population of Beirut, which had come under Israeli control amounted to a non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defence Minister was charged.[1] The commission recommended in early 1983 the removal of Sharon from his post as Defense minister and stated:

We have found...that the Minister of Defense [Ariel Sharon] bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office — and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his remove [him] from office."[14]

Sharon initially refused to resign as Defense Minister and Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused to fire him. After a grenade was tossed into a dispersing crowd of an Israeli Peace Now march, killing Emil Grunzweig and injuring 10 others, a compromise was reached: Sharon agreed to forfeit the post of Defense Minister but stayed in the cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio.

Sharon's resignation as Defense Minister is listed as one of the important events of the Tenth Knesset.[15]

In its 21 February 1983 issue, Time published a story implying Sharon was directly responsible for the massacres.[16] Sharon sued Time for libel in American and Israeli courts. Although the jury concluded that the Time story included false allegations, they found that Time had not acted with "actual malice" and so was not guilty of libel.[17]

On 18 June 2001 relatives of the victims of the Sabra massacre began proceedings in Belgium to have Sharon indicted on war crimes charges.[18] Elie Hobeika, the leader of the Phalange militia who carried out the massacres, was assassinated in January 2001, several months before he was scheduled to testify against Sharon for the trial.[19] The Arab Press have widely speculated that Hobeika's assassination was ordered by Israel.[20] In June 2002, a Brussels Appeals Court rejected the lawsuit because the law was subsequently changed to disallow such lawsuits unless a Belgian citizen is involved.[21]

Political downturn and recovery

After his dismissal from the Defense Ministry post, Sharon remained in successive governments as a Minister without Portfolio (1983—84), Minister for Trade and Industry (1984—90), and Minister of Housing Construction (1990—92). In the Knesset, he was member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence committee from (1990–92) and Chairman of the committee overseeing Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union. During this period he was a rival to then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, but failed in various bids to replace him as chairman of Likud. Their rivalry reached a head in February 1990, when Sharon grabbed the microphone from Shamir, who was addressing the Likud central committee, and famously exclaimed: "Who's for wiping out terrorism?" The incident was widely viewed as an apparent coup attempt against Shamir's leadership of the party.

In Benjamin Netanyahu's 1996–1999 government, Sharon was Minister of National Infrastructure (1996—98), and Foreign Minister (1998—99). Upon the election of the Barak Labor government, Sharon became leader of the Likud party.

Campaign for Prime Minister, 2000–01

On 28 September 2000, Sharon and an escort of over 1,000 Israeli police officers visited the Temple Mount complex, site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, the holiest place in the world to Jews (observant Jews will not actually walk inside the enclosure but they pray at the outside wall) and the third holiest site in Islam. Sharon declared that the complex would remain under perpetual Israeli control. Palestinian commentators accused Sharon of purposely inflaming emotions with the event to provoke a violent response and obstruct success of delicate ongoing peace talks. On the following day, a large number of Palestinian demonstrators and an Israeli police contingent confronted each other at the site. According to the U.S. State Department, “Palestinians held large demonstrations and threw stones at police in the vicinity of the Western Wall. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring about 200.” According to the GOI, 14 policemen were injured.

Sharon's visit, a few months before his election as Prime Minister, came after archeologists claimed that extensive building operations at the site were destroying priceless antiquities. Sharon's supporters claim that that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority planned the intifada months prior to Sharon's visit.[22][23][24] They state that Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub provided assurances that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. They also often quote statements by Palestinian Authority officials, particularly Imad Falouji, the P.A. Communications Minister, who admitted months after Sharon's visit that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon's visit, stating the intifada "was carefully planned since the return of (Palestinian President) Yasser Arafat from Camp David negotiations rejecting the U.S. conditions".[25] According to the Mitchell Report,

the government of Israel asserted that the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on 25 July 2000 and the “widespread appreciation in the international community of Palestinian responsibility for the impasse.” In this view, Palestinian violence was planned by the PA leadership, and was aimed at “provoking and incurring Palestinian casualties as a means of regaining the diplomatic initiative.”

The Mitchell Report found that

the Sharon visit did not cause the Al-Aqsa Intifada. But it was poorly timed and the provocative effect should have been foreseen; indeed, it was foreseen by those who urged that the visit be prohibited. More significant were the events that followed: The decision of the Israeli police on 29 September to use lethal means against the Palestinian demonstrators.

In addition, the report stated,

Accordingly, we have no basis on which to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the PA to initiate a campaign of violence at the first opportunity; or to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the GOI to respond with lethal force.[26]

The Or Commission, an Israeli panel of inquiry appointed to investigate the October 2000 events,

criticised the Israeli police for being unprepared for the riots and possibly using excessive force to disperse the mobs, resulting in the deaths of 12 Arab Israeli, one Jewish and one Palestinian citizens.

