BBC web pages‎ > ‎

Storyville: Ariel Sharon

THURSDAY 30th October 2003

The series concludes by taking a critical and inside look at the Israeli prime minister's career and his political and military actions.

Profile

"I am prepared to make painful concessions, but I will never sacrifice Israel's security." Ariel Sharon's bloody history has made him an improbable leader and an international pariah. Nevertheless, for many of the countrymen who this year returned him to office, he offers the only hope for Israel in an uncertain future.

Isolated childhood

Sharon's love of the land was instilled during an isolated childhood on his parents' farm. His teenage home guard activity against local Arabs heralded a long military career.

Throughout his days as a soldier, Sharon impressed and outraged in equal measure. Aged only 25, he commanded the anti-terrorism 101 Unit, which penetrated deep into enemy lands, but sparked controversy with the extent of its retaliation to Arab attacks.

A hero of the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon was nevertheless blocked from becoming chief of staff, after his brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip brought accusations of a "disregard for human life". He resigned his commission and entered politics.

Military return

Drafted back into the army for the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he made an historic crossing with his troops across the Suez Canal, and assured Israeli victory. The government were pilloried for a lack of preparation, but Sharon's military exploits fortified his Likud coalition party, and brightened his own future.

He became defence minister, made peace with Egypt, but led Israeli forces into Lebanon. He was intent on a "coast of peace", but his removal of Yasser Arafat from Beirut came at huge cost to civilian life, including the massacre of more than a thousand Palestinian refugees at the hands of Christian Lebanese militia. An Israeli commission found Sharon "indirectly responsible" and he resigned from office.

Prime Minister

Arafat's return to Gaza after the 1994 Oslo peace accords prompted greater support among Israelis for the apparently mellowed Sharon and, after the second Intifada uprising in 2000, he came to power with a convincing majority.

His hawk-like stance has given the Israelis reassurance that they will never surrender, but the escalation of suicide bombings by the Palestinians and attacks by his own troops has made his task ever harder. Ariel Sharon has finally taken his place on the path to peace, but the road-map covers a land "promised only to my people" and it is one he will defend to the end.