By Claude Salhani-Trend:
Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel died Saturday after eight years in a coma. Sharon was also a one-time military commander, a minister of defense, a war hero to some and a war criminal to others. He was 85.
Sharon served as the 11th prime minister of Israel
He began his career in the army. When it came to war or to politics, Arik, as he was known to friends, was just as ruthless. During Israel's war of independence Sharon formed the Group 111. A group that was responsible for some of the worst violence against the Arabs
During the October War of 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel, and the Egyptians succeeded in breaching the Bar Lev Line, believed to be impregnable and crossed the Suez Canal, Sharon led the counter assault, driving his tanks at full speed until he reached the Egyptian Third Army, which he encircled, turning the tides of that conflict
In 1982, as defense minister in Menachem Begin's government he convinced the prime minister to chase the Palestine Liberation Organization and its affiliated groups out of Lebanon. In Operation Peace for Galilee, Sharon first told the cabinet that his intent was to drive the Palestinians about 36 kilometers north of the border - and out of artillery range - so that Israeli towns and kibbutzim would be safe from Palestinian cannons.
It was during the Lebanon War, Israel's costliest, that the massacre of Palestinian civilians at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps occurred, while the Israeli army stood idly by, allowing their Lebanese Christian allies to carryout the slaughter for several days. Some reports stated that Israeli troops even fired flares during the might in order to help the Christian militias find their way in around the camps.
While technically the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was a success, in many ways it was a disaster. First by the number of civilians killed in Lebanon, both Lebanese and Palestinians. Second by the number if Israeli soldiers killed. The violence unleashed during that conflict was by far superior to anything witnessed so far in the Arab-Israeli dispute. The '82 invasion saw the biggest and most dramatic dog fight in the history of military aviation between Israel and Syria. It was also one of the most vicious bombardment of an Arab capital city, as Israeli forces one particular day, August 2, 1982, lobbed on average one artillery shell or mortar on West Beirut every three seconds.
The war succeeded in distancing the PLO from Israel - at least temporarily - as they later ended up in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel's occupation of Lebanon eventually led to the creation of a bigger threat-Hezbollah -- a group that turned out to be not only a greater threat for the security of Israel, but a threat to the security of the entire region.
The numbers regarding the subsequent massacre that the Phalangists conducted are heavily disputed, and range from just over 750 to roughly 3,000 civilians. A subsequent commission of inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacre, and more specifically found him culpable for failing to anticipate the likelihood that the Phalangists may commit.
The extent of Sharon's culpability for the massacre remains contested - courts have ruled that TIME, for instance, falsely accused him of direct responsibility - but he was found by an Israeli commission to bear responsibility for the bloodshed and was forced to resign.
Ironically, it was Begin and Sharon - the two most radical prime ministers - who made the greatest concessions to the Palestinians; Begin withdrew Israeli settlements from the Sinai. And Sharon withdrew settlements from Gaza. But on the other hand, it was under Sharon that Israel build the greatest number of settlements in the West Bank.
Sharon was elected to be the prime minister amid a terror campaign with Palestinians suicide bombers spreading fear through out the land.
Following a wave of suicide bombings - and immediately after the March 2002 attack on a Passover Seder in Netanya in which 30 people were killed - Sharon initiated Israel's Operation Defensive Shield to uproot the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
The immediate aftermath saw a 46 percent drop in suicide bombings, and by the second half of the year a 70 percent drop.
In 2003 Sharon navigated the Likud party through legislative elections from which it emerged victorious, ensuring his continued tenure as prime minister. He would eventually split from the center-right Likud after securing and executing the politically controversial Disengagement plan - adopted in 2004 and enacted in 2005 - that removed all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the West Bank.
In January 2006 - mere months after Kadima had been formed and amid Israeli elections that the newly formed party would eventually win - Sharon suffered a stroke and slipped into the coma from which he would not wake.
And some years later as prime minister Sharon triggered the Second Intifada when he insisted on making a visit to Arab East Jerusalem, against the advise on many. Having annexed the eastern part if the city in the June 6, 1967, Arab-Israeli War, Israel claimed the entire city as one, and as their capital.
And in death as in life Sharon, the soldier, the politician and some would say the bully, and worse, creates much controversy. While many are those who will mourn his death, others like Miko Peled, the son of one of Israel's most famous generals, had this to say.
"One could go on and on about Sharon and his crimes. As he lay dying, perhaps within days or minutes of his final breath, we must all remember his victims, the countless dead, wounded and displaced and remind the world that this man was not a hero but a criminal."
To the very end Arik Sharon was both hero and villain.
Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. He is senior editor of the English service of the Trend Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. Follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani.com
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