The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the final curtain on a long sad drama that began in 2005 when he was felled by a massive stroke. He was a legendary warrior for Israel against its enemies and a genius of tactics and strategy. Arguably it took eight years in a coma to wring the vitality from him. He was a giant and an exemplar for those who believe, as I do, that the Jewish state is a benign democratic outpost of civilization in the Middle East. For all those who think that area of the world would be at peace were it not for Israel, let them explain why practically all of Israel’s neighbors are in internecine conflict there today and only Israel is at peace and prospering. Its peace and prosperity comes in large part from the contributions of Ariel Sharon.
I met Sharon once, as a friendly emissary of his friend Seth Lipsky, my colleague in numerous journalistic efforts. I was at a conference in Israel, and Sharon had just addressed the throng. I accosted him as he was leaving, put out my hand, and said I brought him greetings from Seth in New York. My hand disappeared into his massive grip, and he did not let it go of it until he had told me of how much he admired Seth and all Seth had done for Israel. As Sharon’s list of Seth’s kindnesses was long and oft elaborated upon, my hand remained in his mitt for an awfully long time. It became painful, though I betrayed no discomfort—at least that is my recollection. He was short but had enormous shoulders and arms, and he was still battle hardened. He was every bit a warrior, as the Arab armies had discovered.
He was also a gifted politician. Without prompting from me, he talked about Seth, the political factions in New York and Washington that were numbered among his friends and foes, and finally asked me about myself. Then he loosed his grip. Frankly, I was amazed. Had he been raised in America he could have been mayor of New York.
His long career with the Israeli Defense Force made him a hero of the 1967 Six Days War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He helped create two political parties, the Likud and Kadima. He held cabinet posts, one during the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, when a Lebanese Christian militia rampaged. He took some blame for that, but let us note that the militia leader turned up years later in alliance with Syria’s President Assad. In 2001 he became Israel’s 11th prime minister.
Now he is dead at 85. His enemies saw him as bellicose, but I saw him as one of the reasons that Israel prospers and is at peace while many of its neighbors are killing each other.