Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Former Israeli Statesman and General Ariel Sharon Passes Away at Age 85

Former Israeli Prime Minister and IDF commander Ariel Sharon passed away this weekend after being in a coma since January 2006. Sharon was instrumental in the formation of the Likud party and was Israel's 11th prime minister, serving between 2001 and 2006. After his distinguished career in the Israeli Defense Forces Sharon also served as Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister, Minister of Energy and Water Resources and Minister of Trade and Labour in late 1980s through the 1990s.

Born Ariel Scheinermann in 1928 on a farm in what was then British Mandate of Palestine, Sharon joined the Haganah- a predecessor of the IDF- as a teenager. During Israel's 1948 War for Independence, Sharon led a small unit in hit and run attacks against the advancing combined Arab armies and was quickly promoted through the ranks. Sharon was wounded multiple time by Jordanian forces and his battalion suffered numerous losses in the battle of Laturn, including survivors of the Holocaust recently arrived from Europe.

During the 1956 Suez Canal War, Sharon commanded a paratrooper brigade and an Armored Division during the 1967 Six Days War. Officially retiring at the rank of Major General in August 1973, Sharon returned to service less than two months later during the Yom Kippur War, leading a reserve armored division over the Suez canal and encircling the city of Suez, cutting off the Egyptian Thrid Army and effectively ending the war.

As Defense Minister, Sharon launched a 1982 offensive against entrenched Palestinian terrorists in Lebanon after repeated cross-border attacks from the north and the attempted assassination of Israel's ambassador to the UK in London. The PLO and other international terrorist groups had taken advantage of the relative lawlessness in Lebanon after a civil war broke out in 1975. Although PLO fighters and their Syrian allies were forced into a retreat, a Phalangist militia massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in a refugee camp in Israeli held territory- a war crime where Sharon and the IDF was accused of complicity.

After the 2001 collapse of Ehud Barak's government, Sharon was elected to the office of Prime Minister by a 44 point margin. In 2003, he became the first Israeli PM to visit the state of India. More significantly, Sharon oversaw Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip, which caused a significant schism within the Likud party. By late 2005, Sharon formally resigned as head of the Likud party to form a new, centrist party called Kadima before suffering his debilitating stroke.

Earlier this week, a state funeral was held for Sharon after laying in state in Israel's parliament.

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