Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

The big man has died.

At the Los Angeles Times, "Ariel Sharon, Israel's controversial, iron-willed former leader, dies":
JERUSALEM — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the iron-willed army general who fought in nearly all of his nation's major wars and spearheaded Jewish settlement of Palestinian territories, then years later presided over Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, died Saturday. He was 85.

The controversial leader, who had been incapacitated since suffering a severe stroke in 2006, was moved in 2010 to his ranch in the Negev desert at the request of his family. In September he underwent abdominal surgery, but his condition worsened this month as his organs deteriorated.

Sharon's death at a hospital near Tel Aviv was announced by his son Gilad.

"That's it. He's gone. He went when he decided to go," his son said.

Sharon, often called "the Bulldozer" for his aggressive style, endured many ups and downs in his lengthy career, but at the end was lauded as one of Israel's greatest leaders.

"[Sharon] was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him," Israeli President Shimon Peres said in a statement. "He was one of Israel's great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision. He knew how to take difficult decisions and implement them."

Yet in the eyes of many Palestinians and even some Israelis, his actions were tantamount to war crimes; he was blamed for the massacres by Israel's Lebanese allies of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in southern Lebanon in 1982 and previous attacks in Jordan.

Sharon devoted decades to the dream of establishing a "greater Israel" by seeking to populate the West Bank and Gaza with tens of thousands of Jews and exhorting them to seize the hills. But in his eighth decade, the old warrior set about dismantling some of the settlements. He withdrew settlers from Gaza and four small West Bank settlements in 2005 and declared his belief that Israel's best chance for lasting security lay in drawing defensible borders and ultimately living side by side with a Palestinian state.

The shift infuriated Sharon's right-wing supporters and led him to abandon the hawkish Likud Party for a newly formed centrist party, Kadima. Just months later, Sharon suffered the stroke, leaving much of his agenda unfulfilled. Analysts still debate whether Sharon was intending to make peace with the Palestinians or unilaterally consolidate Israel's hold on the West Bank.

Most agree that the Gaza withdrawal did not turn out as Sharon had hoped. Weeks after he was stricken, the Islamist group Hamas won Palestinian elections, and it later seized control of the Gaza Strip, breaking with the rival Fatah party.

Two years later, prompted by a resumption of Hamas rocket attacks, Israel launched a 22-day military offensive in Gaza, killing 1,200 Palestinians and drawing an international outcry. The Kadima-led government was replaced by Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in 2009.

Sharon, born Ariel Scheinerman to Russian immigrants on Feb. 27, 1928, lived his life in the bloody crucible of the Israeli-Arab struggle...
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Also at the New York Times, "Ariel Sharon, Fierce Defender of a Strong Israel, Dies at 85" (at Memeorandum).

Reactions at Israel Matzav, Jawa Report, and the Other McCain.