‘Tony Blair would have rooted for Sharon in 2006’

By Dermot Kehoe, Chief Executive of BICOM.

ON 14 July 2003, the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon travelled to London for an intimate and highly unusual dinner with Tony Blair, in the flat at Number Ten.

Blair’s foreign policy advisor David Manning and Sharon’s adviser Dov Weisglass were the only other attendees. It was part of a process to improve strained relations. In the run up to Britain’s participation in the Iraq War, Blair piled pressure on the Bush administration to publish the roadmap for a two-state solution. This discomfited Sharon, who berated Britain for its unnecessary intervention in Israel’s affairs.

Ariel Sharon death

Sharon’s act of leadership transformed his image.

Certainly Britain would rather Sharon had been defeated by his more dovish opponents in the 2001 and 2003 elections. For British politicians and officials, Sharon was associated inexorably with the First Lebanon War, with settlements, and his visit to the Temple Mount that was viewed as so provocative by the Palestinians.

But Blair was nothing if not pragmatic, believing in maximising influence through personal rapport. At the Knesset this week, he referred to that dinner in his eulogy for Sharon as a turning point, when Blair got to see a different side to the man. That rapport bore fruit over the following two years, when Sharon announced his plan to disengage from Palestinian areas unilaterally, beginning with the Gaza Strip. Many European leaders were suspicious, influenced in part by their negative perceptions of Sharon himself.

Blair was different, seeing Israel’s evacuation from the Gaza Strip as an opportunity, and making the case for supporting what Sharon was doing. Sharon’s act of leadership in the disengagement, and in forming the centrist Kadima party transformed his image. One would imagine that Sharon not been incapacitated, Blair and other leaders who wanted to see movement towards a two-state solution, would have been rooting for him in Israel’s 2006 election.

•  Dermot Kehoe is the chief executive of BICOM[divider]

‘No one understood the battlefield like him’

By Maj-Gen Amnon Reshef.

I WAS commanding a brigade on the Suez Canal when war broke out in 1973. When Arik [Sharon] arrived 26 hours after the Egyptians invaded, I had lost 82 men, with 102 wounded and only 23 tanks left.

He was very famous by this time and when people heard his voice on 7 October they had confidence, because Arik was a hero.

“Arik is here,” they said. “Everything will be OK.”

I also felt this. He was a special person. We discussed the situation in a quiet and calm way. He never lost his temper. We developed a relationship of trust, which lasted for all the war. As a general in command, he was brilliant. He had such leadership qualities. I don’t know any others who understood the battlefield like him.

sharon 1973

He was a very complex man. He was clever, not just a fighter.

The people of Israel owe him a lot. It’s only because of him that we managed to cross the canal and overcame all the difficulties. He understood what needed to be done and how to do it. It was like intuition, not something you can learn. When he looked at a map, it’s as if he saw it in 3D.

He always gave me a good feeling about his understanding of a situation. He was a great leader. In the battlefield, sometimes I got orders to do something I didn’t think was the best thing to do. Whenever I gave him an alternative solution, he approved it immediately. Only a very strong person can accept it. Once he trusted a commander, he wouldn’t issue orders, just the general mission.

We fought together in some cruel tank battles, with enemy tanks within metres of ours. One night I destroyed five tanks. That was a terrible night, it was hell. But he didn’t give me one order all night. It was more like consultation, very polite, very calm, like we were sitting in a gentleman’s club in London.

He was a controversial person and he made mistakes. He was always aggressive, thinking we should attack and put the Egyptians under pressure. Sometimes he was right and sometimes wrong. You can’t just press and push. Sometimes you need different tactics. But he had his own way.

He was a very complex man. He was clever, not just a fighter. He was  a strategist and a leader on the battlefield. But as a person he was sensitive too. He loved classical music and art. But his legacy is leading the Israeli army. The soldiers, commanders, they believed in his way of fighting, his way of thinking. I miss him.

Israel needs someone like him, a leader who knows how to lead the nation, not just follow it.[divider]

‘Pullout was travesty, but Sharon did much for Israel’s security’

By Danny Danon, Deputy Minister of Defence.

WE SAID a final goodbye to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week. While I vehemently disagreed with the decisions Sharon made towards the end of his career, I will forever respect the daring and innovative military leader who spared no effort to defend his people.

Starting with his brave battle to end the siege on Jerusalem in 1948, Sharon served as a model of courageous and daring thinking that still inspires today’s IDF.

He would often tell me how that battle, in which he was badly wounded, taught him we can only count on ourselves when it comes to defending our homeland.

Sharon would often attend the annual Betar ceremony at Tel Hai. He loved to speak with the young activists about Jewish and Zionist values. I served as chairman of Betar and we would travel together to the far north. Arik loved to point out the communities along the way. He would always remind me that Jewish homes and fields are more important than tanks when it comes to strengthening our hold on this land.

The Jewish communities of Judaea, Samaria and Gaza was another great project of Sharon’s that I wholeheartedly supported. We were in full agreement at the time that these brave pioneers were fulfilling our biblical, historical, and strategically important rights to build in our ancient homeland.

I would often accompany him on his visits to these communities.  No one knew these regions better than Arik, yet he would insist on closely examining detailed maps of the territory. For him, it was as if he were reading a letter from a beloved friend.

We eventually became so close that he was the guest of honour at a ceremony we held after the birth of my son. To my great sorrow, Sharon later abandoned our joint values and made the grave mistake of destroying the Jewish communities of Gaza.

At this point, I personally ended my affiliation with him. While I cannot forget travesty forced on the Jewish communities of Gush Katif, the contributions Sharon made towards the safety and security of the country he loved will forever be honoured.

• Danny Danon is Deputy Defence Minister of Israel and the author of Israel: The Will to Prevail.[divider]

What if he’d lived?

ANALYSTS IN Israel and Britain this week debated whether the Jewish State would be closer to peace had Ariel Sharon not been incapacitated months after unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza.

Some commentators feel the former prime minister – who was expected to be emphatically returned to power at the election weeks after his devastating stroke – would likely have gone on to disengage from the West Bank. Among those to hold that view is Professor Yossi Mekelberg from the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

However, he says: “As in the case of Gaza, removing Jewish settlements from occupied land – while welcome – would not have brought Israel closer to a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Sharon’s inability to address Israel’s long-term well-being through negotiations with the Palestinians rendered this action impotent.”

Prof Colin Shindler, of the School of Oriental and African Studies said Sharon “believed some settlements decreased Israeli security” and that he was considering further moves. “But the debacle of the second Lebanon war in 2006 propelled the far-right into power,” he said. “They did not possess his pragmatism and have practised the politics of stagnation ever since.”

Settler leader Dani Dayan, from the Yesha Council, said: “We must never forget 10,000 Israelis uprooted in an unimaginable sweep, causing immeasurable damage to Israel. We won’t make the same mistake twice.”

However former military colleagues hailed the direction adopted by Sharon in later life. Major-General Amnon Reshef said: “Leaving Gaza was a very original approach. He under- stood we had to leave. If he was still prime minister, we would be in a better situation with the Palestinians. We would be much closer to peace.”[divider]

A timeline of events in the life of Ariel Sharon.

In Pictures: the life of Ariel Sharon

In Pictures: Ariel Sharon’s funeral