Top Ten Ways Ariel Sharon Ruined Israel and the Middle East

(By Juan Cole)

Arik Scheinerman, who became Ariel Sharon, was from a Russian family that emigrated to Palestine at a time when Palestinians had been deprived of the right to set immigration policy into their own country. He would go on powerfully to shape the lives of most people in Israel and the Middle East, and not for the good.

1. By killing 63 civilians including women and children in his Unit 101 raid on Qibya in 1953 Ariel Sharon announced that in his vision, Israel would continue the tactics pioneered by 1940s terrorist groups such as the Stern Gang, of deploying terror in hopes of forcing Arab neighbors to accept Israel. (The hopes were forlorn.) Israeli foreign minister Moshe Sharett, complained bitterly that the raid exposed Israel before the world “as a gang of bloodsuckers, capable of mass murder.”

2. Sharon in late spring 1967 threatened to make a military coup if the civilian government of then prime minister Levi Eshkol declined to go to war against Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. The pressure from hawks like Sharon and Moshe Dayan worked, even though Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin thought it a bad idea and almost had a nervous breakdown over it. But although Abdel Nasser was talking belligerently, some 100,000 of his best troops were tied down in Yemen. Moreover, his Soviet patrons told him that if he fired the first shot in any engagement with Israel, he was on his own and would forfeit Moscow’s help. Abdel Nasser was in no position to attack Israel in 1967, and he did not. Sharon, Dayan and other hawks took advantage of his blowhard speeches to launch an aggressive war that led to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.

3. While Zionist leaders such as David Ben Gurion recognized a demographic dilemma in attempting to keep the West Bank and Gaza, Ariel Sharon insisted that Israel keep those territories. (This step was contrary to the United Nations Charter, which forbids acquisition of territory by armed force after 1945). As cabinet minister in the government of PM Menachem Begin in the late 1970s, Sharon pushed for an expansion of Israeli colonies on Palestinian territory, in the Gaza Strip and throughout the West Bank. He played a key role in creating the current dilemma, that Israel has hundreds of thousands of citizens living in the Palestinian West Bank and who form a barrier to a Palestinian state or any prospect of peace or of justice for the Palestinians.

4. Sharon initiated the strategy of surrounding Jerusalem with new Israeli settlements as a way of permanently annexing it to Israel, even though the UN had not awarded it to Tel Aviv.

5. Sharon for most of his life was dead set against a Palestinian state ever being allowed to form. He worked hard to make it an impossibility.

6. Sharon crafted the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was intended to allow him to put Christian allies of Israel in power in Lebanon. Likewise, he wanted to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization, then headquartered in Beirut. The invasion, which had no basis in international law, resulted in the indiscriminate shelling of Beirut and the loss of some 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian lives. Along the way, he managed to provoke Usama Bin Laden into wanting to destroy some skyscrapers in the West the way Sharon had Beirut’s. And during that war, Sharon bore responsibility for the [pdf] massacre of Palestinian women and children at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Israeli occupation. Remember that these Palestinians were refugees from Sharon and his fellow Israeli hawks in the 1948 war, when some 720,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land and made penniless refugees. Now he had come after them and empowered far right wing Christian militiamen, who massacred them. Sharon hated the Palestinians because they refused to evaporate, and stood as a reproach to his ideology of Israelis’ birthright to Palestinian land.

7. Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon resulted in an 18-year-long Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. This brutal rule over this area gradually alienated the Shiite Muslim Lebanese. They had earlier been mainly peasants and farmers and had not been very political. They had some conflicts with the Palestinian refugees among them and were said even to harbor some warm feelings for Israel. But after years of Israeli military occupation, the Shiites of Lebanon became radicalized and the small party-militia, Hizbullah became more and more popular among them. Radicalizing the Lebanese Shiites, was among Sharon’s most lasting legacies. Once Lebanese Shiites began acquiescing in Hizbullah power, they gradually became clients of the Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor. In turn, in order to have a land bridge so as to supply Hizbullah, the Iranian regime cultivated Syria as a client. Sharon failed to install an Israel-friendly government in Lebanon. He simply further destabilized that country. At the same time, his policies helped create the Shiite crescent of Iran, Syria and south Lebanon. In other words, it was Sharon who helped make Iran a major player in Middle Eastern geopolitics. Before he stirred up the Lebanese Shiites, Iran had no such role.