Palestinians doubt the existence of popular support for Sharon's actions. Polls published in the media, as well as the 140% call-up of reservists (as opposed to the 60% in regular periods) seem to indicate that the Israeli public is quite supportive of Sharon's policies. A survey conducted by Tel Aviv University's Jaffe Center in May 2004 found that 80% of Jewish Israelis believe that the Israel Defense Forces have succeeded in militarily countering the Al-Aqsa Intifada.[27]

Prime minister

President George W. Bush, center, discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, 4 June 2003.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, United States President George W. Bush, and Ariel Sharon, Red Sea Summit, Aqaba, 2003
President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, White House, 2004
Sharon and Donald Rumsfeld

After the collapse of Barak's government, Sharon was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.

On 20 July 2004, Sharon called on French Jews to emigrate from France to Israel immediately, in light of an increase in French anti-Semitism (94 anti-Semitic assaults reported in the first six months of 2004 compared to 47 in 2003). France has the fourth largest Jewish population (about 600,000 people), after the United States, Israel, and Russia. Sharon observed that an "unfettered anti-Semitism" reigned in France. The French government responded by describing his comments as "unacceptable", as did the French representative Jewish organization CRIF, which denied Sharon's claim of intense anti-Semitism in French society. An Israeli spokesperson later claimed that Sharon had been misunderstood. France then postponed a visit by Sharon. Upon his visit, both Sharon and French President Jacques Chirac were described as showing a willingness to put the issue behind them.

Unilateral disengagement

In May 2003, Sharon endorsed the Road Map for Peace put forth by the United States, European Union, and Russia, which opened a dialogue with Mahmud Abbas, and announced his commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state in the future.

He embarked on a course of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, while maintaining control of its coastline and airspace. Sharon's plan has been welcomed by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel's left wing as a step towards a final peace settlement.[citation needed] However, it has been greeted with opposition from within his own Likud party and from other right wing Israelis, on national security, military, and religious grounds.[28]

Disengagement from Gaza

On 1 December 2004, Sharon dismissed five ministers from the Shinui party for voting against the government's 2005 budget. In January 2005 Sharon formed a national unity government that included representatives of Likud, Labor, and Meimad and Degel HaTorah as "out-of-government" supporters without any seats in the government (United Torah Judaism parties usually reject having ministerial offices as a policy). Between 16 and 30 August 2005, Sharon controversially expelled 9,480 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank. Once it became clear that the evictions were definitely going ahead a group of conservative Rabbis, led by Rabbi Yosef Dayan, placed an ancient curse on him known as the Pulsa diNura, calling on the Angel of Death to intervene and kill him. After Israeli soldiers bulldozed every settlement structure except for several former synagogues, Israeli soldiers formally left Gaza on 11 September 2005 and closed the border fence at Kissufim. While his decision to withdraw from Gaza sparked bitter protests from members of the Likud party and the settler movement, opinion polls showed that it was a popular move among most of the Israeli electorate with more than 80% of Israelis backing the plans.[29] On 27 September 2005, Sharon narrowly defeated a leadership challenge by a 52–48 percent vote. The move was initiated within the central committee of the governing Likud party by Sharon's main rival, Binyamin Netanyahu, who had left the cabinet to protest Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza. The measure was an attempt by Netanyahu to call an early primary in November 2005 to choose the party's leader.

Founding of Kadima

On 21 November 2005, Sharon resigned as head of Likud, and dissolved parliament to form a new centrist party called Kadima ("Forward"). November polls indicated that Sharon was likely to be returned to the prime ministership. On 20 December 2005, Sharon's longtime rival Benjamin Netanyahu was elected his successor as leader of Likud.[30] Following Sharon's incapacitation, Ehud Olmert replaced Sharon as Kadima's leader, for the nearing general elections. Netanyahu, along with Labor's Amir Peretz, were Kadima's chief rivals in the March 2006 elections.

In the elections, which saw Israel's lowest-ever voter turnout of 64%[31] (the number usually averages on the high 70%), Kadima, headed by Olmert, received the most Knesset seats, followed by Labor. The new governing coalition installed in May 2006 included Kadima, with Olmert as Prime Minister, Labor (including Peretz as Defense Minister), the Gil (Pensioner's) Party, the Shas religious party, and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Financial scandals

During the latter part of his career Sharon was investigated for alleged involvement in a number of financial scandals, in particular, the Greek Island Affair and irregularities of fundraising during 1999 election campaign. In the Greek Island Affair, Sharon was accused of promising (during his term as Foreign Minister) to help an Israeli businessman David Appel in his development project on a Greek island in exchange for large consultancy payments to Sharon's son Gilad. The charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence. In the 1999 election fundraising scandal, Sharon was not charged with any wrongdoing, but his son Omri, a Knesset member at the time, was charged and sentenced in 2006 to nine months in prison.

