My first encounter with Ariel Sharon was during my adolescence, thanks to his friendship with my mother, Geula Cohen. But once I entered the public sphere, reality forced us onto opposing sides of the political divide.
As defense minister, Sharon sent Sayeret Shaked to the Sinai community of Yamit to remove my friends and me after we had fastened ourselves to the town's central monument to protest the evacuation. Afterward, I was appointed to manage then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's office. Sharon fought bitterly against Shamir.
Later still, when Yitzhak Rabin defeated Shamir, I was affixed alongside Benjamin Netanyahu on his journey to return Likud to power. Previously, I had felt the responsibility to clarify to Sharon why I thought it was premature for him to be prime minister, explaining how only Netanyahu could bring Likud back from the hinterlands of the opposition. I knew my words pained him, but he never sought retribution.
In 2001, Sharon was elected by a huge majority to lead the government and, much to my surprise, chose me to serve in the cabinet. That was the first time I worked intimately with Sharon. For nearly the next five years straight, I was chosen to serve in his government. It was during one of the most demanding times in Israeli history -- the Second Intifada had metastasized to its cruelest extent.
As a minister, I gained countless hours of experience with Sharon. Harkening back to his experience fighting Gazan terrorists in the 1970s, launching the Sinai offensives during the 1967 Six-Day War and crossing the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, he oversaw the defense system unobtrusively, coolly, and with uncompromising determination.
The success of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 brought back the quality of life we had lost, allowing us until this very day to live normal lives and bolstering the chances of a political arrangement with our neighbors.
Ultimately, it was Sharon's initiative to carry out the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip that surprised me. I thought he was wrong, and I told him so, adding that I would never be able to support the position. I voted against the proposal four consecutive times while sitting in the government. Before the final vote, Sharon begged me to abstain, at least. I told him that while I would give up my seat in the government, if he had a I problem with it, I could never justify abstaining from such a critical issue. He rejected my proposal, letting two other minsters go instead.
Despite the serious blunder that was the Gaza disengagement, Sharon's total contribution to Israeli security and its future set the bar very high among other individuals who have devoted their lives to empowering and strengthening our country for the future.