8. At a time, in fall of 2000, when President Bill Clinton and Palestinian and Israeli negotiators had come close to a peace deal, and when they were preparing for further negotiations after no final text was agreed upon in August, Ariel Sharon provocatively went to the Temple Mount. Muslims took his visit as an assertion that he intended to pull down sacred Muslim shrines there. His visit kicked off the second Palestinian uprising or Intifada, which included suicide bombings against Israeli non-combatants.

9. As prime minister again from 2001, Sharon continued to expand Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. He responded to the violence of the 2nd Intifada by stealing more Palestinian land, trapping villages in an Escher architecture and building a separation wall in such a way that it annexed further territory and strangled Palestinian towns like Bethlehem.

10. Sharon urged the United States not simply to invade Iraq and overthrow its government but to take action against Iran. If the US had listened to him, there wouldn’t be much of our country left.

Violent, impulsive, rash, and greedy, Sharon helped turn Israel from the ideal of a democracy governed by the rule of law into instead an arbitrary colonial power. He created the endeavor of an Israel attempting to annex the West Bank; he created the problem of a Shiite crescent that ends on his doorstep. He committed war crimes. He pioneered elective wars for regime change, likely influencing George W. Bush. He was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths of innocents. Despite his late-career acceptance of the notion of a Palestinian state, he really just meant another colonially-dominated entity. He was willing to create a South-Africa style bantustan for the Palestinians, not a real state with sovereignty. Even then he wanted to keep 45% of the Palestinian West Bank for himself.

Sharon was one of the founders of the modern state of Israel. But unlike the latter, which has been a site of creativity and technological innovation, Sharon was peculiarly unimaginative. He thought that bullying people and using sadism and arbitrariness against them would convince them to comply. He probably helped doom the whole enterprise of Israel; the one he helped create, a site of the forever war and imperial domination, is intrinsically unstable.


Related video:

The BBC Reviews Sharon’s career:

45 Responses

  1. At a time when a number of world leaders are heading to Jerusalem to take part in Ariel Sharon’s funeral and no doubt many tributes will be paid to him it is important to be reminded of his real legacy for the Israelis and Palestinians as set out in this brilliant obituary.

    His worst legacy was that he perpetuated and institutionalized the notion that “might makes right”, and to use force and violence to subdue defenseless Palestinians. This logic is going to fail in the long term because what the Israelis as a small minority in the Middle East need more than anything else is acceptance by their neighbors not their short-term subjugation by force that will not remain for ever. Even if the Americans and Israelis manage to impose an unjust solution on the Palestinians in their moment of weakness it will be reversed when the present realities in the Middle East change. Sharon made the cause of reconciliation and true friendship between the Israelis and the Palestinians much more difficult to achieve.

    • Brilliant, indeed, and even more courageous.

      I read all of your posts carefully, Mr. Jahanpour. Thank you for them. We could use more.

      • Sure.

        Since 1967 there has been international legal and public consensus that Israel must withdraw from the Palestinian territories it illegally occupied and blockaded – Gaza, West Bank, East Jersualem. Every authoritative body in the world supports the consensus.

        Only two groups in the world are opposed: the US and Israel. The US is blocking the international democratic consensus through its support for Israel’s ethnic cleansing, colonization, and aggression campaign.

        Here are more details:
        link to

        • Rob you are absolutely correct in your assessement of the only supporters of Israel are the U.S. and Israel; however they have been joined by a third member. The neo-con government of Canada unconditionally supports Israel no matter who they attack.