To avoid a potential conflict of interest in relation to these investigations, Sharon in his role as Prime Minister was not involved in the confirmation of the appointment of a new Attorney General Menahem Mazuz in 2005.

On 10 December 2005 Israeli police raided Martin Schlaff's apartment in Jerusalem. Another suspect in the case was Robert Nowikovsky, an Austrian involved in Russian state-owned company Gazprom's business activities in Europe.[32][33][34][35]

According to Hareetz, "The $3 million that parachuted into Gilad and Omri Sharon's bank account toward the end of 2002 was transferred there in the context of a consultancy contract for development of kolkhozes (collective farms ) in Russia. Gilad Sharon was brought into the campaign to make the wilderness bloom in Russia by Getex, a large Russian-based exporter of seeds (peas, millet, wheat ) from Eastern Europe. Getex also has ties with Israeli firms involved in exporting wheat from Ukraine, for example. The company owns farms in Eastern Europe and is considered large and prominent in its field. It has its Vienna offices in the same building as Jurimex, which was behind the $1-million guarantee to the Yisrael Beiteinu party."[36]

On 17 December police announced that they had found evidence of a 3 million dollar bribe paid to Sharon's sons. Just 24 hours after the announcement, Sharon suffered a stroke, went to coma, and never recovered.[32]

Incapacitation and end of political career

First stroke

On 18 December 2005, Sharon suffered a mild stroke, specifically a relatively unusual type called a paradoxical embolism, in which a clot from the venous circulation crosses over into the arterial circulation through a hole between the right and left atria called an atrial septal defect (or a patent foramen ovale) and goes to the brain, causing a transient speech and motor disturbance. At the time, Sharon was heading in a convoy to Havat Shikmim, his ranch in the Negev. His staff had noticed his confusion and impaired speech, and had contacted his son Gilad to ask him to speak to his father and judge for himself. Gilad then called Professor Bolek Goldman, one of Sharon's personal physicians, and described his condition. Goldman instantly understood that the Prime Minister was having a stroke. On Goldman's advice, the convoy turned around and rushed Sharon to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. On his way to the hospital, he lost consciousness but regained it shortly thereafter. In the hospital he underwent a battery of tests, including an MRI. During the night, an analysis of the MRI showed that Sharon was suffering from cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), a disease common in the elderly that weakens the blood vessels in the brain and increases the risk of hemorrhage. Doctors continued to try to find out how the blood clot got to the brain, and an echocardiogram revealed a small hole in his heart, which doctors judged was probably a birth defect. To prevent another clot from traveling to the brain from this hole, Sharon was treated with Clexane, a blood-thinning drug.[37]

Sharon's treatment with Clexane received criticism, as thinning of the blood could heavily increase bleeding in the case of a brain hemorrhage.[37] Some commentators said that the dose of blood thinner given to Sharon was potentially problematic for someone who had recently suffered a stroke.[38] On 9 January 2006, Haaretz revealed that doctors had discovered his previously undiagnosed cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) while treating his first stroke, a brain disorder which, in conjunction with anticoagulant medication prescribed after his first stroke, greatly increased his risk of cerebral hemorrhage. Although some insinuated that this news represented a failure on the part of Hadassah Medical Center to provide adequate care for Sharon, CAA is often very difficult to diagnose accurately, and is often discovered only after an individual suffers a brain hemorrhage. The following day, newspapers reported that Sharon's CAA had actually been diagnosed following his first stroke in December. This was confirmed by hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef who commented "Hadassah physicians were aware of the brain diagnosis, and no new diagnosis has been made during the current hospitalization." Mor-Yosef declined to respond to criticism of the combination of blood thinners and a CAA diagnosis, though Haaretz quoted some doctors as saying the medication led to the second stroke and that it would never have been given if doctors had known about his brain condition.[39]

Sharon had reportedly wanted to leave the hospital the evening after his arrival but the hospital wanted him to stay another day. He was released from the hospital after two days. He continued to take two shots of Clexan daily, and a cardiac catheterization procedure to repair the hole in his heart was scheduled for 5 January 2006.[37]

