If we could ask Arik Sharon how he saw himself more than anything else, he would probably answer, "A farmer." But in actuality, I think in his heart of hearts Sharon was most fond of the time he spent in the army.
Few in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces found themselves at the epicenter of every battle and every war -- Sharon was one of these few and was perhaps the most prominent of them all:
Sharon will be remembered as a fighter who was badly wounded in the Battle for Latrun in the 1948 War of Independence; as the founder of Unit 101, which put its stamp on the legacy of the IDF with its motto of never leaving a mission short of fully accomplished; as the person who, at a steep cost, opened the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Peninsula in 1956; as the commander of the IDF's most powerful armored division in the 1967 Six-Day War who led the breakthrough at the Kusseima-Abu-Ageila fortified area in the Sinai -- one of the most spectacular battles in IDF history.
As a military leader Sharon will be remembered, perhaps most of all, for the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when he crossed the Suez Canal in a maneuver that marked the dramatic turning point on the southern front. I served as Sharon's military secretary for three years, from 2002 to 2005. During this time I got to know, from up close, Sharon's way of thinking about security and military matters. I had the privilege of hearing first hand his accounts of the battles and events of which he was a part.
Quite often, upon the conclusion of a security briefing, Sharon would go into talking about the battles he was in and the relevant lessons to be learned from them in the present. I used every opportunity to learn from his military experience -- in the car, during long flights abroad, during meetings when he would tell personal stories. While serving as GOC Southern Command, Sharon's voice would often echo in my mind while planning operations or making difficult decisions.
Sharon was comfortable talking with me about these issues -- because of the mutual understanding and common language between commanders, and maybe also because of my interest and curiosity to learn history from the source. I heard Sharon describe in detail his wound from Latrun, the operations of Unit 101 and the major battles in Israel's wars. Sharon discussed the difficult decisions he has made, the fallen comrades, his attempts to reach them and save them, the precise timing and thought process behind the military maneuvers and operations.
Every Israeli knows who Sharon is; the great strength emanating from his personality was palpable. As a commander his unique personality stood out, along with his creative thinking, his courage and his concern for the welfare of his soldiers and their families. As a statesman, Ariel Sharon was defined by his boldness, determination and perseverance, characteristics that allowed him to emerge victorious even in the darkest of times.
The people of Israel have lost a leader. The IDF is saying goodbye to one of the most daring and remarkable commanders to ever serve in its ranks. On a personal level he will be missed, no matter the direction I turn. Thank you, Arik, rest in peace.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Gallant was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military secretary between 2002 and 2005.