Ariel Sharon: fighter, in life and near death

Ariel Sharon with David Ben Gurion near the Suez Canal in 1971 (Photo: David Rubinger)

Ariel Sharon with David Ben Gurion near the Suez Canal in 1971 (Photo: David Rubinger)

Israel is awaiting the death of its 11th prime minister, Ariel Sharon, as his medical condition has deteriorated to “critical”. Mr Sharon, 85, has been in a vegetative coma for eight years.

Since May 2006, Mr Sharon has been hospitalised at the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv. He has been stable but has not regained consciousness.

In 2010, he was taken to his home at Sycamore Farm in the Negev but, after a few weeks, was returned to hospital.

In the past 10 days, following multiple organ failure, his situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. In accordance with the wishes of his two sons, Omri and Gilad, the former prime minister has not been connected to a dialysis machine.

Sheba Director, Professor Ariel Rothstein, told reporters that he believes “these are Sharon’s last days”, but added that “he is a fighter and he is fighting to the end”. Mr Sharon’s family and close friends are holding a vigil around his bed.

Ariel Sharon, the fabled commander of the IDF’s commando Unit 101 and the Paratroopers Brigade in the 1950s, went on to become one of Israel’s most controversial and celebrated generals. He led an armoured assault on the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War and oversaw the crossing of the Suez Canal in the Israeli counter-attack against Egypt in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Many hope Bibi is about to ‘do a Sharon’ in the West Bank

Mr Sharon’s political career was no less stormy. Its low point was his forced resignation in 1983 after the Kahan Commission found that he had been negligent in ignoring the danger of Christian fighters carrying out a massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut, which were under Israeli control at the time.

Eulogising Mr Sharon and his difficult legacy will be an awkward moment for many Israelis. He has been reviled by the left wing for decades for his key role in building the West Bank settlements and for masterminding the 1982 Lebanon War. He partially redeemed himself in the eyes of the peace camp with the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.

The right, which regarded him as its champion until then, will find it hard to ever forgive him the uprooting of the Gush Katif and Northern Samaria settlements and withdrawal from Gaza.

It will also be difficult for Benjamin Netanyahu to bid farewell to his predecessor. Mr Sharon was the Prime Minister’s most bitter political rival in the last years of his career, right up to his stroke on January 4, 2006.

Following Mr Netanyahu’s electoral defeat to Ehud Barak in 1999, Mr Sharon replaced him as Likud leader. He astonished Israelis by becoming prime minister himself less than two years later, seeing off leadership challenges by Mr Netanyahu, who returned to lead Likud only after Mr Sharon split the party in November 2005 to form the centrist Kadima.

Now, as talks with the Palestinians enter what could be their critical stage, many suspect or hope that Mr Netanyahu may be about to “do a Sharon” and retreat from much of the West Bank.

Last updated: 12:27pm, January 9 2014