Second stroke

On 4 January 2006, in the evening before his catheterization, Sharon suffered a second, different and far more serious stroke at Havat Shikmim: a massive cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in his brain). His relatives noticed that he was unwell, and asked the paramedic accompanying Sharon on a regular basis to inspect him. When the paramedic inspected him, he realized that Sharon was having a stroke, and suggested that he be immediately evacuated to the nearest hospital: Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. However, Sharon's son Gilad contacted one of Sharon's personal physicians, Doctor Shlomo Segev, and Segev told the paramedic to not do anything, and that he was on his way. He then immediately left for Havat Shikmim from his home in Tel Aviv. Half an hour later, Sharon collapsed in the bathroom, and the paramedic decided not to wait any longer and immediately evacuate him. Sharon was carried to the ambulance on the scene by his security staff, but the stretcher did not fit the ambulance, and it took twenty minutes to get him in. Just as the ambulance was leaving, Doctor Segev arrived at the scene and climbed into the ambulance.[37] Despite earlier instructions that in case of an emergency, Sharon was to be rushed to Soroka Medical Center, the ambulance instead headed for Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, almost an hours' drive away.[37][40]

Ten minutes into the journey, a Shin Bet officer contacted the ambulance and suggested airlifting Sharon to hospital by helicopter. Doctor Segev and Gilad claimed it was unnecessary, and Segev and the accompanying paramedic feared that carrying him to helicopter would have worsened his condition.[41]

On Harel Interchange in Mevaseret Zion, ten minutes away from the hospital, Sharon's condition suddenly began to deteriorate. Doctor Segev called Chaim Lotan, chief of cardiology at Hadassah, and reported that Sharon had vomited and seemed withdrawn. Sharon reportedly became apathetic.[37]

Following his arrival at the hospital, Sharon underwent a complex operation lasting around seven hours to drain the blood from his skull and seal off the blood vessels in his brain. Following the operation, hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef reported Sharon's bleeding had stopped, his brain was functioning without artificial support, and that he was receiving medication to prevent further bleeding. Sharon was placed in the neurological intensive care unit, and was put on a ventilator. Sharon subsequently underwent a 14-hour long operation.[42][43][44] Some reports suggested that he was suffering from paralysis in his lower body, while others said he was still fighting for his life.

Sharon was kept heavily sedated in an induced coma to reduce pressure on his brain and keep his blood pressure down, in order to allow his brain to recover from the trauma of the stroke and subsequent surgery.[45]

On the night of Sharon's stroke, in the wake of his serious illness and following consultations between Government Secretary Israel Maimon and Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz, Sharon was declared "temporarily incapable of discharging his powers." As a result, Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, the Deputy Prime Minister, was officially confirmed as the Acting Prime Minister of Israel. Olmert and the Cabinet announced that the legislative elections would take place on 28 March as scheduled.

On Friday, 6 January, after doctors reviewed the results of a brain scan, Sharon underwent a five-hour operation to halt bleeding in his brain and relieve pressure that had built up on his skull. Following the operation, Sharon was returned to hospital's neurological intensive care unit.[46]

On 15 January, Sharon underwent a tracheotomy to help wean him off a ventilator, and three days later, a breathing tube had to be replaced due to technical problems. On 1 February, a feeding tube was inserted into his stomach, indicating that doctors were preparing him for long-term care.[47]

On 11 February 2006, doctors performed emergency surgery to remove 50 cm of Sharon's large intestine that had become necrotic, probably due a blood clot and the subsequent lack of blood flow.[48] On 22 February, he underwent an additional procedure to drain excess fluid from his stomach, discovered during a CT scan.[49]

Replacement by Ehud Olmert

According to Israeli law, an Acting Prime Minister can remain in office 100 days after the Prime Minister has become incapacitated. After 100 days, the Israeli President must appoint a new Prime Minister. At the time of his stroke, Sharon enjoyed considerable support from the general public in Israel.[50] The new centrist political party that he founded, Kadima, won the largest number of seats in the Knesset elections held on 28 March 2006. (Since Sharon was unable to sign a nomination form, he was not a candidate and therefore ceased to be a Knesset member.)

On 6 April, President of Israel Moshe Katsav formally asked Ehud Olmert to form a government, making him Prime Minister-Designate. Olmert had an initial period of 28 days to form a governing coalition, with a possible two-week extension.[51] On 11 April 2006, the Israeli Cabinet deemed that Sharon was incapacitated. Although Sharon's replacement was to be named within 100 days of his becoming incapacitated, the replacement deadline was extended due to the Jewish festival of Passover.[52] A provision was made that, should Sharon's condition improve between 11 and 14 April, the declaration would not take effect. Therefore, the official declaration took effect on 14 April, formally ending Sharon's term as Prime Minister and making Ehud Olmert the country's new Prime Minister.

