Born on February 27, 1928 (Kfar Malal, Palestine)
Prime Minister of Israel
"Despite the change in Palestinian leadership [in 2005], we see that its leaders have not even begun to take any action against terror... ."
Israeli politician Ariel Sharon is known as the uncompromising leader of a country renowned for its willingness to fight for its right to exist. His predecessor as Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak (1942– served 1999–2001), once said that Sharon "embodied the unbending spirit of the State of Israel," as quoted in the book Sharon: Israel's Warrior Politician. Sharon first established his name as a formidable soldier, rising through the ranks of the Israeli Defense Forces to become a well-known leader. His military attitude for achieving goals in any way possible carried over into his political career, which started in the 1970s, and he was known to overstep the bounds of his authority at times. Sharon monitored Israeli security, speaking out against military plans he considered too weak. He also worked to establish Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories (areas taken from Arab Palestinians during the Six-Day War in 1967) of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to ensure that these areas would remain part of Israel and not be returned to the Palestinians. During much of his political career, Sharon, who had fought the Arab Palestinians in both the War of Independence in 1948 to defend the newly created state of Israel and in 1967 during the Six-Day War when Israel fought with Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, focused on preventing the Arab Palestinians from reestablishing their own country and from again becoming a threat to Israel. When he became prime minister he remained a ferocious protector of Israel's interests, frequently ordering military strikes against terrorists.
By the 2000s, after enduring decades of fighting, Sharon became more willing to consider peaceful negotiations with Palestinians. In 2004, to the surprise of many people in Israel and throughout the world, he agreed to a plan to withdraw Jewish settlements from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in order to help establish a Palestinian state. In early 2005 Sharon tried to remain open to peace negotiations while at the same time keeping his military at the ready.
Learned to stand his ground
Ariel Sharon was born Ariel Scheinerman on February 27, 1928, to Samuil and Dvora Scheinerman. The Scheinermans were Zionists, which means they supported the right of Jews to establish a homeland in Palestine. Fleeing persecution in 1922 from mobs of people in Russia who blamed the Jewish people for a weak economy and other problems, the Scheinermans moved to Palestine. They established a farm in Kfar Malal, a Jewish settlement in Palestine in the Sharon Valley, about ten miles from Tel Aviv. Kfar Malal was a moshav, where settlers owned parcels of land independently but were expected to agree on the crops to be planted and to work the land collectively. The Scheinermans wanted nothing to do with collective farming. Unwilling to cooperate, Samuil Scheinerman planted the crops he wanted and fenced his property to keep out trespassers. These actions alienated, or separated, the Scheinermans from the other moshav residents. Sharon later praised their "strength, determination, and stubbornness," according to Sharon, and would himself become known as a man unafraid to make his thoughts known, no matter what the consequences.
Sharon joined Haganah, the underground Jewish army, when he was fourteen. At the time, Palestine was controlled by the British government which at first seemed sympathetic to the desires of Zionist Jews to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. However, during World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan), the British began limiting the number of Jews who were allowed to immigrate to Palestine, due to pressure put on them by native Arab Palestinians. The British sent thousands of Jews back to Europe, even though the British were aware that German Nazis, a political party in Germany, were sending Jewish people to camps to do slave labor and to eventually be put to death. This British policy prompted many Jews living in Palestine to start working against the British, attacking British administration buildings and smuggling Jewish immigrants into Palestine illegally. Sharon supported these efforts and eagerly pursued his military training, learning how to handle weapons and to make his way through fields and streams in the dark.
By 1947 Britain could no longer maintain peace within Palestine and planned to give up its control over the area, and the United Nations (international organization founded in 1945 and made up of most of the countries of the world) approved a plan to divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. While the Jews accepted this proposal, the Arab Palestinians refused to give up any of their land and battles began between the Jews and Arab Palestinians. During these conflicts, Sharon proved himself to be a skillful fighter, and soon took the responsibility of a platoon of men in attacks against Arab positions.
