Ariel Sharon, Larger-Than-Life Israeli Soldier Turned Prime Minister, Dies at 85

Right Wing Icon Had Been in Coma Since 2006 Stroke

‘King Arik’: Ariel Sharon shares a laugh during 2004 Knesset session. The iconic Israeli general-turned-politician suffered a catastrophic stroke while serving as premier two years later.
getty images
‘King Arik’: Ariel Sharon shares a laugh during 2004 Knesset session. The iconic Israeli general-turned-politician suffered a catastrophic stroke while serving as premier two years later.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 11, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 5)

Then, in 1999, Sharon began his most spectacular comeback yet. Netanyahu, defeated at the polls by Labor’s Ehud Barak, announced his resignation from politics. Sharon was chosen as Likud leader, presumably as a caretaker. Just 15 months later, however, Barak’s government collapsed and Sharon was swept into the prime minister’s office in a special midterm election.

Sharon’s election was greeted with horror in much of the world media, but Israelis, into the fifth month of a violent Palestinian uprising, were largely relieved to have the old soldier in charge. Most important, the incoming Bush administration in Washington embraced Sharon as a friend, guaranteeing him international legitimacy.

Sharon quickly escalated Israel’s response to the Palestinian violence, dispatching the air force to bomb urban targets, ordering the assassination of suspected terrorist leaders and imprisoning Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters. In May 2003, after nearly three years of urban warfare, Arafat agreed to hand over part of his powers to a relatively moderate prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. In reply, the United States, together with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, issued a so-called Road Map for Middle East peace and Palestinian statehood. Sharon accepted the plan, becoming the first Israeli leader openly to endorse Palestinian statehood.

Friends and enemies greeted Sharon’s embrace of Palestinian aspirations, after a lifetime of implacable hostility, with surprise and suspicion. In December 2003 he dropped an even bigger bombshell, announcing a plan for what he called “unilateral disengagement” from the Palestinians. If terrorism wasn’t halted, he said, Israel would move away from the Palestinians by withdrawing its troops from heavily populated areas and walling them off behind a security barrier. Most shockingly, the plan called for dismantling Jewish settlements, the project he had nurtured and championed for three decades.

The plan turned Sharon’s image on its head. His detractors on the left, accustomed to calling him a butcher, now embraced him as a peacemaker. Settlers and their backers on the right, his closest allies, attacked him as a deadly enemy and mounted furious protests. One group of rabbis staged an arcane ritual calling on heaven to strike him dead. Journalists predicted civil war. His Likud party was thrown into an uproar, and smaller parties began abandoning his coalition.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.