Sharon’s funeral, adjacent to Gaza, presents security headache

Sharon’s funeral, adjacent to Gaza, presents security headache

Iron Dome deployment adjusted to provide maximal protection for Israeli and foreign leaders, led by Biden, at Sycamore Farm

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Ariel Sharon working on his Sycamore Farm in the Negev (Photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Ariel Sharon working on his Sycamore Farm in the Negev (Photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Israel’s security forces geared up Sunday for the major challenge of securing the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, which is taking place Monday afternoon at his family Sycamore Farm in the western Negev, adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

The task, codenamed Operation Anemones, is acutely sensitive given the presence at the funeral of Israel’s political and military leadership, and foreign dignitaries including US Vice President Joe Biden. The area of the farm, which is is situated east of rocket-battered Sderot and barely five miles (eight kilometers) from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, has been hit in the past by Gaza rocket fire.

“We are preparing for every conceivable scenario,” Israel’s Southern District Police chief Yoram Halevy said, “from minor provocations” by Israeli extremists “to gunfire from the Gaza Strip.”

To that end, Channel 2 news reported Sunday night, the deployment of Israel’s rocket-intercepting Iron Dome batteries has been adjusted to afford maximal protection for the Sycamore Farm.

Hamas leaders on Saturday hailed Sharon’s death as a “historic moment” and some Gazans marked the prime minister’s death by burning photos of him and distributing celebratory candies.

US Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Germany, February 2013 (photo credit: AP/Markus Schreiber)
US Vice President Joe Biden (photo credit: AP/Markus Schreiber/File)

The various branches of the security forces have teamed up for the entire day’s security challenge, which will begin at 9:00 a.m. at the Knesset with a state farewell ceremony and conclude with the funeral, which is set to start at around 2p.m.

The Shin Bet security agency is handling security for the foreign dignitaries from the moment they arrive, in coordination with the Israel Police, the Border Police, and the IDF.

Eight-hundred security personnel are expected to secure the area around Sycamore Farm and oversee traffic arrangements.

The name “Operation Anemones” was chosen because Sharon is to be laid to rest on the Anemone Hill facing the farm.

Numerous foreign dignitaries are due in Israel to bid farewell to Sharon, including Biden, Quartet representative and former UK prime minister Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, Russian parliamentary head Sergey Naryshkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Spanish Home Affairs Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz and Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, according to a government statement.

Route 1 will be closed toward Jerusalem from 6:30 a.m. until 8 a.m., and later in the day Routes 6, 40, and 334 will be closed to allow dignitaries to reach the burial ceremony.

An Israeli soldier guards the Iron Dome missile defense system near the coastal city of Ashkelon (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
An Israeli soldier guards the Iron Dome missile defense system near the coastal city of Ashkelon (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Biden and Blair will speak at the Monday Knesset ceremony, along with Marit Danon, Sharon’s secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Shimon Cahaner, who fought alongside Sharon in 1967. Pop star Sarit Hadad will sing, and Sharon’s sons Omri Sharon and Gilad Sharon will recite Kaddish. The event will be closed to the public but broadcast live on TV.

Before being driven to its final resting place, Sharon’s coffin will be transported on an IDF command car to Latrun, in the hills west of the capital, where his body will be saluted by the Israel Defense Forces General Command in a brief ceremony.

The site, which Sharon tried several times to capture in 1948 and where he was badly injured, is today home to Israel’s Armored Corps museum and memorial.

IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz and Omri and Gilad Sharon will speak at the Negev funeral. A song by another Arik who died recently, Einstein, will be played.

Though open to the public, room at the funeral will be limited, and seats will only be allocated to those with invitations. Sharon’s casket will be carried by six major generals and he will be laid to rest alongside his second wife, Lily, who died in 2000.

Drivers are asked to park at Sapir College in Sderot or Moshav Dorot and take shuttle buses from there to the burial site.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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