Israel declared its independence in 1948 which began the War of Independence between the newly created state of Israel and the Arab nations of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. The Haganah became a part of the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). As a member of the IDF, Sharon remained committed to Israel's defense and led men into battle during the War of Independence until 1949. After the War of Independence he changed his name from Scheinerman to the Hebrew name Sharon, the name of his valley home, as did many of the Jewish leaders as a show of support for the Hebrew language that was to be the official language of Israel.
Independent thinking clashes with military rank
Although he was a skillful soldier, Sharon was also stubborn and did not follow orders if he felt things could be done in a better way. Regardless of this, Sharon was promoted to intelligence officer in 1950. The highlight of this part of his career came when he planned and executed the successful capture of some Jordanian soldiers who were needed to make a prisoner exchange. Sharon achieved some notoriety for his military skill, but he saw real limits to his ability to advance in the military, because he found the structure of military rank and leadership to be an obstacle to the development of his own ideas.
Sharon eventually left the army in early 1953. He married Margalit Zimmerman, a woman he had known since her teenage years, and enrolled in Hebrew University to study Middle Eastern history. Before Sharon could begin his civilian career, however, Arab attacks on Israeli civilians grew increasingly frequent, and Sharon returned to the IDF to protect his country.
By the summer of 1953 Sharon was back on the battlefield, leading a group of men into an Arab village under cover of night in search of a Jordanian terrorist. The mission did not go well due to his troops' lack of preparation and training. Sharon made his concerns known about this to the highest military officials. He wrote a report outlining the skills and training such Israeli commando units needed. His report impressed IDF officials, and Sharon was put in charge of training a group he named Commando Unit 101. He devised a vigorous program to perfect his men's physical condition, stealth, hand-to-hand fighting, and way-finding skills. By 1956 Sharon had led his commandos on more than seventy raids against Arab targets.
A Tragic Family Life
Sharon suffered more than his share of personal tragedy. His wife, Margalit, died in 1962, after her car was struck by another vehicle. Unable to care for his young son alone, he came to rely on his wife's sister, Lily. The two developed a close relationship and were married in 1963. The couple had two children together.
This happiness was not to last. In 1967, Gur, Sharon's ten-year-old son from his first marriage, was fatally shot in the head while playing with a rifle. Sharon was devastated, but his wife and remaining two sons stood by him, and Lily provided Sharon with unwavering support in his career until her death of cancer in 2000.
During one raid in 1956 Sharon disobeyed his superiors' orders and led his troops into a ambush, or surprise attack, that ended in many deaths. He had been ordered to march his troops across the Sinai Desert avoiding the Mitla Pass. Against orders, Sharon marched a large number of troops into the pass, since it was quickest route to the destination, and was surprised by gunshots from Egyptians who had taken positions in the surrounding cliffs. His men eventually won the battle but suffered heavy casualties as a result, and Sharon's disobedience and frequent mistakes angered his superiors.
As a result, Sharon was sent to England for training, and on his return in 1958 he was demoted to a position as head of an infantry training school, a non-combat post. For the next four years, Sharon resigned himself to administering the school and also took the opportunity to earn a law degree. The time away from the battlefield helped restore Sharon's reputation, and he enjoyed several promotions in the army in the early 1960s, becoming chief of staff of the Northern Command (the portion of the Israeli army defending Israel's border with Syria) in 1963 and major general in 1965.
As tensions grew between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Sharon became an outspoken supporter of an Israeli strike against Egypt, the leading opponent in the ongoing conflicts. When Israel finally did attack Egypt and other Arab countries starting the Six-Day War in 1967, Sharon himself led one of the strikes against Egyptian positions in the Sinai Peninsula. When the Six-Day War ended, Israel had more than tripled the size of the territory under its control, taking over the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. Sharon won a great deal of popularity for his wartime service and was promoted to lead all IDF military training.
In 1969 Egypt waged what was known as the War of Attrition to regain the territory it lost during the Six-Day war. That year Sharon had taken charge of the Southern Command (Israel's border with Egypt and Jordan and the Gaza Strip). Sharon disagreed with the IDF chief of staff's plan to set up a line of Israeli defenses along the Suez Canal. He spoke out publicly against the plan and again angered many in the army. However, many still supported Sharon due to several strikes that he led, which drove the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) out of Jordan and destroyed PLO hideouts in the Gaza Strip in the early 1970s.