        • Joe from Lowell:

          Unfortunately that is nothing but empty rhetoric. Since then Obama has not only continued to Veto the two state solution in the UN, but in his mere five years has vetoed almost 30 resolutions condemning Israel or calling for justice for Palestine.

          He has also personally mandated a 250,000,000 dollar a year increase in US aid to Israel, which was already the biggest recipient of US aid. This is after Israel’s 2009 massacre of Gaza, in which they used chemical weapons on civilians, and after Israel’s massive increases in illegal settlement expansion during Obama’s terms .

          We have to look at actions, not simply believe lies from politicians. It’s not what they say, it’s what they do.

          This is especially true for Obama, whose rhetoric is easily exposed as simple lies by his actions.

          Here is a list of Obama’s crimes and depravities:
          link to

  2. In the Reader’s Picks category of comments on the New York Times article on Sharon, all of the highest rated reflect opinions similar to those of Prof. Cole and of Robert Fisk of the Independent. Yet US politicians dare not say anything negative about Sharon.

  3. How related is a fellow from Russia to the Hebrews of the Iron Age? Why does he arrogate himself to that land? How many Arab Muslims descend from genetically Jewish converts? The delusions of religion make men do some God-awful things (pun intended).

  4. In 1978, on the occasion of president Jimmy Carter’s presiding over a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet-the only non-Jew to have ever chaired such a meeting-Carter was told by then minister of agriculture, Ariel Sharon, that there already was a Palestinian state, that it was Jordan, and that Carter could take for granted that within the next few years there would be 2 to 3 million Jews living in the occupied territories. Sharon added that “even as we speak, Jewish families are migrating into Judea and Samaria.”

    • Israel has a long history of gratuitous attempts to humiliate well-intentioned American leaders in public in order to reinforce the aura of the power of its American lobby over them. It’s clear that they mistook James Earl Carter for a weakling and have paid the price for it.

      • I agree to what you say…they have disrespect and humiliated both President Obama and VP Biden on a few occasion, regarding illegal settlements, timing the announcements of building even more, to coincide with a meeting or visit.
        We must have pretty weak leaders who keep turning the other cheek.

        • My thought is that one party feels the need to engage in repeated PUBLIC humiliation of its lackey, it betrays not only a lack of confidence but an underlying weakness. I would say that doing so would tend to confirm their power so that they will not discover it gone at some particularly inopportune time. But taken altogether, it is impossible to see how this attitude/approach/strategy has any hope of sustainability.

    • We have the power to put an end to that in a hurry. It’s nothing but hubris built up as the result of our long term weakness, our inability to speak the truth in public for fear of personal retribution at the social, professional and business levels..

      When we start standing up and protect our political and intellectual classes it will disappear like a puff of smoke in the breeze.

      • “When we start standing up and protect our political and intellectual classes it will disappear like a puff of smoke in the breeze.”

        Correction: “If” not “When” and neither is likely.

        • Any thoughts on how “WE” can “protect our political and intellectual classes?” Since there are so many rewards, and punishments, for anyone hewing to, or deviating from, the Line?

        • “Any thoughts on how “WE” can “protect our political and intellectual classes?”

          The first challenge is to define who “we” are. The “99 percent” categorization is nonsense as is”one nation, …, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

        • The first step must be to deal with the Lobby itself. And that means its strategic defeat, its dismantlement, nothing less:

          link to

          The rot has gone much too far. It has to be rooted out at the center. And the President is going to have to take the primary role which can’t consist of a few verbal sallies. At that point everyone will be able to stand up, not just a few incredibly brave public intellectuals.

        • Neither is likely? I don’t think so, Bill. The key to it lies in Washington because most individuals need cover if they are to speak out. But the inclination to do so is long since pent-up. These really are fascinating times, don’t you agree?

    • To your point, he was called the Butcher of Beirut, the Bulldozer (his style) and the father of settlements….we see some of these qualities going on even today.

  5. A young commander Arik Sharon formed Unit 101 to operate across the green armistice line of 1948 in Jordanian territory. He participated in the Qibya massacre and later boasted about it as Ben-Gurion shut his eyes for the atrocities.

