Sharon, Ariel

Sharon, Ariel
born Feb. 26, 1928, Kefar Malal, Palestine

Israeli soldier and politician.

He received military training and did intelligence and reconnaissance work after Israel achieved independence (see Arab-Israeli wars). During the Suez Crisis (1956), and again during the Six-Day War (1967), a unit under his command captured the strategic Mitla Pass. In the Yom Kippur War (1973), he led an Israeli counterattack. Appointed minister of agriculture in charge of settlements (1977), he actively promoted Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As minister of defense (1981–83), he oversaw Israel's invasion of Lebanon (see Lebanese civil war). An Israeli court of inquiry held Sharon indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and he was forced to resign in 1983. He held several further cabinet positions throughout the 1980s and '90s and in 1999 became head of the Likud party. In 2001 he was elected prime minister.

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▪ 2002

      In elections in Israel on Feb. 6, 2001, Ariel (“Arik”) Sharon, leader of the right-wing Likud, defeated Ehud Barak of the Labor Party by a margin of 62.4% to 37.6%. After assembling a broad-based coalition government, Sharon took office as the country's 11th prime minister on March 7. Ironically, it was Sharon's visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount in September 2000 that sparked the Palestinian uprising that in turn discredited Barak's peace policies and paved the way for Sharon's landslide victory.

      As prime minister, Sharon set up a national unity government with Labor and announced two major policy changes—there would be no negotiations with the Palestinians as long as violence continued, and interim, rather than final, arrangements would be made when the shooting stopped.

      Ariel Sheinerman was born on Feb. 26, 1928, in Kfar Malal, a small farming village north of Tel Aviv, Palestine. The village often came under Arab attack, and from the age of 13, Sharon, armed with a club and dagger, helped patrol the fields at night. In Israel's 1948 War of Independence, he made a name for himself as a fearless young officer, and in 1953 he was handpicked to set up a commando unit to retaliate against relentless Arab incursions. The unit, known as 101, did more than carry out reprisal raids; it transformed the Israel Defense Forces' ethos, with a strategy that emphasized taking the attack to the enemy.

      His command of Unit 101 highlighted failings that would dog Sharon in later life: his headstrong belief in his own better judgment and his penchant for exceeding orders. The most blatant case was a 1953 raid on the West Bank village of Qibya, where Sharon's men blew up more than 40 houses and left 69 civilians dead.

      Sharon's brilliance as a field commander was never in question. He led one of three lightning armour thrusts into Sinai in the 1967 Six-Day War and in 1971, as head of Southern Command, crushed Palestinian terror in Gaza. When he was denied the post of chief of staff, however, he left the army in 1973, and within months unified political forces on the right to form the present-day Likud. Recalled to service in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he made a daring crossing of the Suez Canal that turned the tide and made him a national hero.

      His star waned when, as defense minister in 1982, he masterminded Israel's ill-fated invasion of Lebanon and was forced to resign after a commission of inquiry found him indirectly responsible for a massacre by Israel's Christian allies in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps.

      Sharon, however, continued to serve in Likud-led governments, incurring U.S. wrath for persistent promotion of Jewish settlement activity in occupied territory. In 1998 he became foreign minister, a platform from which he took over as party leader when Benjamin Netanyahu lost the premiership to Barak in 1999. With elections looming, Netanyahu launched a comeback in November 2000 and seemed set to recapture the leadership. He withdrew, however, at the 11th hour, paving the way for what months before had seemed a highly improbable victory for Sharon at the polls.

Leslie D. Susser

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▪ prime minister of Israel
byname  Arik Sharon  
born February 26, 1928, Kefar Malal, Palestine [now in Israel]
 Israeli general and politician, whose public life was marked by brilliant but controversial military achievements and political policies. One of the chief participants in the Arab-Israeli wars, he was elected prime minister of Israel in 2001.

      Sharon received military training early in life, becoming part of a Jewish defense force that protected kibbutzim (collective-farming settlements) from raids by Bedouin and neighbouring Arab (Arab-Israeli wars) villagers. During the Israeli war of independence in 1948–49, he led one of the crack units, and after the war he was involved in intelligence and reconnaissance work and was in command of a controversial attack on a Jordanian village in 1953. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, Sharon captured the strategic Mitla Pass on the Sinai Peninsula, again garnering praise for his military ability and criticism for his headstrong leadership. After the crisis he studied military theory at Staff College in Camberley, England, and law at Tel Aviv University, graduating with a law degree in 1966.

      Sharon was made a major general in 1967, a few months before the Six-Day War in June, in which he once again captured the Mitla Pass in a lightning-quick assault. He resigned from the Israeli army in July 1973 but was recalled for the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, in which he spearheaded the Israeli counterattack westward across the Suez Canal into Egypt.

      Amid charges of impulsiveness, uncontrollability, and dogmatism, Sharon made many enemies and was kept from the top army position that his military exploits might otherwise have gained for him. He was instrumental in the formation of the Likud party in September 1973 and became a member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) that year. He was adviser (1975–77) to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Rabin, Yitzhak) before joining the Likud administration of Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Begin, Menachem) in 1977 as minister of agriculture in charge of settlements. In that position he supported the construction of Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territories.

      Begin appointed Sharon minister of defense in June 1981, and he was the principal architect of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, a war that swept Palestinian guerrillas from southern Lebanon but also worsened that country's civil war. After militia members of Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies committed massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps in Israeli-occupied Beirut, Israel convened a commission of inquiry, which did not find Sharon directly responsible for the massacres but did hold him indirectly responsible for failing to take action to prevent the bloodshed. He resigned as defense minister in 1983, although he continued to hold cabinet positions over the next decade, as minister of industry and trade (1984–90) and minister of construction and housing (1990–92). Under this second portfolio he continued his earlier policy of promoting intensive Israeli settlement in occupied territories.

      In 1996 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Netanyahu, Benjamin) created the cabinet post of minister of national infrastructure for Sharon. Two years later Sharon was named foreign minister, and in 1999 he succeeded Netanyahu as Likud party leader. Controversy, however, continued to follow Sharon. In late 2000 his visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount to press Israeli rights of sovereignty over a site viewed as holy by both Jews and Muslims outraged Palestinians and sparked widespread violence, seriously undermining Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

  In December 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak (Barak, Ehud) resigned his post, and a new election was scheduled for February 2001. Sharon announced his candidacy, and, disillusioned with Barak's inability to halt the fighting, Israelis voted Sharon into office by the largest margin in Israeli history. Violence continued, however, and in late 2003 Sharon unveiled a plan that called for the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. Despite opposition from within Likud, Israel completed the pullout in September 2005. Two months later Sharon left Likud and formed a centrist party, Kadima (“Forward”). In January 2006, however, Sharon was debilitated by a massive stroke, and power was transferred to Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Olmert, Ehud), who became acting prime minister.

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Universalium. 2010.

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