Part soldier, part politician
Feeling that his attitude towards authority would keep him from reaching the top position in the army, Sharon looked for other career opportunities. In 1973 he again retired from the IDF and became a farmer in the Negev desert. He soon gained political contacts and developed a plan to build a new political party. Along with Menachem Begin (1913–1992; see entry), the former head of Irgun Zvai Leumi, the militant underground group that worked in the 1940s to secure Israeli independence by staging violent attacks on British and Arab targets, Sharon created the Likud Party. Sharon hoped the Likud Party, a conservative party whose aims were to keep the military strong, would win enough seats in the Knesset, the representative branch of the Israeli government, to disrupt the power of the Labor Party, the political party whose more liberal views had dominated Israel since its independence in 1948.
In 1973, Sharon was called back to duty as a member of the army reserves, due to threats of an attack from the Egypt. When Egyptian forces struck on October 6, 1973, the holy day of Yom Kippur, the defensive line Israel had built along the Suez Canal was broken by the massive attack. Sharon fought difficult battles against the advancing Egyptian army. By the end of October, Sharon's troops had captured land in Egypt across the Suez Canal, while other Israeli troops pushed back the Syrian armies advancing from the north in alliance with Egypt.
Due perhaps to his victories in the Yom Kippur War, Sharon won a seat in the Knesset as part of the Likud Party during the elections of 1973. A ceasefire agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1974 forced Israeli troops to pull back to a position that put the Suez Canal back under Egypt's control. Sharon spoke out against this agreement and criticized the IDF commanders' decisions during the war. When Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995; see entry) was elected as Israel's prime minister in 1974 in the wake of investigations into the Israeli government's failures during the Yom Kippur War, he requested that his friend Sharon return to the army. Sharon had served under Rabin in the army during the 1960s, and the two had developed a mutual respect for each other's abilities. Sharon agreed to Rabin's request, giving up his seat in the Knesset. He became a special advisor on defense issues to Rabin in 1975. According to Sharon, Although the two men were members of rival political parties, "Sharon hoped that if he worked with Rabin, he might one day realize his ambition of being named chief of staff."
Within a year, Sharon had not received his desired promotion, and he left the military, but not politics. He remained active in the Likud Party. When Menachem Begin became prime minister in 1977, he named Sharon minister of agriculture. In this position, Sharon oversaw the development of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, which he considered essential to Israel's defense because they established a claim on the land. Sharon concentrated on building settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem.
In 1981 Begin appointed Sharon as defense minister, and in 1982 Sharon led an attack against the PLO, which was stationed in Lebanon. With the help of the Lebanese army, the operation successfully removed the PLO from Lebanon, but resulted in the deaths of approximately two thousand innocent Palestinians in refugee camps at the hands of Lebanese troops. Sharon resigned his post as defense minister after an investigative commission found him "indirectly responsible" for the murder of the Palestinians, according to Richard Worth, author of Ariel Sharon. Sharon would continually be questioned about how he ran the operation in Lebanon for the rest of his career. In 2001 he told a reporter that Lebanon "was a war of survival," and that he was "proud" of his achievements, according to Sharon.
In the mid 1980s, the Likud Party and the Labor Party formed a joint government to rule Israel and each party assigned people to high-ranking positions. Sharon, as a representative of the Likud Party, served as minister of trade and industry from 1984 to 1989 and as minister of housing from 1990 to 1992. These years were difficult for Sharon because the Labor Party members he worked with had very different opinions about leading Israel. One issue that divided the two parties was the building of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. Sharon felt strongly that Israel should hold onto the territory it had won in battle and continue to build settlements to strengthen Israel's claim to the land. When the Palestinian population started an uprising called the First Intifada in 1987, Sharon also opposed any talk of removing Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, where most of the rioting was occurring. Sharon felt that giving into Palestinian violence to remove Jewish settlements would lead to more violent uprisings from Palestinians and might also draw other Arab countries into the conflict as they saw Israel weakening.
