Ariel Sharon, who died Saturday at age 85, after being suspended comatose, between life and death for the past eight years, was the final Israeli prime minister from the generation that fought in the 1948 War of Independence.
And as with others of his generation, the growth and development of the country were reflected in his career.
Sharon was a dazzling military commander. He was one of the original authors of Israel’s trailblazing counter terror strategies. The large battles against regular armies that he commanded in the 1956 Suez campaign, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War are still taught in military academies around the world for their tactical brilliance.
Sharon was a risk-taker. The most prominent shared quality of his military battles and his political ones was that they were always over high stakes. As a general, Sharon’s gutsiness paid off in spades more often than not. As a politician, the results were less impressive.
His two big gambles as a political leader were the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Although the results of both actions were mixed, Israel could have won the gains it made in both at far less cost, if it had not gone along with Sharon’s plans.
Perhaps the most notable way in which Sharon’s life is a reflection of his country, at least outside of Israel, is that the blood libels published against him in the Western media are of a piece with the overall slander of Israel in the European and US mainstream media.
Like Israel as a whole, Sharon saw his good name dragged through the mud by the Western media with tales published against him against which he had no means of defending itself. Sharon’s powerlessness was exposed in the libel suit he filed against Time Magazine for a 1982 article in which the magazine alleged that Sharon had planned the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps by Christian militiamen. When the jury rendered its ruling, it declared that although the story was false, Sharon had no right to monetary damages, because although the story was a lie, the lie was not actionable.
As Prime Minister, Sharon was caricatured as a baby eater, as a Nazi, the murderer of Jesus, and a hook nosed, greedy Jew. In the hours following the announcement of his passing, he was libeled repeatedly by such outlets as the BBC. And as was the case throughout his life, and throughout the life of Israel, so now after he has died, the libelers will pay no price for their misdeeds.
Sharon was one of the warmest, most engaging political leaders Israel has ever seen. He had an infectious sense of humor, a true love of life, of Israel, and of Israelis that made even his greatest Israeli critics like him.
Sharon was larger than life. His accomplishments and failures were similarly outsized. And while much of what happened to him, particularly at the hands of the media, reflects the larger predicament of all of Israel, there can be no doubt that Ariel Sharon was one of a kind.