Former US President George W. Bush remembered late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon Saturday as “a warrior for the ages.”
In a statement, Bush called Sharon a “partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East.”
“I was honored to know this man of courage and call him friend,” he said.
Sharon, a famed soldier-turned-politician-turned statesman, died Saturday, eight years after a stroke put him in a coma. He was 85.
Sharon’s term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 coincided with Bush’s presidency, and the two were said to have an excellent working relationship, dating back to Bush’s days as governor of Texas.
Dov Weissglass, a top aide of Sharon’s, said after his death Saturday that the prime minister and president George W. Bush established a relationship of deep trust and open affection. The strength of that bond between the two leaders and their administrations, he said, helped ensure firm backing from the US for Sharon’s battle against Palestinian terrorism in the Second Intifada.
The two first met in 1998 when Bush was given a helicopter tour of Israel by Sharon, while on a trip to burnish his Middle East credentials ahead of a presidential run.
In 2002, Bush called Sharon ” a man of peace” in an off the cuff remark. The comment, coming in the midst of the Second Intifada and Israel’s crackdown on Palestinian terror, angered many in the Arab world, according to the Washington Post.
“I want you to know I took immense crap for that,” Bush later told Sharon, according to the US daily.
Current Texas governor Rick Perry also reacted to Sharon’s death Saturday, mourning the loss of “an uncompromising patriot.”
Perry became governor when Bush left for Washington in December 2000 and recently made his own trip to Israel, which many saw as preparation for a 2016 presidential run. Perry said Sharon “faced down the multiple enemies surrounding his young country with selfless determination and unflinching courage.”
US senator Ted Cruz, from Texas, echoed Bush, saying: “Israel has lost a great warrior.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot, now running for governor, called Sharon “a giant leader.”