In 1992 the Labor Party, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, again fully controlled the Israel government. In 1993, Yitzhak Rabin and other members of the Labor Party attended secret peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO called the Oslo Accords. These peace talks resulted in the PLO agreeing to recognize Israel as a true independent nation and Israel agreeing to withdraw its settlements and armies from parts of the Occupied Territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sharon publicly criticized the Israeli government for signing the Oslo Accords and giving up land that he felt was vital to the protection of Israel. However, since the Likud Party was not in control of the government, there was little that Sharon could do to influence policy in the Occupied Territories.
This changed when Benjamin Netanyahu (1949–) took control of the Israeli government in 1996, and appointed Sharon as his minister of national infrastructure, a position that again put Sharon in charge of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. Ignoring the Oslo Accords, which called for an eventual end to Israel's control in the Occupied Territories, Sharon oversaw the creation of new Jewish settlements in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But when Palestinians started new violent uprisings in 1997, the United States pressured Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, and over the next few years Israel agreed to hand over more land to the Palestinians. Sharon opposed several of these agreements and spoke out against them. Although he left his position as minister of national infrastructure when new Labor Party prime minister Ehud Barak took office, Sharon took over as the leader of the Likud Party in 1999, remaining a strong voice in politics.
In charge at last
Israel and the PLO were unable to negotiate peace by 2000, despite the agreements made in the Oslo Peace Accords. Instead, tensions rose. In late 2000, a new Palestinian uprising, called the Second Intifada, or al-Aqsa Intifada, erupted. Within three months, this uprising had killed more than two hundred people and wounded many more, and the violence between the IDF and the Palestinians continued. Barak had lost control over the country and Israelis voted him out of office. In the election the Likud Party was given control of the Knesset and Sharon became prime minister in February of 2001.
Sharon was known for his beliefs in keeping Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and not giving in to Palestinian attacks. But as prime minister he announced his willingness to negotiate to end the violence. Arabs doubted Sharon's sincerity and the intentions of the Israelis who elected him. One Arab newspaper announced, according to Worth, that "By electing Sharon and sacrificing Barak, Israelis have voted against peace." A study done by Tel Aviv University, however, claimed that the results of the Israeli elections signified Israel's desire for peace and that the population felt Sharon could best "advance the peace process ... while protecting the State of Israel's vital interests," according to Sharon.
Violence continued, however, and Sharon ordered increased Israeli defensive measures. The IDF dug deep trenches around Palestinian towns where violence originated to isolate them; conducted targeted missile attacks on the buildings owned by the Palestinian Authority, an organization formed in the 1990s that functioned as a government for the Palestinian people; and invaded the Gaza Strip in search of Palestinians who were considered terrorists by the Israelis. Even when the United States pressured Sharon to stop building Jewish settlements in 2001 and honor the Oslo Accords, Sharon refused. Over the next three years, both Palestinians and Israelis would continue to fight over the Occupied Territories.
Sharon Agrees to Negotiations
Although Sharon became known as the man who had refused to give up even "an inch" of land won in the Six-Day War of 1967, by the new millennium, after decades of battling with Palestinians, he came to believe that it would be better to divide the area between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and for Israel to "hold those areas which are strategically important for its defense," as he told Newsweek. In 2004 he proposed an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His plan surprised many because he had devised it without participation or prompting from the Palestinians. He told Newsweek that he "felt it was my responsibility to bring an answer to the problem."
The Gaza Strip was home to nearly two hundred Palestinians to every one Israeli in 2004, and as such it was "no place to rule for a country that calls itself Jewish and democratic," Sharon claimed to critics, according to U.S. News and World Report. Although his plan to pull out of the Occupied Territories angered many Jewish settlers, some of whom threatened his life, Sharon appeared ready to stand by his decision. As a man used to being hated by Arabs, Sharon confessed to Newsweek that having Jews threaten him is a "strange situation." But he added, "I am fully committed to the plan," and added, "I don't think that anybody will be able to do it except me."
