Avi Shlaim writes: Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday after eight years in a coma, was one of Israel’s most iconic and controversial figures. His long and chequered career as a soldier and politician largely revolved around one issue: the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours. As a soldier he was involved at the sharp end of this bitter conflict. As a politician he became known as “the Bulldozer” on account of his contempt for his critics and his ruthless drive to get things done. Sharon was a deeply flawed character, renowned for his brutality, mendacity, and corruption. Yet despite these flaws he holds a special place in the annals of his country’s history.
Sharon was an ardent Jewish nationalist, a dyed-in-the-wool hardliner, and a ferocious rightwing hawk. He also displayed a consistent preference for force over diplomacy in dealing with the Arabs. Reversing Clausewitz‘s famous dictum, he treated diplomacy as the extension of war by other means.
The title he chose for his biography aptly summed him up in one word – Warrior. Like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Sharon was essentially a fighting machine. His critics denounced him as a practitioner of “gun Zionism”, as a perversion of the Zionist idea of the strong, fair-minded, and fearless Jew. To the Palestinians Sharon represented the cold, cruel, militaristic face of the Zionist occupation. [Continue reading…]