Itongadol.- President Reuven Rivlin on Friday paid tribute to late prime minister Ariel Sharon, hailing him as a bold leader and champion for Israel, regardless of their political differences.
“He was a leader and a man of principle,” Rivlin said during a memorial at Sharon’s graveside on the family ranch in the Negev. “Even if you disagreed with him, you could not ignore his ability to motivate and lead.”
“He was able to lead us in a direction without hesitating — something that earned him much criticism — yet all of his decisions were made carefully and meticulously, he never missed a thing,” Rivlin said of Sharon, who died two years ago.
Rivlin called Sharon, “A leader, a warrior and a brave commander who was ready to sacrifice everything for his country and the Jewish people.”
“‘I am a Jew first and foremost,\’” Rivlin recalled Sharon telling him proudly. “He loved this land, and this country, his life story is intertwined in the history of Israel, and, like this country, his story has been written with sweat, effort and blood.”
One of Israel’s greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces, moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become a highly popular prime minister at the time of his devastating stroke in 2006. Sharon died in January 2014 after being hospitalized in vegetative state for 8 years.
As one of Israel’s most famous generals, he was known for bold tactics and an occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician he became known as “The Bulldozer,” a man contemptuous of his critics while also capable of getting things done.
When serving as defense minister, he led Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and was forced to resign the post after a commission of inquiry found him responsible for failing to prevent the massacre by Christian Phalangists of Palestinian refugees in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila camps.
A prominent hard-line voice over the decades, he was elected prime minister in 2001.
In mid-2005, he directed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending a 38-year military control of the territory. It was a shocking turnaround for a man who had been a leading player in building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned from Sharon’s cabinet in protest of the Gaza withdrawal.
Sharon bolted the Likud soon after and established the centrist Kadima party, where he was joined by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. He appeared on his way to an easy reelection when he suffered a severe stroke in January 2006. His deputy, Olmert, took over and was elected prime minister a few months later.
Sharon had a first, small stroke in December 2005 and was put on blood thinners before experiencing a severe brain hemorrhage on January 4, 2006. After spending months in the Jerusalem hospital where he was initially treated, Sharon was transferred to the long-term care facility at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.
Doctors said that Sharon, who had been in a vegetative state for eight years, suffered renal failure which led to multiple organ failure and death. He was 85 years old.