By 2002 Sharon had made progress against Palestinian aggression and "enjoyed the highest popularity ratings of any prime minister in Israeli history," according to Sharon. In 2003 the Likud Party won a another victory in the government elections and voted to grant Sharon another term as prime minister. As the Second Intifada continued, Sharon began to seek solutions to end the violence. In 2004 Sharon created a plan to withdraw soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. In early 2005, the Palestinian Authority elected Mahmoud Abbas (1935–; see entry) as its president after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (1929–2004; see entry) in late 2004 and this change in leadership made many hopeful that a long-standing peace might be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. However, even though Sharon and Abbas agreed on plans for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and new defined borders to create an independent Palestinian nation, violence between Arabs and Israelis resumed shortly after Abbas took office. Sharon, along with the Palestinian Authority, continued to work in 2005 to stop the violence between the two nations, but it is unclear whether Sharon will reach this goal before his term as prime minister ends.
For More Information
Miller, Anita, Jordan Miller, and Sigalit Zetouni. Sharon: Israel's Warrior Politician. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers and Olive Publishing, 2002.
Worth, Richard. Ariel Sharon. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.
Derfner, Larry. "Sharon's Switcheroo." U.S. News and World Report (November 8, 2004): p. 40.
Weymouth, Lally. "No Guts, No Glory, No Peace." Newsweek (December 6, 2004): p. 32.
"Ariel Sharon." Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2003/2/Ariel%20Sharon (accessed on July 7, 2005).
Sharon, Ariel 1928 –
Born on February 27, 1928, in the British Mandate of Palestine, Israeli leader Ariel Sharon’s long and controversial military and political career embodies the tension between pragmatism and idealism inherent in modern nationalist movements. Oscillating between extremist Jewish ethno-nationalism and pragmatic secular Zionism, Sharon’s leadership has triggered strong and contradictory responses. It provokes hate and revulsion among the many who see him as a dogmatic and reckless bully and a war criminal. Others view Sharon with great appreciation as a brilliant strategist and pragmatic statesman who took courageous steps toward making peace with Egypt and ending the Israeli occupation in Gaza.
Sharon joined the Israeli Haganah, an underground paramilitary organization, at age fourteen. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War he served as a platoon commander and was severely wounded in the Battle of Latrun against the Jordanian Legion. In 1953 Sharon commanded a special commando unit (“101”), which carried out retaliatory military raids against Palestinian infiltrators from refugee camps who harassed the new border settlements, trying to reappropriate property or kill Israelis. Because of the political impact of Unit 101’s controversial operations, which targeted both civilians and Arab soldiers, Sharon obtained direct access to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) and to Army Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan (1915-1981).
Throughout his career, Sharon exploited his privileged position to undertake military operations, often despite the objections of his direct superiors. In the 1956 Suez War, Sharon led a controversial operation to conquer the Mitla Pass against orders. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon distinguished himself as a strategist commanding the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front.
Sharon resigned from the army in June 1972 and was instrumental in creating the right-wing Likud Party. In October 1973 he was recalled to service following the Yom Kippur War. Commanding a reserve armored division, Sharon located a breach between the Egyptian forces, which he then used to capture a bridgehead and lead a crossing of the Suez Canal. Sharon again violated his orders by exploiting this success to cut off and encircle the Egyptian Third Army. Because of this move, which was regarded as the turning point of the war, Sharon is considered by many in Israel as a war hero who saved Israel from defeat.
After Likud won the 1977 elections, Sharon became the minister of agriculture. In all his subsequent ministerial posts—defense (1981-1983), industry and commerce (1984-1990), construction and housing (1990-1992), infrastructure (1996-1998), and foreign affairs (1998–1999)—Sharon found ways to support and encourage the settlement activities in the occupied territories to prevent the possibility of returning them. Yet, during the peace negotiations with Egypt, he persuaded the Likud government to remove the settlements in Sinai.
