January 11, 2014


Israel's indomitable protector, Ariel Sharon emblemized military audacity, evolving politics (MITCH GINSBURG, January 11, 2014, Times of Israel)

Sharon, as both military leader and prime minister, was the man to whom the Israeli public looked in its hours of need, yearning for the protection he provided and cognizant of the consequences it sometimes entailed. As Ari Shavit wrote in a piercing profile in the New Yorker in 2006, Israelis turned to Sharon in the 1950s, during the devastating fedayun raids; as they did on Yom Kippur 1973, when even the defense minister was said to have feared the "fall of the Third Temple"; and yet again, most overwhelmingly, during the savagely bloody days of the Second Intifada.

He was defense minister during the 1982 Lebanon War and was found to bear personal responsibility for failing to prevent the Phalangist massacre of Palestinian Muslims in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Early in his career, in October 1953, he led a reprisal raid on the Jordanian village of Qibya in response to a terror attack in Israel. Forty two houses were detonated in the raid and 69 people were killed. In the field with his troops, Sharon had a reputation for pushing the license and limits of his orders to the maximum.

Toward the end of his political career, he was welcomed into the mainstream. In August 2005, he presided over the withdrawal from Gaza, uprooting some 24 settlements in total and irrevocably severing his ties with the settlement movement that he had an instrumental role in founding.

Three months later, on November 21, 2005, Sharon announced his departure from Likud, the party he had co-founded in 1973. A reporter asked at the press conference why he thought he would succeed where so many others had failed, with a centrist party. He laughed -- even his greatest detractors admitted that he could be charming -- and said: "Planning is something a lot of people know how to do, but executing, as you know, far fewer, far fewer." [...]

General Sharon, as he was often known abroad, never went to officer's school.

He was, however, a gifted commander. In 1967, he planned the IDF's first divisional battle, against the Abu Agheila stronghold in the Sinai, completely on his own; till today, the battle is taught in military academies across the world.

During the Yom Kippur War, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, breaking the back of the Egyptian offensive. As his troops encircled Egypt's Third Army, Sharon, a reserves officer at the time, instructed them to plant Israeli flags on the high ground, so that the Egyptians would look back across the water and see that they were trapped.

Sharon, known to all as Arik, did not need to have orders spelled out for him. In 1952, Moshe Dayan asked him "to see" whether it would be possible to capture Jordanian soldiers and exchange them for Israeli POWs. That same day, without being told, Sharon rounded up a friend and a pickup truck and drove down to the Jordan River. He waded into the water, pretended to inquire about missing cows, and promptly disarmed two Jordanian soldiers. He cuffed and blindfolded them, and drove them back to headquarters in Nazareth, his friend Shlomo Hever riding on the sideboard with a pistol aimed at their heads. When they arrived, Dayan was out. Sharon left him a note: "Moshe -- the mission is accomplished, the prisoners are in the cellar. Shalom. Arik."

Dayan, who recommended him for a citation after that mission, famously said of his generals that he preferred to restrain war horses than "prod oxen who refuse to move." Sharon, though, proved difficult to contain. In 1956, during the Suez War, he stretched his orders to the maximum and beyond, when he sent paratroopers into the Mitla Pass, engaging in a gruesome and unnecessary face-to-face fight with the Egyptian soldiers who were dug into the craggy mountain side. The mission resulted in 38 Israeli deaths and cemented a lifelong feud with future chief of the General Staff Motta Gur.

In the aftermath of the Suez War, then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion wrote of Sharon in his journal: "The lad is a thinker, an original. Were he to be weaned of his fault of not speaking the truth in his reports he would make an exemplary military leader."

Ben-Gurion, nonetheless, supported Sharon throughout his military life. In 1953, after the unintentional massacre in Qibya, the elder statesman kindly changed the young major's name from Scheinerman to Sharon, reassuring him that what is important is "how it will be looked at here in this region," to which Sharon remarked in his 1989 autobiography, tellingly entitled "Warrior," "I couldn't have agreed with him more."

Despite Ben-Gurion's persistent backing -- he told military historian Uri Milstein that Sharon was "the greatest field commander in the history of the IDF" - and Sharon's stunning tactical successes in the Six Day War, he was eventually pushed out of the army -- after many previous attempts -- on July 15, 1973.

Posted by at January 11, 2014 8:01 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus