- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ariel Sharon, a pivotal figure in Israel’s history from his days as a foot soldier in the country’s 1948 war for independence to his final years as a prime minister seeking a permanent peace in one of the world’s toughest neighborhoods, has died after a lengthy illness. He was 85.

His son Gilad confirmed Mr. Sharon’s death to Israeli media Saturday morning.

“He has gone. He went when he decided to go,” Gilad Sharon said.

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Mr. Sharon died with his family at his bedside at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, where he had been comatose since suffering a massive stroke eight years ago. His condition had deteriorated rapidly since the start of the year.

“Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said, using Mr. Sharon’s nickname and calling him “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. We all loved him and he will be greatly missed,” Mr. Peres said.

In a statement from the White House, President Obama said that he and the first lady “send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.

“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples. We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” the president said.

A war hero-turned-politician, Mr. Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in 2006 on the eve of what shaped up as his last great campaign — re-drawing Israel’s political map as the unlikely head of a centrist party determined to strike a final security settlement with the Palestinians and with the country’s hostile Arab neighbors.

A blunt, bearish man with a penchant for defying superiors and enraging enemies in pursuit of his goals, Mr. Sharon proved a polarizing figure both in Israel and on the world stage in his quest for total security for the embattled Jewish state.

For critics, his battlefield heroics — in the 1956 Suez Crisis, in the 1967 Six-Day War, and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War — and his lengthy political resume were overshadowed by a string of controversial and often bloody decisions. His failure as defense minister to restrain enraged Lebanese Christian militia forces in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps led many to brand him a “war criminal.”

But in a military and political career that spanned nearly six decades, Mr. Sharon never apologized for his unswerving defense of Israel’s security, arguing that only force and power could guarantee his country’s survival and bring peace to the region.

“I believe I can make peace because I saw all the horrors of war,” he said in a November 2001 Newsweek interview, just months after winning election as prime minister. “I participated in all the wars and lost my best friends in battles. I was seriously injured twice. Therefore, I understand the importance of peace better than the politicians who speak about peace but who never experienced war.”

A military leader

He was a son of his homeland even before Israel came into existence, born Feb. 27, 1928, in the rural settlement of Kfar Malal, 15 miles north of modern-day Tel Aviv, in what was then the British-run mandate of Palestine. His parents, Shmuel and Dvora Scheinerman, were Russian immigrants active in the Zionist movement to establish a state for the world’s Jews in their ancient Middle East homeland.

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