    The unit was merged into the 890th Paratroop Battalion during January 1954, on orders of General Dayan, Chief of Staff. By chance came across the reference in Jewish Virtual Library, for a moment my heart stopped beating … Reserve Police Battalion 101.

  6. … in negotiations over the withdrawal of the PLO the thorniest issue had always been the guarantees which Arafat demanded for the safety of the he Palestinian civilians the fighting men were to leave behind. To the end, he had been agonizingly aware of the inadequacy of those that he finally accepted. True, the US had given its ‘word of honor’ that the Israelis would never enter West Beirut, and special envoy Habib had written to the Lebanese prime minister, Safaq Wazzan:

    “The government of Lebanon and the United States will provide appropriate guarantees for the safety … of law-abiding Palestinian non-combatants left in Beirut, including the families of those who have departed … The United States will provide its guarantees on the basis of assurances received from the government of Israel and the leaders of certain Lebanese groups [I e, the Phalangists] with which it had been in contact.”

    — David Hirsh, ‘Beware of Small States’, p153

  7. Juan,
    For some reason when I stopped receiving your Informed Comment e-mails, I though maybe that you had retired! I’m glad Raimundo posted your article today on Keep up the good work!

    • We shouldn’t forget that the arrogant attitudes of Sharon are largely shared by Netanyahu and by extension even the Israeli electorate. As we hear more about the memoir of Secretary Gates it becomes apparent that this pattern is not just individual, but is the leit motif of the regime as a whole.

      link to

  8. Regarding Iranian sponsorship of Hezbollah:

    It was Hafez Assad who allowed the Iranian government to establish a training base for Hezbollah militiamen in a Syrian-controlled region of the Bekaa Valley that allowed Hezbollah to flourish. They became a well-trained and equipped militia that were responsible for the lion’s share of IDF casualties during the 18-year long IDF occupation of Lebanon.

    The IDF occupation earlier had indirectly led to the 1982 assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel – a close ally of Sharon and the U.S. and contributed to killings of other political leaders within Lebanon thereafter.

  9. I am more optimistic than some of the commenters here, based on the increasing availability of fact to counter propaganda via the internet. While it is true that most of us only go to sources that confirm our biases, it becomes increasingly difficult to hide from fact and reason. We see this in the shifting cultural center of gravity around global warming, the powers of the NSA, marijuana and gay rights. Of course this shift feels painfully slow, but in the arc of history it is occuring amazingly rapidly, as heroes like Chompsky and Cole continue to educate us.

