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Ariel Sharon

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Ariel Sharon (אריאל שרון), born February 27, 1928, is a longtime Israeli political and military leader, and has been the 11th Prime Minister of Israel since February 17, 2001. He was born Ariel Scheinermann, and is also often known by his nickname Arik.

Sharon is highly controversial figure in and outside Israel. Many Israelis view him as a war hero, who helped defend the country in some of its greatest struggles, and at present as a strong ruler determined to fight terrorism. However, a significant number of Israelis, as well as much of the rest of the world, consider some of his past actions to have been war crimes, and feel that his recent actions have been damaging the peace process. Most infamous were his actions as Defense Minister during the 1982 Lebanon War (see below).

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Table of contents
1 Military career
2 Political career
3 Commentary on recent events and the peace process
4 Quotes
5 External links

Military career

First years

Sharon was born Ariel Scheinermann in Kfar Malal in 1928 to a German-Polish father and a Russian mother. In 1942, at the age of 14, he joined the Haganah, the Israeli precursor to the Israeli Defense Force. At the creation of Israel (and Haganah's transformation into the Israeli Defence Force), Sharon was a platoon commander in the Alexandroni brigade. He was severely wounded in the Second Battle of Latrun, but healed from his injuries. In 1949 he was promoted to a company commander, and in 1951 to an intelligence officer. He then took leave to begin studies of 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, as the head of the new Unit 101.

On its own right during the first five months, and as a part of a paratroop brigade for two more years, the unit completed a series of daring raids that helped restore Israeli citizen's morale and renew the Israeli deterrent image. However, the unit was also criticized for initially targeting civilians as well as the Arab armies, resulting in the widely-condemned Qibya massacre in Autumn 1953, in which more than 60 Jordanian civilians were killed in an attack on their village. Investigation showed that the order to maximize casualties was not given by Sharon, but by one of his superiors. Shortly afterwards, Unit 101 was merged into the 202nd Paratrooper Brigade (Sharon eventually becoming the latter's commander), which continued to attack military targets only, culminating with the attack on Kalkiliya Police in autumn 1956.

Mitla incident

In the 1956 Suez War, Sharon commanded the 202nd Brigade, and was responsible for taking over ground east of the Mitla Pass and eventually overtaking the Pass itself. Having successfully carried out the first part of his mission (joining a battalion paratrooped near Mitla with the rest of the brigade moving on ground), Sharon deployed near the pass. Aircraft flying over the area reported no enemy forces were seen inside the Mitla Pass, and so did scouts sent to the area. 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.
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Gen. Sharon speaking to journalists

Sharon asked for permission to attack the pass several times; his requests were denied, but he was allowed to check its status so that if the pass was empty, he could receive permission to take it later. Sharon then sent a small scout force which was met with heavy fire and got stuck 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. A bloody battle ensued in which more than 40 Israeli soldiers were killed, but the pass was taken. Having suffered some criticism from his commanders, Sharon's conduct was furthermore attacked by several ex-subordinates several years after the events (in one of IDF's first major revelations to the press), who claimed that Sharon was bullying with the Egyptians and sent out the scouts in bad faith, meaning a battle to ensue. Deliberate or not, the attack was against military wisdom, as the Egyptian forces staying in the pass, would have probably withdrawn in a day or two (as B.H. Liddell Hart would have put it, the indirect strategy of blocking the enemy would be much more efficient than the frontal attack that Sharon chose).

Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars

The incident postponed Sharon's growing in ranks for several years. In the meanwhile, he occupied the position of an infantry brigade commander and received a law degree from Tel Aviv University. When Yitzhak Rabin (who within a few years became prominently associated with the Labor Party) became Chief of Staff in 1962, however, Sharon began again to rise rapidly in ranks, occupying the positions of Infantry School Commander and Head of Army Training Branch, and from some point, the rank of Major General (Aluf). In the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon commanded the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front, which successfully completed a vital breakthrough through the Kusseima-Abu-Ageila fortified area. In 1969, he was appointed the Head of IDF's Southern Command. BBC reported that Sharon was denied the promotion to chief of staff because someone inside or outside the government inferred in him a disregard for human life, based on their construing as brutal some aspect(s) of the occupation, under his command, of the West Bank and Gaza strip. He had no further promotions before retiring in August 1973. Soon after, he joined the right-wing Likud political party.