As minister of defense, Sharon was the architect of the 1982 Lebanon War, bringing about the destruction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) infrastructure in Lebanon. What started as a limited operation developed under Sharon’s command into a full-scale war with controversial military operations and far-reaching political goals, many of which were never approved by the Israeli cabinet. Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after a government commission found him indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacres, in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians in refugee camps were killed by Lebanese Christian-Maronite militias.
In 2000, shortly after the breakdown of the Camp David peace negotiations, Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. His visit was followed by a bloody Palestinian uprising (the Al-Aqsa Intifada), marking the end to the Oslo peace process and the fall of Ehud Barak’s left-wing government.
In February 2001 Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel. With Palestinian violence escalating, Sharon ordered in 2002 the reoccupation of West Bank towns and the building of a controversial security fence between Israel and the occupied territories. Sharon later accepted, however, the internationally supported “road map” to peace in 2003, and in 2005 he withdrew the Israeli Army and settlers from the Gaza Strip, citing security issues. This move was opposed by many in Likud and forced Sharon into a coalition with the Labor Party. He eventually formed a new centrist party, Kadima, and declared a new election. In January 2006, just two months before the election, Sharon suffered a stroke that left him hospitalized in a coma. Kadima was temporarily leaderless until Ehud Olmert took over the party and won narrowly in the ensuing elections.
Miller, Anita, Jordan Miller, and Sigalit Zetouni. 2002. Sharon: Israel’s Warrior-Politician. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers and Olive Publishing.
(born Scheinerman; called Arik): Israeli military and political figure, As of 2004, prime minister of Israel. Born in February 1928 at Kefar Malal, in Palestine. In 1942, barely fourteen years old, he joined the ranks of the Haganah. Six years later he started on a military career in the new Israeli
army, the Israel Defense Force (IDF). In 1949 he commanded an intelligence unit of the Golani brigade, and in 1953 he headed a special anti-terror unit responsible for halting Palestinian incursions into Israeli territory. During the night of 14–15 October 1953, in reprisal for the murder of a woman and her daughters, the unit penetrated the village of Qibya, in West Jordan, where he ordered the dynamiting of forty-five houses, causing the death of sixty-nine persons. This action provoked widespread outrage, and Israel was condemned by the UN Security Council.
After his unit was disbanded, Ariel Sharon was transferred to a paratroop brigade, where between 1954 and 1955 he headed a battalion. In 1956, during the Suez-Sinai War, he ignored orders from army headquarters and occupied the Mitla Pass, which commanded the access to the Suez Canal. In the course of a confrontation with Egyptian troops, thirty-six of his men were killed. At the end of the conflict, accused of insubordination, he was tried and judged responsible for the death of these men; but he continued to advance in the IDF, for he had earned a reputation as a brilliant military strategist. Promoted to general in February of 1967, he commanded an armored division during the Six-Day War. Between 1969 and 1973, as chief of the southern command, he applied radical methods, demolishing thousands of homes in Gaza refugee camps to create roads for antiterror patrols.
In July of 1972, having vainly sought the position of Army chief of staff, he decided to quit the military for politics, registering as a member of the Liberal Party. With Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, he participated in the creation of the right-wing parliamentary group Likud. Mobilized in October 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, he commanded an armored division on the southern front. Once again ignoring orders, he crossed the Suez Canal, cutting the Egyptian Third Army off from its rear. This maneuver enabled the IDF to force the Egyptian army to surrender, and in the eyes of Israeli soldiers he became "Arik, King of Israel."
Elected a Likud representative in 1973, in 1975 Sharon became the security adviser for the Labor Party prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. After arguing with the latter he decided to found his own party, Shlomzion, which in the May elections of 1977 won two seats in the Knesset. Shortly thereafter he rejoined Likud and was appointed minister of agriculture in the government of Menachem Begin. While in this office, his support for the development of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories impeded the Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations. In June of 1981 he became defense minister, and a year later was the principal architect of the invasion of Lebanon (Operation "Peace in Galilee"), during which several hundred Palestinians were murdered by the Lebanese Christian militia at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila while the IDF observed, voicing no objection. On 11 February 1983, Sharon was judged culpable by a commission of inquiry headed by Israeli Supreme Court chief justice Yitzhak Kahan for not preventing the slaughter. He was forced to resign his post of defense minister, but remained minister without portfolio.
