Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum mourned the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday.
President Shimon Peres issued a statement eulogizing Sharon shortly after his death, calling the 85-year-old leader a “dear friend” who had “lost his final battle.”
“Arik was a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him. He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision,” Peres said.
“He knew how to take difficult decisions and implement them. We all loved him and he will be greatly missed,” the president said, sending condolences to Sharon’s family.
Later, in a televised statement, Peres hailed Sharon as a “dear and blessed” figure who saw all of Israel as his family. “I will miss him greatly.” He commended Sharon for his readiness to take tough decisions in war and peace, and called him “a unique leader in the annals of our people.” Recalling his military prowess, Peres said that in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Sharon turned “possible defeat into surprise victory.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also eulogized Sharon, saying the entire nation was mourning his passing.
“The State of Israel bows its head over the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon,” Netanyahu said in a statement and a video. “His memory will forever be held in the heart of the nation.”
Netanyahu added: “Sharon played a central role in the struggle for Israel’s security throughout its existence. He was, first and foremost, a courageous fighter and a distinguished general, one of the greatest commanders the IDF has ever known.”
“When he left the military, he continued to act on behalf of the people of Israel, both in the capacity of the many roles he filled in Israel’s successive governments and as the country’s eleventh prime minister,” continued the prime minister. “He will forever be remembered.”
Netanyahu hailed Sharon’s decisive role in the 1973 war, turning that conflict in Israel’s favor. He also noted Sharon’s war against terrorism. He did not mention Sharon’s 2005 pullout from Gaza, or other peace efforts, however. Sharon bolted the right-wing Likud to form the centrist Kadima soon after the 2005 Gaza pullout, taking several senior Likud figures with him, leaving Netanyahu to rehabilitate the party.
Netanyahu did include in his tribute a reference to Sharon’s recognition that “the Jewish people must be able to defend itself, by itself, for itself” — a formulation Netanyahu has used in the past when talking about the need to prevent Iran attaining a nuclear weapons capability.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who followed Sharon into Kadima in 2005 and replaced Sharon as prime minister and Kadima party head after the latter fell into a coma in January 2006, said his predecessor was “one of the state of Israel’s greatest soldiers and warriors before and since it was founded.”
Sharon, said Olmert, had stood “directly in the line of fire throughout his entire life” – first on the frontlines of battle, then on the political frontlines.
“Arik’s life story is fascinating, extraordinary and unique, imbued with courage, human kindness, vision, and leadership,” Olmert continued.
“In the eight years since his collapse, the state of Israel has felt his loss, as have I. He will continue to be missed in the future,” he said.
Olmert added: “There was no one like him, and there may never be.”
Later, in a Channel 2 interview, Olmert said Sharon, a friend for 40 years, “was a man who knew to reveal warmth and friendship, and he also knew how to be tough and uncompromising… He was a leader, he made decisions. He knew how to look you straight in the eye and say things and take responsibility,” Olmert said.
Dani Dayan, a former head of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of Jewish settlements, called him “the greatest warrior of the Jewish people since the Maccabees,” but added that he preferred to remember him prior to 2005, when Sharon ordered the demolition of the settlements in Gaza and the unilateral withdrawal from the Strip. Sharon, said Dayan, “saved Israel by his virtuous crossing of the Suez Canal (in 1973). He established thriving communities across our ancestral homeland, changing its landscape forever. He defeated Palestinian terror, against all odds. Today, I prefer to stop the memories there, and not deal with the terrible mistake known as the Gaza disengagement.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who joined Sharon’s Kadima party after it was founded in 2005 and served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Olmert, eulogized the leader on her official Facebook page moments after his death was announced.
“Arik Sharon has passed away. Very sad. Arik was a man I loved. They say old soldiers never die – they just fade away. Arik faded away from us eight years ago, and now he has left us for good,” Livni wrote.
“Even when he was prime minister, he was also a soldier, a brave warrior, a commander, a leader, a farmer whose feet were planted firmly in the soil of the land of Israel,” she said.
She added that in Sharon’s “great body” dwelled “a Jewish soul that cared about the Jewish people all over the world.”
Sharon, Livni said, was “a prime minster who became the great father of a great nation, a father who instilled confidence in us.”
Most of all, she wrote, he was “a man I loved … and never actually got to say goodbye to.”
Like Peres, Livni expressed “deep condolences” to Sharon’s family, particularly to his sons, Omri and Gilad, “who fought with him for his life.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said Sharon played an integral role in the development of Israel and its armed forces, and that he would serve as a role model for generations of officers and soldiers to come.
“His legacy will continue to accompany us in operating toward defending Israel,” Gantz said.
Shaul Mofaz, who now heads Sharon’s Kadima party, offered a “grieving salute” to his “commander and mentor, the greatest of Israel’s leaders.”
Mofaz said Sharon was a “general and statesman” who helped shape Israel’s character, as well as a commander who took “daring” leaps to ensure peace and security for the country.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a relative newcomer to Israel’s political scene, wrote of Sharon that he “lived twice, once as a charming savage, once as the ‘responsible adult.’ He died twice, eight years ago the first time, the second time today. Blessed be his memory.”
In his own eulogy, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon noted Sharon’s central role in Israeli history, praising him for devoting his life to the state.
“The paths of Ariel Sharon’s life are intertwined with the history of the State of Israel, and his presence at the major crossroads of its existence is documented in its history books,” Ya’alon wrote.
“A man of the soil, a son of this land, who dedicated his life to it, sometimes risking his life in the process – Sharon was, first and foremost, an extraordinary military general who helped shape the IDF as an army that strives towards contact and a quick defeat of the enemy,” Ya’alon said.
He then praised the deceased leader’s military skills, saying they had enabled him to successfully combat enemies on the field of battle as well as terrorist threats.
“Though we had our fundamental differences along the way, I always admired his experience and leadership,” Ya’alon said.
He also offered his condolences to Sharon’s two sons, as well as the rest of his family.
“The defense establishment, whose flesh and blood Sharon was and at whose head he stood, bows its head today on his passing,” he concluded.
Former prime minister and chief of staff Ehud Barak, who contended with Sharon in the 2001 elections and lost, said the former general was “one of most exceptional field commanders we’ve ever had.”
“Arik Sharon always set standard, and his standards became those of the IDF in general,” he said.
Regarding his political career, Barak said Sharon was “very shrewd, understood politics” and was never afraid to make decisions. He said the late former prime minister listened attentively to a great number of advisers, and when the time came, would carry out his decision. He was devoted to his allies and a “tolerant, objective rival to his opponents,” Barak said.
Eitan Cabel of the Labor party, meanwhile, said Sharon was “perhaps the last prime minister of our time” to represent the “beautiful, ethical” Israel of bygone eras.
“I may not have been in Sharon’s camp, but he was a person I always admired – a man who made a significant contribution to the state of Israel and took brave and far-reaching steps,” he said.
“Sharon was a true leader. He acted out of a real belief in his path and out of love for his country,” Cabel continued. “I stand by the Sharon family at this time.”