NEW YORK DAILY NEWS editorial
He was a soldier. He was a statesman. He was an Israeli. He was a Jew. And Ariel Sharon was one of the great men of the modern era.
When the times forced warring upon him, he led with brilliance and courage, his against-odds victories crucial to his country’s survival. When the times offered openings toward peace with enemies — openings that often only he could see and use — he was bold in seeking the way forward.
Now, Sharon has died at 85, having never regained consciousness after an incapacitating stroke took him from the prime minister’s chair eight years ago. There will never be an answer to how different the fulcrum of the Middle East would have been had he remained at the helm.
Sharon’s journey was, in so many ways, Israel’s journey. Without his strength, wisdom and perseverance, the tiny Jewish state, hated by its neighbors, could never have flourished.
He was born in Palestine, then under British rule. He fought in every one of Israel’s too many wars, starting with the 1948 War of Independence. He practically invented counterterrorism in rooting out Arab guerrillas. He was a brilliant tank commander who smashed Egyptian forces in the 1967 Six-Day War.
He was a farmer, retired from the military, in 1973 when he was recalled into uniform at a moment that found Israel at her most imperiled, caught off guard on two fronts and reeling from the surprise Egyptian-Syrian Yom Kippur War.
Sent to the front along the Suez Canal as Egyptian armor was pouring through a breach in the Israeli lines, Sharon crossed the canal into Africa in one of the most decisive actions in the annals of warfare. He trapped the Egyptian 3rd Army and opened an undefended path to Cairo. At a desert road marker, 101 Kilometers to Cairo, Egyptian officers met in a truce tent with Israelis. That is where the Camp David treaty, signed in 1979 between Israel and Egypt, was conceived.
Off the battlefield and in the cabinet as defense minister in 1981, he sent jets to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, an attack that was condemned worldwide but spared humanity the nightmare of Saddam having the bomb. And it was Defense Minister Sharon who destroyed the PLO ministate in Lebanon in 1982.
Sharon was never just one thing. He had a way of being able to see around historical corners and adapting tactics for the circumstances. So, as he aged, the man who had become known for waging wars redefined himself as one who took great risks for peace. Virtually alone, he had the credibility to carve out de facto borders and begin the process of surrendering land to the Palestinians.
No one but Sharon could have commanded Israel’s historic withdrawal from Gaza or looked forward to ceding further territory, bilaterally if possible, unilaterally if necessary. Such was his standing not only at home, but abroad, including in the U.S. Before the stroke that cut down Sharon in January 2006, he was committed to forging whatever peace could be had with Palestinian neighbors — who, tragically, have still not demonstrated willingness to live alongside Israel without incessantly warring against innocents.
Those who guide Israel in these even more vexing times should be informed by the spirit of Sharon. He led with enduring hope that his remarkable, vulnerable, democratic nation could build a better future, hand in hand with those who wish it the very worst.
He stands alongside Herzl and Weizmann and Ben-Gurion in the pantheon of Israel’s greatest figures.