Israel’s Ariel Sharon dies at 85

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died from complications associated with a massive stroke he suffered eight years ago. He was 85.

Israeli news reports say Sharon died Saturday at a hospital near Tel Aviv.

Sharon served as prime minister from 2001 until 2006, when a stroke left him hospitalized and in a coma.A week ago, medical officials said his kidneys and other vital organs had begun to fail.As a soldier, Sharon was known for his daring heroics on the battlefield in the decades following the creation of the State of Israel, most notably during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In a brilliant tactical display, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, cutting off Egypt’s third army.

He was also known to many for being reckless and brutal. In 1982, he led an invasion of Lebanon that resulted in the massacre, by Lebanese militias, of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.

Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East negotiator, says the military shaped Sharon.

“He certainly came to believe that the only way peace would be possible would be for Israeli strength to be respected.” he said.

As a politician, Sharon was also controversial. As a cabinet member, he promoted the establishment of Jewish settlements throughout the Palestinian territories.

Palestinian scholar Shukri Abed says this won him further hatred among Arabs.

“To say the least, not trusted, and probably hated by many of them, because of his strong positions, because he was an advocate of  building settlements,” Abed said. “He was the father of building settlements.”

As head of the opposition in 2000, Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, in Jerusalem sparked anger among the Palestinians and triggered the uprising known as the Second Intifada.He became prime minister in 2001.His government suppressed the uprising within a few years, and began work on the security barrier that now separates Israelis from Palestinians.

While Sharon is remembered as a tough leader who spared no action to defend his people, he was also one who could take difficult steps.

In 2005, he oversaw Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, pulling Israeli settlers and soldiers out of the enclave in the hopes of achieving peace with the Palestinians.

“The relocation of the settlements will be in order to draw an efficient security line that will create a disengagement line between Israel and the Palestinians,” Sharon said at the time.

He left the hawkish Likud party to form the centrist Kadima party which subsequently engaged in intense but unsuccessful peace talks with the Palestinians, aimed at establishing a separate Palestinian state.In 2006, Sharon suffered a series of strokes and slipped into a coma. He was replaced by Ehud Olmert as prime minister.In a vegetative state, the former prime minister spent the next few years at a hospital near Tel Aviv before being transferred to home care at his ranch in southern Israel.

Sharon dedicated his life to building a strong Israel.  His efforts to bring peace remain a work in progress.

(Photo: UN Photo/Joshua Kristal)