by Max Blumenthal From 2014
A central player in Israeli affairs since the state’s inception, Ariel Sharon molded history according to his own stark vision. He won consent for his plans through ruthlessness and guile, and resorted to force when he could not find any. An accused war criminal who presided over the killing of thousands of civilians, his foes referred to him as “The Bulldozer.” To those who revered him as a strong-armed protector and patron saint of the settlements, he was “The King of Israel.” In a life acted out in three parts, Sharon destroyed entire cities, wasted countless lives and sabotaged careers to shape the reality on the ground.
The first act of Sharon’s career began after the 1948 war that established Israel at the expense of 750,000 Palestinians who were driven away in a campaign of mass expulsion. Badly wounded in the battle of Latrun, where the Israeli army suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the Royal Jordanian Army, Sharon momentarily retired from army life. He looked back in anger at the failure to take Latrun, a strategic swath of land containing three Palestinian towns seemingly obstructing the new Jewish state’s demographic continuity. Spineless politicians and feckless commanders had tied the hands of Israel’s troops, he claimed, leaving the Jewish state exposed from within. Sharon yearned to finish 1948—to complete the expulsion project he viewed as deficient.
In 1953, Sharon was plucked out of retirement by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and appointed the head of a secret commando unit tasked with carrying out brutal acts of reprisal and sabotage. Following a lethal Palestinian assault on an Israeli kibbutz, Sharon led his men into the West Bank town of Qibya with orders from Ben Gurion’s Central Command to “carry out destruction and cause maximum damage.” By the time they were done, sixty-nine civilians—mostly Palestinian women and children—lay dead.
In the years after that scandal, Sharon carried out bloody raids on Egyptian and Syrian territory that inflamed relations with Israel’s neighbors and led them to seek urgent military assistance from the Soviet Union. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Sharon was accused by one of his commanders, Arye Biro, of overseeing the massacre of forty-nine Egyptian quarry workers who had been taken prisoner and had no role in the fighting (official censorship kept the details from the public for decades). In the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon ran up the body count on encircled Egyptian tank units, converting unprecedented kill ratios into national fame. With the Gaza Strip now under Israeli control, Sharon orchestrated the razing of Palestinian citrus orchards to make way for Jewish colonization.
Though set on a rightward political trajectory, Sharon owed his fortunes to the icons of Labor Zionism. His original patron, Ben Gurion, and the younger warrior-politician Moshe Dayan, constantly shuffled him up the ranks of the military hierarchy, despite a clear pattern of scandalously insubordinate behavior. His first cabinet-level post was an abbreviated stint in the 1970s government of Yitzhak Rabin, the quintessential Laborite, who imagined Sharon leading a reorganization of the army following the disaster of the 1973 war. But it was in the Likud-led 1977 coalition of Menachem Begin that Sharon was finally able to translate his influence into history-altering policies.
Against fierce Palestinian resistance, one of the Middle East’s most vital and cosmopolitan cities was laid to ruin. Sharon’s forces flattened West Beirut with indiscriminate shelling, leaving streets strewn with unburied corpses. With each passing day, disease and famine spread at epidemic levels. In August, the day after the Israeli cabinet accepted US special envoy Philip Habib’s proposal for the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon’s forces bombarded Beirut for seven hours straight, leaving 300 dead, most of them civilians. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling wrote that the raid “resembled the attack on Dresden by the Allies toward the end of World War II.” Sharon even requested an additional paratrooper brigade to obliterate the PLO forces besieged in the city, earning a rare rebuke from Begin, who worried that his defense minister would completely destroy Habib’s efforts to resolve the crisis.