During the next decade Sharon served in several cabinet posts. Then in 1996 he was appointed national infrastructure minister by Benjamin Netanyahu; two years later he became foreign minister. After the election of Labor's Ehud Barak as prime minister in May 1999, Sharon succeeded Netanyahu as Likud leader. His visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000 sparked Muslim riots and unleashed the anger of the Palestinians, prompting a revival of the Intifada known as al-Aqsa Intifada.
On 6 February 2001 Sharon was elected prime minister, with 62.5 percent of the votes, against his adversary from the Labor Party, incumbent prime minister Ehud Barak, whose peace policy had failed. A month later Sharon presented his cabinet, composed of 26 ministers belonging to eight different political parties, which allowed him to have a majority of 73 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. In his inauguration speech Ariel Sharon indicated that his cabinet would conduct negotiations with the Palestinians "so as to obtain political agreements, but not under the pressure of terrorism and violence." When the Intifada intensified in the Palestinian territories, he decided to reply to the violence with military operations of unprecedented brutality. This policy of "targeted responses," in other words the assassination of Palestinian leaders and militants, was vigorously criticized not only by Palestinians but also by the Israeli opposition and a part of the international community.
On 4 December 2001, when the terrorist actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were multiplying, Ariel Sharon decided to increase the operations of the IDF against the symbols of the Palestinian Authority of Yasir Arafat, whom he accused of supporting terrorism. Following a suicide bombing at a Netanya resort hotel in March 2002, Sharon ordered the invasion and reoccupation of West Bank cities under Operation "Defensive Shield." Israeli forces destroyed buildings and captured hundreds of Palestinians. In the 2003 elections, in an apparent endorsement of his policies, voters gave Likud 29.4 percent of the vote (thirty-eight seats in the Knesset), confirming Sharon's premiership.
Sharon continued his aggressive policies, making Palestinian leader Arafat a virtual prisoner in the ruins of his Ramallah headquarters. Under intense pressure from the United States, Sharon's cabinet voted in May 2003 to approve the internationally backed "Road Map" for peace. Sharon surprised many observers by apparently seeking a balance between the right-wing commitment to disputed territories and a more pragmatic approach to an eventual resolution of the conflict. In 2004 he presented a plan to disengage from settlements in Gaza and parts of the West Bank, in the face of strong opposition by a majority of his own Likud Party and the defection or firing of several members of his cabinet.
The Knesset voted to back Sharon's plan in October 2004. Likud called for a referendum, which Sharon rejected, causing a split in the ruling Likud.
Following a distinguished, if controversial, military career, General Ariel Sharon (born 1928) entered Israeli politics in 1973. He then became a prominent public figure, serving as defense minister during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Ariel ("Arik") Sharon, one of Israel's most controversial military and political figures, was born in 1928 at Kfar Mallah, an early Jewish farming settlement in the central Sharon valley of what was then British-mandated Palestine. His parents were Shmuel and Dvora Scheinerman, ardent Zionists who had emigrated from Russia following World War I. Growing up at a time when the Arab-Jewish struggle over Palestine intensified, young Sharon combined a high school education with membership in the underground Jewish military organization, the Haganah.
In 1945 Sharon began a military career which continued until 1973 and which saw him participate in each of the major campaigns waged by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Prior to Israel's establishment as a nation in 1948 he completed an officer's training course and served as an instructor for Jewish police units. During the War of Independence he fought as a platoon commander in the battle of Latrun, where he was seriously wounded. Afterwards Sharon became a military intelligence officer, and in 1952 he obtained a leave of absence to study Middle Eastern affairs at the Hebrew University.
