Backgrounder:
Warrior in the Foreign Office

"Here's the General." - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, introducing Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon at the Wye Plantation, October 20.

On October 9, six days before the Israeli-Palestinian talks began at Wye River, in a move which unnerved the Palestinian Authority and left wing Israelis--and brought uncertainty to many on the right--veteran soldier and politician Ariel (Arik) Sharon was appointed the country's new Minister of Foreign Affairs.

He cites his profession simply as "farmer", but Sharon's life has profoundly impacted the growth and development of the Jewish state.

He was born in 1928 on moshav Kfar Malal, north of Tel Aviv, to Russian immigrant pioneers Samuil and Vera Acheinerman. They had fled to Israel seven years earlier to escape the Red Army's anti-Zionist crackdown. Samuil was steeped in Hebrew, Bible and Zionist philosophy, and read agronomy at university. He instilled his love for land, and especially for the Land, in the young Arik.

Sharon grew up in an atmosphere of constant Jewish-Arab tension. Kfar Malal had been destroyed by Arabs the year before his parents settled there, and Arabs threatened it again the year after his birth. From age 13 he took his turn guarding the fields at night against marauders.

It was also in Sharon's early years that Jewish political life in Israel divided sharply and bitterly between the Labour Zionists of David ben Gurion and "revisionists" of Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

During World War II, aged just 14, Sharon was initiated into the Palmach, the semi-underground Jewish army, where he received weapons and reconnaissance training, learning to scout every inch of the surrounding terrain. In ensuing years he would expand his intimate knowledge of Israel's heartland as he walked the length and breadth of Samaria and Judea.

Nazi Germany's efforts to destroy Europe's Jews, and Britain's determination to prevent Hitler's victims from escaping to Palestine were engraved on the teenager's mind.

After graduating high school in 1945, Sharon underwent extended military training in the Palmach then joined the Jewish Settlement Police. Two years later, as the UN voted to partition Palestine, the 19-year-old went into uniform full-time to begin an impressive career in the military:

§ From 1947 to1949, before and during the War of Independence, Sharon led a platoon of the Alexandroni Brigade, and was wounded by Arab gunfire near Latrun. In 1949 he commanded the Golani Brigade's reconnaissance company.

§ In 1951 he was appointed chief of intelligence to the Northern Command.

§ In 1953, during four years of intense terrorist activity which took 967 Israeli lives, Sharon was ordered to form and command the special anti-terrorist "101 Unit". When 101 proved effective, Sharon merged it with the paratroopers.

§ During the 1956 Sinai Campaign he commanded the 202 Paratroop Brigade.

§ In the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon led an armoured division to successfully breach and hold open the main approaches to the Sinai.

§ In the 1969 to 1970 War of Attrition, Sharon was OC Southern Command.

§ From 1971 to 1972 he directed and led anti-terrorist operations in the Gaza Strip.

§ In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon again commanded an armoured division. In the "deciding battle" he led his tanks in a surprise crossing of the Suez Canal, threatening the Egyptians from the rear while the rest of his forces fought the bloodiest battle in the IDF's history.

During these years of warfare, in which he lost many friends, Arik's private life was also marred by tragedy. His first wife, Gali, died in a car crash in 1962. Five years later, shortly after the Six Day War, their ten-year-old son Gur was killed in a shooting accident.

In January 1974, Sharon left the military and entered politics as a Likud Party Member of Knesset. Since then he has held as impressive an array of portfolios as he did military commands:

§ 1977-1981: As Minister of Agriculture, and chairman of the ministerial committee of settlements, Sharon planned the strategic line of Jordan Valley settlements that today run from Bet Shean to the Dead Sea. He also planned the ring of Jewish neighbourhoods that surround Jerusalem. In total he established 64 settlements in Judea and Samaria, and 56 in the Galilee.

§ 1981-1984: As Minister of Defence (until February 1983) Sharon oversaw the returning of Sinai to Egypt, including the painful removal of the Jewish settlements there. And he launched Operation Peace for Galilee that drove the PLO out of Lebanon. He was a minister without portfolio until the establishment of national unity government in 1984.

§ 1984-1988: Minister of Industry and Trade.

§ 1988-1992: Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Construction and Housing.

§ 1992-1996: Served on Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

§ 1996-1998: Minister of National Infrastructure; 1998, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once called Ariel Sharon "the most dangerous man in the Middle East". Sharon replied, "No, Mr Kissinger. You are the most dangerous man in the Middle East."

In the context of US attempts to drag Israel into "peace" with the Arabs, Minister Sharon's rejoinder was spot on. But Secretary Kissinger was right too. Ariel Sharon is the most feared and respected Israeli in the Arab world. And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has appointed him to lead the Israeli delegation in the final status talks.


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