  10. The Palestinians loathed Arik Scheinerman aka Ariel Sharon the murder that was responsible for the killing of unarmed civilians during events like the Qibya Massacre in 1953 or the Shatila and Sabre Massacre in 1982. The impotent Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas initially stayed silent, not wishing to anger the Israelis and knowing full well that any condolences from Ramallah about the death of the man known by the epithet of ‘butcher’ by Palestinians would make Abbas even more unpopular among the Palestinians. Even amongst the Israeli population there were mixed reactions to the death, with some Israeli communities welcoming it. Some bitterly remembered him for the execution of the so-called ‘disengagement’ from Gaza that forced Israeli settlers to leave. Other Israelis saw him as a war criminal. He is also still remembered as one of Israel’s most corrupt and dishonest politicians. There is now an attempt to effectively outlaw any expressions of delight about Sharon’s death. The Israeli media has reported that Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch angrily described public expressions against Ariel Sharon as criminal and instructed Israeli police units to find any public signs expressing satisfaction at Sharon’s demise liable for criminal prosecution.
    Sharon started his life as a soldier fighting for the establishment of Israel in 1948 and was adamant that the entire land be forcibly cleared of Palestinians. He later became the head of a commando unit responsible for enforcing Israeli collective punishment on Palestinian villages. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who described Sharon as a pathological liar, ordered him to carry out the Qibya Massacre against unarmed civilians and more than half the people killed by Sharon were women and children.
    As a soldier Sharon was insolent, refusing to follow orders many times. While commanding an elite Israeli paratrooper brigade in 1956 he ignored orders and advanced to the Mitla Pass where he was defeated and forced back by the Egyptians. During the fighting, Sharon had Egyptian prisoners of war killed and even ordered the massacre of forty-nine Egyptian quarry workers who were civilians that played no role in the fighting. In 1973 he ignored direct commands again by rushing into battle. He came out victorious this time. Moshe Dayan said that if Israel had lost the war against Egypt in 1973 that Ariel Sharon, then acting as a major-general, would have been tried by a military court for not following orders. His success in 1973 empowered his political ambitions. He then made his entry into the Israeli cabinet in 1977 as the minister of agriculture. This was a post that he would hold until 1982. A fervent expansionist, as the minister of agriculture Sharon created the current Israeli settler system that he admitted was specifically designed to partition the West Bank and annex most the Palestinian territory there. In 1982 he became the cabinet minister responsible for the Israeli military. In his new post, Sharon ordered Israeli forces to invade Lebanon during its civil war, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 20,000 civilians. The Jewish Dutch director George Sluizer even claimed that he say Sharon murder two Palestinian infants in Lebanon with his handgun. Under the pretext of fighting the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to justify their invasion, the Israeli military advancing into Lebanon’s capital Beirut from Lebanon’s southern border. The main aims were to impose an Israeli-controlled puppet regime in Lebanon and expand Israeli territory. Once the Israeli military arrived in Beirut, Sharon had the Palestinian refugee camps there surrounded by his armed forces. He then arranged for Lebanese collaborators in the Kataeb (Phalange) militia — currently represented by the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces political parties in the Hariri-led March 14 Alliance that is arming the anti-government forces in Syria — to enter Shatila and Sabre with Israeli aid and cover. What ensued was a three-day orgy of torture, rape, and murder of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, most of whom where were women and children.
    International pressure and public outrage forced Israel to form the Kahan Commission. The Kahan Commission found Sharon personally responsible and guilty of knowingly let the massacre of civilians take place, but took no action against him. Political pressure from within the political establishment resulted in Sharon’s humiliation and then his resignation in 1983 from his post as the minister responsible for the Israeli military.
    Elie Hobeika, the leader of the Phalange militia that carried out the massacre, would volunteer in 2001 to testify that Sharon and the Israelis played a central role in the massacre to a Belgian court. Hobeika, however, would be assassinated by a car bomb a few months before he was scheduled to testify in Belgium. Hobeika’s car bomb murder would open the door to an era of assassinations against Lebanese politicians by car bombs that many point the figure at Israel for. In fact, during the course of the fighting in Lebanon, Sharon authorized the use of car bombs as an Israeli tactic.
    The political polarization of the sentiments of Israeli society against the Palestinians during their Second Intifada (Uprising) helped catapult Sharon into the office of prime minister and undermine his political opponents. Sharon is widely credited for starting the Second Intifada in the year 2000 by paying a controversial public visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Noble Sanctuary (known as Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic to Muslims) or Temple Mount (known as Har Habayit in Hebrew to Jewry) with a Likudnik delegation and an armed riot police guard of about one thousand men. Ironically, the visit was approved by both Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Palestinian Authority, the latter insisting that Sharon not do anything controversial like threaten to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque.
    Sharon’s visit is widely seen as lighting a powder keg and deliberately engineering an end to the peace process by igniting violence as a means of helping himself politically in his bid to become Israeli prime minister. Sharon’s visit accompanied by a flagrantly large armed guard on what is seen as both symbolically sentimental and holy ground by Muslims and Jews was merely the provocative straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, for the disillusioned Palestinians. Tensions were already high among the Palestinians about the continuation of the Israeli occupation and the bankruptcy of the Oslo Accords and peace talks, but for them Sharon’s presence was a provocation.
    The emphasis on Ariel Sharon’s decision in 2005 to unilaterally withdraw the Israeli military and Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip is harkened as a mark of his commitment for peace, but Sharon’s so-called ‘disengagement’ from Gaza was at its heart a strategic and Machiavellian move aimed at furthering Israel’s expansionist objective of annexing East Jerusalem and most the West Bank. Above all things, this ‘disengagement’ was intended to enable Israeli territorial expansion. He sent almost four times the number of Israeli settlers into the West Bank to compensate for the 8,000 Israeli settlers he removed from Gaza. Nor was there much of a withdrawal from Gaza either, because Israel still controlled the trade, entry, exit, finances, coastline, the water, the air, and airwaves. It also set up a security perimeter inside Gaza and periodically had troops and sailors conduct patrols inside Gaza’s territory.
    The decision to leave Gaza was actually made through security, demographic, and geopolitical calculations to give the maximum amount of Palestinians the smallest amount of land possible and to control the Palestinians in the most effective way. There was no way that Israel would annex the minuscule Gaza Strip where the highest concentration of the Palestinian population amount to just under 40 percent of their population lived when it could annex the much larger and less densely-populated West Bank. Moreover, with the Israeli settlers in Gaza gone, Israel was free to effectively blockade the most densely held Palestinian area and to launch its military assaults to pressure the Palestinians, which would have come at high costs or have been nearly impossible to Israel if the settlers remained. Coupled with the construction of the Separation/Apartheid Wall, the ‘disengagement’ was really a ‘re-engagement’ for more effective Israeli control over Gaza that would be sold as a part of desire for peace.
    Although Benjamin Netanyahu publicly opposed the ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005, the same strategies are being implemented and continued by him. In this regard, it can be argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu is executing Sharon’s plan to create Greater Israel by continuing his expansionist policy of annexing East Jerusalem and the West Bank through the systematic development of Israeli settlements/colonies. Beneath the surface, the continuation and expansion of the Israeli settlements and the leverage they have given Israel in negotiations is why Ariel Sharon is really the “architect of modern Israel.”

