Editorial: Influential, polarizing leadership

Jan. 16, 2014 @ 07:28 PM

War criminal to some, statesman to others, Israel’s Ariel Sharon was a man of undeniable leadership.

He died last Saturday and was laid to rest this week. He was 85.

Peace is tough to come by in the Middle East. We’ve not seen it in our lifetimes, and future generations will be full of hope and ideas.

Realities are harsh.

At present, Iran is moving toward nuclear capability. Syria is three years into civil war, with about 130,000 dead. Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt are tenuous.

Sharon once said he had no intention of becoming the leader of Israel. He was first a farmer who became a soldier. He became a revered military leader. But he did eventually become the prime minister, and then a statesman.

He had the polarizing nature that has marked many leaders over time. He built settlements and would also destroy them when they were no longer useful.

Mourners lined streets to see his casket go by, and to snap photographs.

Rockets were launched by those who were glad to see him go. There were parades and candy given out to children, too.

But Sharon’s mission was clear. He wanted the sustainability of Israel, and the survival of the Jewish people.

He was in office at the same time as President George W. Bush, who remembered him as a warrior for the ages. He called Sharon a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land, and a more peaceful Middle East.

Sharon was a veteran of five wars. In his first term as prime minister, he led a crushing defeat of a Palestinian uprising. In his second term, he led withdrawal from Gaza in a move hailed as revolutionary to making peace.

He never was known for going by the book. Even as a soldier, he was known to disobey orders. As a politician, tact took a backseat to bullish aggression in making his way.

His leadership, he believed, was always for his people. He came out of retirement in 1973 to change the direction of a Mideast war, leading 27,000 Israelis across Egypt’s Suez Canal.

Israel lost a once-commanding figure with Sharon’s death. Peace is still hard to come by in the region. But even as the U.S. lends a hand today, our actions are shaped by one of Israel’s most influential leaders.