Ariel Sharon

Following a distinguished, if controversial, military career, General Ariel Sharon (born 1928) entered Israeli politics in 1973. He then became a prominent public figure, serving as defense minister during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Ariel ("Arik") Sharon, one of Israel's most controversial military and political figures, was born in 1928 at Kfar Mallah, an early Jewish farming settlement in the central Sharon valley of what was then British-mandated Palestine. His parents were Shmuel and Dvora Scheinerman, ardent Zionists who had emigrated from Russia following World War I. Growing up at a time when the Arab-Jewish struggle over Palestine intensified, young Sharon combined a high school education with membership in the underground Jewish military organization, the Haganah.

In 1945 Sharon began a military career which continued until 1973 and which saw him participate in each of the major campaigns waged by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Prior to Israel's establishment as a nation in 1948 he completed an officer's training course and served as an instructor for Jewish police units. During the War of Independence he fought as a platoon commander in the battle of Latrun, where he was seriously wounded. Afterwards Sharon became a military intelligence officer, and in 1952 he obtained a leave of absence to study Middle Eastern affairs at the Hebrew University.

The following year Sharon was chosen to form and lead a small elite commando force trained for special operations behind enemy lines. Both Sharon and Unit 101" were to become famous for their carrying out of a series of daring raids across Israel's vulnerable borders, thus enforcing a defense doctrine of retaliation for Arab violations of the 1949 armistice agreements and attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

Sharon Continued to Rise through the Ranks of the IDF

In the 1956 Sinai campaign against Egypt, Sharon commanded a paratroop brigade, which came under heavy fire and suffered many casualties in the Mitla pass. By then he already had the reputation of a tough, unconventional fighter whose undisciplined, independent action in battle bordered in the view of his superiors on insubordination. Still, Sharon continued to rise through the ranks of the IDF. After a year's interlude at the Staff College in Camberley, England, where he studied military science, Sharon, promoted in 1958 to colonel, spent the next three years as senior administrative officer in the training division of the General Staff, heading the Infantry School. Successive assignments were: brigade commander of the armored corps, 1962; chief of staff at Northern Command headquarters, 1964; and head of training division of the General Staff, 1966. During that period he received a law degree, and he was promoted to major-general in early 1967.

The next Arab-Israeli conflict, the Six Day War in June 1967, saw Sharon commanding a brigade on the southern front, where he again distinguished himself in battling against Egyptian forces in the Sinai desert. After two years as brigadier-general at the Southern Command during the 1968-70 war of attrition" along the Suez Canal, Sharon in 1970 was entrusted with the difficult task of suppressing Palestinian terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip. He succeeded in restoring internal security there despite charges of ruthlessness. He generated additional controversy inside the IDF by challenging the prevailing notion of a static defense line at the Suez Canal. Nevertheless, he was appointed head of the Southern Command in 1970.

Sharon, denied his ambition to become the next chief of staff, resigned from the army and entered politics in July 1973. Identifying with the right-of-center Gahal alignment, he helped to negotiate the formation of a Likud (unity) front headed by opposition leader Menachem Begin in September. In October, however, the Yom Kippur war intervened and Sharon once more saw battle when urgently summoned to lead a reserve army division in containing the Egyptian advance. It was then that Sharon registered his greatest military success. Smashing through the enemy lines, he personally led the Israeli forces in establishing a bridgehead at Ismailia and in crossing to the western side of the canal, thereby regaining the initiative.

Returning to politics after the war, Sharon was elected to the Knesset (Israel's parliament) on the Likud ticket in December 1973. However, he resigned a year later; shortly thereafter, in 1975, Premier Yitzhak Rabin appointed him to the post of special advisor on security affairs, which he relinquished in 1976 in order to form the independent Shlomtzion (peace of Zion) Party pledged to retaining the territories occupied in the 1967 war. When he only succeeded in gaining two seats in the May 1977 elections, Sharon opted to merge with the victorious Likud block. Appointed to the cabinet post of minister of agriculture by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sharon actively promoted Jewish settlement in the territories, especially in Judea and Samaria on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Advocated a Forceful Approach

During the second Begin government Sharon served as minister of defense from 1981 to 1983. In this capacity he advocated a forceful approach to the increased military presence and activity of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut and in southern Lebanon. He is widely regarded as having been the principal architect of operation peace for Galilee launched into Lebanon in June 1982, from which Israel did not disengage until June 1985. Sharply criticized for the conduct of the war and the siege of Beirut, Sharon remained in the public eye, successfully defending himself in a libel suit against Time magazine in 1984. He even resumed his political career as minister of industry and trade in the National Unity Government, formed in September 1984 under Premier Shimon Peres.

Further Reading on Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon's military exploits are described in Ze'ev Schiff, A History of the Israeli Army (1974); and he is a central figure in the account of operation peace for Galilee" by Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Israel's Lebanon War (1984). The libel suit against Time is covered in Renata Adler's Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al; Sharon v. Time (1986). Information on Ariel Sharon can also be found through online resources, such as Magazine Index Plus, ProQuest's Newspaper Abstract, both available in many public libraries, or using one's PC to access NewsWorks (www.newsworks.com), a consortium owned by nine major media companies. The Electric Library (www.elibrary.com/) (a subscription service) is an excellent source for information from a variety of media, ranging from radio scripts to books (such as Countries of the World, which list Sharon in at least two chapters.

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