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01.09.2014
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Former PM Ariel Sharon dies at 85
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Dan Margalit

A man of two extremes

Ariel Sharon's death mimicked his life: out of the ordinary, defying expectations, deviating from the plan. For eight years he received round-the-clock medical care due to the debilitating stroke he had suffered in 2006 on his ranch. Even when his doctors said he was on his deathbed, his body had other plans. Only after the best and the brightest of the medical profession became fodder for comedians and cartoonists did he breathe his last breath.

His 85 years could very well suffice for two voluminous -- yet very distinct -- biographies that would recount his actions, his accomplishments and his various shortcomings. The first biography would provide an exhaustive account of his life and times. It would focus on his patriotism, wisdom, determination and sense of humor. The other would shed light on his selfishness, his willingness to crush others and mock his opponents. It would scrutinize his allegedly criminal, and even ruthless, behavior as he tried to accumulate wealth, and his tendency to make false statements.

Both biographies would paint him as a man overflowing with charisma. When he was a 25-year-old law student, then-IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan had him don his uniform once again because he wanted him to serve as a role mode for the fighters of the newly formed Unit 101, a commando force that carried out retaliatory raids against Arab terrorists. There was something about Sharon, and his military skills, that had Dayan take this extraordinary step. But just what was it that made Sharon stand out?

The IDF was retooled in time for the 1956 Sinai Campaign thanks to Dayan and Sharon, as well as the young men who were willing to go through fire and water so long as Sharon was their commander.

Almost every step he took in his military and civilian life stirred controversy and generated bitter fights. Dayan's two immediate successors, Haim Laskov and Tzvi Tzur made sure Sharon would not get a promotion; only after Yitzhak Rabin became military chief did Sharon's career take off. He became the stuff of legend at home and abroad after the Battle of Abu-Ageila, when his troops crushed the Egyptian forces in Sinai during the 1967 Six Day War.

Both biographies should tell readers how he would always spoil for a fight; how he tried to have the IDF make-do without the fortifications along the Suez Canal, known as the Bar-Lev Line, because -- as he wisely predicted -- they could become a death trap if war broke; how he courageously fought to have the IDF senior leadership send troops across the canal and how he had to face harsh criticism because he wouldn't follow orders. This last trait became one of his hallmarks during Operation Peace for the Galilee. That conduct was ever present when he dotted Judea and Samaria with settlements, hoping to create a fait accompli.

He was the founding father, a mentor of sorts, to an unchecked settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria. But he was also its uprooter-in-chief, who, after reneging on all his promises, dismantled the communities in Gush Katif. As a result of this dichotomy he had enemies on both sides of the political spectrum. His actions were often designed to serve his self-interest, and nothing else.

Sharon was the last leader who understood the importance of growing the Jewish people, even if that meant performing mass conversions. He excommunicated those who had emigrated from Israel, even his sole sister. Historians will determine whether his positive attributes outweigh his negative faults; but I believe that his contribution to Israel's security will ultimately trump whatever misdeeds he may have committed as an individual and as a national figure.

Sharon was a man of extremes. He constantly oscillated between the two ends.

De mortuis nil nisi bene, goes the Latin phrase that tells us not to speak ill of the dead. Sharon will forever be remembered as a determined, goal-driven man who would never take no for an answer and who would forever chart his own path.

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