The following year Sharon was chosen to form and lead a small elite commando force trained for special operations behind enemy lines. Both Sharon and Unit 101" were to become famous for their carrying out of a series of daring raids across Israel's vulnerable borders, thus enforcing a defense doctrine of retaliation for Arab violations of the 1949 armistice agreements and attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
Sharon Continued to Rise through the Ranks of the IDF
In the 1956 Sinai campaign against Egypt, Sharon commanded a paratroop brigade, which came under heavy fire and suffered many casualties in the Mitla pass. By then he already had the reputation of a tough, unconventional fighter whose undisciplined, independent action in battle bordered in the view of his superiors on insubordination. Still, Sharon continued to rise through the ranks of the IDF. After a year's interlude at the Staff College in Camberley, England, where he studied military science, Sharon, promoted in 1958 to colonel, spent the next three years as senior administrative officer in the training division of the General Staff, heading the Infantry School. Successive assignments were: brigade commander of the armored corps, 1962; chief of staff at Northern Command headquarters, 1964; and head of training division of the General Staff, 1966. During that period he received a law degree, and he was promoted to major-general in early 1967.
The next Arab-Israeli conflict, the Six Day War in June 1967, saw Sharon commanding a brigade on the southern front, where he again distinguished himself in battling against Egyptian forces in the Sinai desert. After two years as brigadier-general at the Southern Command during the 1968-70 war of attrition" along the Suez Canal, Sharon in 1970 was entrusted with the difficult task of suppressing Palestinian terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip. He succeeded in restoring internal security there despite charges of ruthlessness. He generated additional controversy inside the IDF by challenging the prevailing notion of a static defense line at the Suez Canal. Nevertheless, he was appointed head of the Southern Command in 1970.
Sharon, denied his ambition to become the next chief of staff, resigned from the army and entered politics in July 1973. Identifying with the right-of-center Gahal alignment, he helped to negotiate the formation of a Likud (unity) front headed by opposition leader Menachem Begin in September. In October, however, the Yom Kippur war intervened and Sharon once more saw battle when urgently summoned to lead a reserve army division in containing the Egyptian advance. It was then that Sharon registered his greatest military success. Smashing through the enemy lines, he personally led the Israeli forces in establishing a bridgehead at Ismailia and in crossing to the western side of the canal, thereby regaining the initiative.
Returning to politics after the war, Sharon was elected to the Knesset (Israel's parliament) on the Likud ticket in December 1973. However, he resigned a year later; shortly thereafter, in 1975, Premier Yitzhak Rabin appointed him to the post of special advisor on security affairs, which he relinquished in 1976 in order to form the independent Shlomtzion (peace of Zion) Party pledged to retaining the territories occupied in the 1967 war. When he only succeeded in gaining two seats in the May 1977 elections, Sharon opted to merge with the victorious Likud block. Appointed to the cabinet post of minister of agriculture by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sharon actively promoted Jewish settlement in the territories, especially in Judea and Samaria on the West Bank of the Jordan River.
Advocated a Forceful Approach
During the second Begin government Sharon served as minister of defense from 1981 to 1983. In this capacity he advocated a forceful approach to the increased military presence and activity of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut and in southern Lebanon. He is widely regarded as having been the principal architect of operation peace for Galilee launched into Lebanon in June 1982, from which Israel did not disengage until June 1985. Sharply criticized for the conduct of the war and the siege of Beirut, Sharon remained in the public eye, successfully defending himself in a libel suit against Time magazine in 1984. He even resumed his political career as minister of industry and trade in the National Unity Government, formed in September 1984 under Premier Shimon Peres.
Ariel Sharon's military exploits are described in Ze'ev Schiff, A History of the Israeli Army (1974); and he is a central figure in the account of operation peace for Galilee" by Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Israel's Lebanon War (1984). The libel suit against Time is covered in Renata Adler's Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al; Sharon v. Time (1986). Information on Ariel Sharon can also be found through online resources, such as Magazine Index Plus, ProQuest's Newspaper Abstract, both available in many public libraries, or using one's PC to access NewsWorks (www.newsworks.com), a consortium owned by nine major media companies. The Electric Library (www.elibrary.com/) (a subscription service) is an excellent source for information from a variety of media, ranging from radio scripts to books (such as Countries of the World, which list Sharon in at least two chapters. □