Subsequent care

On 28 May 2006, Sharon was transferred from Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital to a long-term care unit in Sheba Medical Center, a large civilian and military hospital in Tel HaShomer near Ramat Gan. Haaretz reported that this move was an indication that Sharon's doctors did not expect him to emerge from his coma in the foreseeable future. Dr. Yuli Krieger, Deputy Head of the Levinstein House, another long-term care facility, told Israel Radio that the chances of waking up after such a lengthy coma were small. "Every day that passes after this kind of event with the patient still unconscious the chances that he will gain consciousness get smaller".[53]

On 23 July 2006, a hospital spokesman announced that Sharon's condition was deteriorating, with a change in his brain tissue, his kidney function worsening, and fluid accumulating in his body. Doctors subsequently performed tests to determine a course of treatment.[54] A bacterial infection was discovered in Sharon's blood. On 26 July 2006, doctors moved him to the intensive care unit, where he underwent hemofiltration. Antibiotics were administered intravenously into his blood to treat the infection.[55][56] On 14 August 2006, doctors reported that Sharon's condition had worsened significantly and that he was suffering from pneumonia in both lungs.[57] On 29 August 2006, doctors reported that he had been successfully treated for his pneumonia and moved out of intensive care back to the long-term care unit.[58]

On 3 November 2006, Sharon was admitted to intensive care after contracting a heart infection.[59] He was moved out of the intensive care unit on 6 November 2006. Doctors stated that "his heart function has improved after being treated for an infection and his overall condition has stabilised".[60]

Sharon remained in the long-term care center following 6 November 2006.[61] Medical experts indicated that Sharon's cognitive abilities were destroyed by the stroke, and that he is in a persistent vegetative state with slim chances of regaining consciousness.[62]

On 13 April 2007, it was reported that Sharon's condition had slightly improved and that according to his son, Omri, he was marginally responsive.[63] On 27 October 2009, his doctor reported that he was still comatose but in a stable condition.[64][65]

On 21 October 2010 artist Noam Braslavsky unveiled a life-sized sculpture of Sharon in a hospital bed with an IV drip at the Kishon Gallery in Tel Aviv. The exhibition caused some controversy, with Knesset member Yoel Hasson describing the work as "sickening voyeurism" and saying, "I think it's a cheap way for the artist to get attention for his exhibition."[66]

On 12 November 2010 Ariel Sharon was moved from the long-term care facility to his home in Havat Shikmim for a 48-hour period, the first of five planned "visits" home. The visit was to ensure that the medical equipment installed there was working properly. The ultimate plan is to return him home permanently, once it is established that he has the appropriate medical facilities and care, after which he will receive round-the-clock treatment from medical caregivers.[67][68]

In October 2011, Sharon's son Gilad claimed that he was responsive and alluded that he was sometimes awake. In a telephone interview, Gilad claimed that when his father is awake, he "looks out with a penetrating stare" and moves his fingers when asked. Gilad also claimed that Sharon had put on weight.[69]


In 2005, he was voted the 8th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.[70]


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Further reading

  • Ben Shaul, Moshe (editor); Generals of Israel, Tel-Aviv: Hadar Publishing House, Ltd., 1968.
  • Uri Dan; Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait, Palgrave Macmillan, October 2006, 320 pages. ISBN 1-4039-7790-9.
  • Ariel Sharon, with David Chanoff; Warrior: The Autobiography of Ariel Sharon, Simon & Shuster, 2001, ISBN 0-671-60555-0.
  • Gilad Sharon, (translated by Mitch Ginsburg); Sharon: The Life of a Leader, HarperCollins Publishers, 2011, ISBN 978-0-06-172150-2.
  • Nir Hefez, Gadi Bloom, (translated by Mitch Ginsburg); Ariel Sharon: A Life, Random House, October 2006, 512 pages, ISBN 1-4000-6587-9.
  • Freddy Eytan, (translated by Robert Davies); Ariel Sharon — a Life in Times of Turmoil, translation of Sharon: le bra de fer, Studio 8 Books and Music, 2006, ISBN 1552070921.
  • Abraham Rabinovich; The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East, 2005, ISBN 978-0805211245.
  • Ariel Sharon, official biography, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Ehud Barak
Prime Minister of Israel
Succeeded by
Ehud Olmert
Party political offices
Preceded by
Benjamin Netanyahu
Chairman of Likud
Succeeded by
Benjamin Netanyahu
New title
Party founded
Chairman of Kadima
Succeeded by
Ehud Olmert

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