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Sharon: The Life Of A Leader

Paean to a paternal powerhouse

    Olmert and Peres top and tail PM Sharon
    Olmert and Peres top and tail PM Sharon

    By Gilad Sharon
    Harper, £24.99

    There is an element of the surreal in the image conjured by his son of this once bluff, tough. roiling figure of a man now in the sixth year of a coma from which he is unlikely ever to emerge.

    Ariel (Arik) Sharon's two sons Omri and Gilad share a daily vigil at his bedside where their father "lies in bed, looking like the lord of the manor, sleeping tranquilly. Large, strong, self-assured. His cheeks are a healthy shade of red. When he's awake, he looks out with a penetrating stare. He hasn't lost a single pound; on the contrary, he's gained some."

    Gilad adores his dad and dedicates this biography to "the hero of this book, the hero of our lives." This pretty much sets the tone in a hefty book which befits the man who almost certainly saved Israel from defeat in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War and who, in his last active years, was Prime Minister of his country. It is filled with tales of derring-do, military adventure, political warfare and the reality of an Israeli life lived under constant threat of war, of terrorism and, on occasion, of both.

    Arik Sharon, who fought in every Israeli war and was probably the best and most daring - some would say headstrong - general ever produced by Israel, has incised his mark into almost every aspect of his nation's life and hewn its future by such major acts of political contrariness as fathering its settlement movement and unilaterally disengaging from Gaza.

    A man, it would seem from his son's account, who went about his mission of preserving the Land and People of Israel with almost Old Testament fervour, Sharon had a keen sense of history.

    His retention of letters, notes, maps, records of conversations, articles, speeches and detailed note-books infuse this partisan account of his life and career with a liveliness, intimacy and, yes, fire which makes it eminently readable.

    What will be new to some who don't follow the Israeli media closely is the venomous personalisation of political squabbles and, even more so, the bitter infighting between the country's top military brass.

    One most assume that Gilad speaks with his father's voice when he describes President Shimon Peres as being "detached from reality," accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu of being "a liar" (and worse) and excoriates a whole generation of celebrated top commanders whom he claims plotted against his father's progress within the IDF, even to the extent of hazarding soldiers' lives.

    Gilad almost succeeds in attempting to make his father the innocent scapegoat for the horrendous massacre of Muslims by Christians in Lebanese refugee camps during the Israeli occupation, under his command, in 1982.

    An Israeli commission of inquiry put the blame on Sharon and he had to resign from the Government.

    Gilad explains his father's 2000 visit to the Temple Mount, on which he accompanied him, as an expression of Sharon's opposition to Labour Prime Minister (and ex-general) Barak's offer to return the area to the Palestinians in a peace deal. Controversy still rages as to whether this visit triggered the second intifada.

    Arik himself will long remain a subject of discussion. Although his active life is over, final judgment on the man awaits the long-term consequences of decisions, military and political, taken by him over many years that will largely determine the shape and fate of the Jewish State.

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