His military career was not over, however. At the start of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, Sharon was called back to duty and assigned to command a reserve armored division. His forces did not engage the Egyptian army immediately, and it was Sharon who helped to locate a breach between the Egyptian forces, which he then exploited in capturing a bridge-head on October 16, and throwing a bridge across the Suez Canal the following day. He violated his orders from the head of Southern Command by exploiting this success to cut the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army, located to the south of the canal crossing, isolating it from other Egyptian units. Tensions between those two generals followed his decision, though a military tribunal found his action was militarily effective and is widely considered to have contributed to the end of the war. His political positions were also controversial at this time. He was relieved of duty in February, 1974.

Political career

He was a member of the Knesset 1973-1974, and then from 1977-present. In 1975-1976, he served as the security adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He then served as Minister of Agriculture (1977-1981), and as Defense Minister (1981-1983) in Menachem Begin's Likud government.

During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, while Ariel Sharon was Defense Minister, a massacre of several hundred Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut was carried out by the Phalanges, a Lebanese-Christian militia allied with Israel, who had been sent into the camps at Sharon's command. The Kahan Committee investigating the events of Sabra and Shatilla, recommended in early 1983 the removal of Sharon from his post as Defense Minister for reasons of negligence, though not complicity in the planning of the massacre.

In 1987, Time Magazine published a story implying Sharon's direct responsibility for the massacres. Sharon responded by suing Time for libel in an American court. Although it became clear during the trial that Time could not prove the allegations it had made against Sharon, Time won the suit because Sharon could not establish that Time had acted with "knowledge of falsity or out of reckless disregard for the truth" (which is required for a public figure to successfully sue the press in the United States).

Sharon was dismissed by the Prime Minister Begin; however he remained in the successive governments as a Minister without portfolio (1983-1984), Minister for Trade and Industry (1984-1990), and Minister for Housing Construction (1990-1992). In Benjamin Netanyahu's 1996-1999 government, he was Minister of National Infrastructure (1996-1998), and Foreign Minister (1998-1999). Upon the election of the Barak Labor government, he became leader of the Likud party. After the collapse of Barak's government, he was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.

In early 2001, relatives of the victims of the massacre began proceedings in Belgium to have Ariel Sharon indicted on war crimes charges. In June, 2002 Brussels Appeal Court threw out the lawsuit as inadmissible.

On January 20, 2004, an Israeli court charged property developer David Appel with trying to bribe Sharon while he was serving as Israel's National Infrastructure Minister in the 1990s through his son Gilad. At the time, the newly-appointed Legal Counsel to the Government Meni Mazouz was to make the decision whether to press charges against Sharon.

Later in 2004, Sharon proposed a unilateral disengagement plan.

Commentary on recent events and the peace process

Palestinian position

According to Palestinians, Ariel Sharon has followed a military solutions based policy of no negotiations under fire. His reluctance to engage in political negotiations while terrorist attacks are still being carried out is seen as an impediment. Up until March 2002, Sharon has been asking for the cessation of violence for at least a week before negotiations begin. Numerous countries declared that they felt that Sharon's demand was too strict and unrealistic.

Palestinians also claim that the current policies followed by the Sharon government so far have failed to bring about such a prerequisite for peace. In particular, they claimed that the following measures have only created further difficulty in calming the situation down:

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Palestinians (as well as some Israelis) claim that the al-Aqsa Intifada was started because of a visit made by Ariel Sharon and an escort of several hundred policemen marching in sites of Israeli-occuppied Arab East Jerusalem sacred both to Muslims and Jews. To Palestinians, the image of Ariel Sharon entering the Dome of the Rock with about 400 Israeli policemen seemed like a forced violation of one of the holiest Muslim sites. Palestinian lobbyists and commentators have even gone so far as to accuse him of purposely starting this event, to prevent the further continuation of peace talks.

Israel denies this claim vehemently, instead claiming that the uprising had been engineered by PA Chairman Yassir Arafat himself, as a leverage tool in the peace negotiations, after having deemed them not progressing as hoped for. In addition, the Israeli government has stressed the right of religious freedom for all citizens, a right which assigns religions unlimited access to their holy sites, be them Muslim, Christian, Jewish and any other religion.

Furthermore, Palestinians claim that Ariel Sharon really lacks a political agenda, as they regard him solely as a general and consider war operations the limit of his expertise. They consider occupation to be the real problem and deem peace impossible till its removal.

Palestinians doubt the existence of popular support to Sharon's actions. As examples, they bring groups such as Peace Now, which has been calling for a return to negotiations ever since the beginning of the recent clashes, and a letter signed by about 250 reserve soldiers (a minor percentage of the Israeli reserve force) that refused to serve in the territories because of the danger that this created for Palestinian civilians. However, 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 is quite supportive of the Israeli policies, as a whole.

Up to a thousand of Israeli reserve officers and retired officials of Israel's security agencies (some of whom occupied positions of importance in the past) advocate a unilateral retreat from the territories that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. They claim furthermore that by withdrawing from these territories it will force the Palestinian leadership to resume its security responsibilities towards the Israeli population.

They claim further that even if the Palestinian Authority would not comply, the very introduction of a border would be beneficial to Israeli security. Others disagree, arguing their claim by Israel's resulting inability to deal with mortar and missile attacks, already frequent in the conflict. Moreover, the movement's leaders are not without political agenda, meaning that some of their declarations may aim merely at achieving positive PR for themselves. The officers are a minority within the Israeli public and their statements have been amplified by interest groups all over the world, more-so than in Israel proper.

Israeli position

President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon meet in the White House on April 14, 2004Enlarge

President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon meet in the White House on April 14, 2004

Israelis feel that Ariel Sharon is often made the focus of Arab hatred in a way that does not correlate well with his real stance and position. In many cases, Arab media holds it that Sharon is a settler himself - whereas Sharon has never lived in a settlement (he is the owner of a house in East Jerusalem, which he fairly bought and now leases).

In particular, it is often presumed by Arabs that all the hard-line elements in Israel's policy towards the Palestinians were introduced by Sharon. However, as Israelis hold, a deeper review of the Israeli politics disproves that assertion:

During the past months, Mr. Sharon has stressed his agenda for achieving peace with the Palestinians more than ever before, particularly with his words on willingness for concessions on the part of Israel. Sharon has met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) several times and the new partnership seems to be affecting ministers in both governments. Sharon, though, is holding his ground in demanding a total cessation of terror. Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas has echoed his willingness to end terrorism against Israel and has called the violent attacks on Israeli civilians "terrorism" on several occasions. In return, Sharon has offered concessions even regarding release of jailed members of Palestinian militant groups (cosidered terrorist organizations by Israel) such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, provided they have not taken part in murder.

Thus, as Israelis hold, the recent polls indicate that Ariel Sharon enjoys a great degree of confidence and trust on behalf of the Israeli public. They indicate that most Israelis supports Sharon's policies, and consider them either adequate or even not extensive enough in the military sense. Israelis maintain, that their country has a pluralistic political tradition which allows for the functioning of the peace movements, but this does not necessarily mean that the Israeli public supports these peace movements.

Secondly, Ariel Sharon, as well as many Israelis, believes that terrorism is an absolute evil. From their point of view, the Palestinian leadership has not done anything to stop terrorism, and may have even had a role, at financial, administrative or even operative levels. Some claim this has been demonstrated by official documents displayed to the media following raids on Arafat's headquarters, the "Muqata". Sharon has declared that he will not negotiate until they adopt an opposite direction. In addition, Sharon claimed that he does not object to the setting up of a Palestinian state, however some people feel that the Palestinian claims are undermined by their policy of violence and terrorism. Sharon claimed recently that he is not interested in the collapse of the Palestinian authority or in taking over Palestinian cities.

Finally, many Israelis feel that the recent conflict is a war, and that therefore the behavior of the Israeli side must be militaristic by definition. Many Israelis claim that the targeted killings are aimed mainly at people who have openly declared that they are engaged in terrorist activity would not step down from it, and would not be taken to jail by the Palestinian Authority; thus, the only way to prevent them from carrying out acts of terrorism that they are planning would be to arrest them, or to kill them (the former is much more frequent).

Quotes

"Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that's grabbed, will be in our hands. Everything we don't grab will be in their hands." — Ariel Sharon, as Israeli Foreign Minister, in comments broadcast on Israeli radio, November 15, 1998. [1]

"If we [are to] reach a situation of true peace, real peace, peace for generations, we will have to make painful concessions. Not in exchange for promises, but rather in exchange for peace." — Ariel Sharon, as Prime Minister, April 2003. [1] [1]

External links


Preceded by :
Ehud Barak
Prime Ministers of Israel Succeeded by:
Currently in office