    Sharon’s objectives of annexing East Jerusalem and the West Bank, however, are not a view he shaped, they are part of an expansionist ideology widely held in the Israeli political establishment and popularly supported in Israeli society. He is merely the man who put together the strategy of doing it while appearing to pursue peace. In this context, it should come as no surprise just days before Sharon died, in late December 2013, that the Israeli government’s Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, effectively insuring that the West Bank will barely have a border with Jordan and that most the West Bank will encircled by Israel.

    Nor does Sharon’s death mean that Israel’s embrace of militarism has ended. Sharon is just one of many military leaders, like Shimon Peres, that have built Israel with war and around the military as the most important institution in Israel. To equate Ariel Sharon with Israel means that his death marks an end to a bloody history, when in reality the bloody history still continues with Netanyahu and Israel’s current leaders. Since Sharon left office due to his coma, Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, has launching multiple attacks on Gaza, conducted attacks on Syria, and repeatedly threatened to start wars against other countries. Tel Aviv’s leaders have always blamed Hamas for attacking Gaza, but it is important to note that they have done this while Israel continues its military operations and occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, even though Fatah rules the West Bank and has insured that no real attacks have been launched against Israel for years.

  11. For the first time in my life I am ashamed that my country’s government unequivically supports a country that practises terrorism, and endangers the peace of the whole world. The goverment of Canada in the 1960’s insisted that the aparthied state of South Africa could not be part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Now are government wholly accepts the aparthied government of Israel??

    • “For the first time in my life I am ashamed that my country’s government unequivically supports a country that practises terrorism, …”

      You need to brush up on your history, Tom. How about these for openers of US terrorism: The African slave trade, ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, segregation in the Deep South, installing dictators in banana republics in Central and South America? Then there was the overthrow of the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran who was replaced by the Peacock Shah and his Savak ministry of security.

  12. Hate the guy all you want but his encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army during the 1973 Yom Kippur war was military brilliance.

  13. No it doesn’t give him a pass on any of his deeds… I’m just saying he was, at the very least a competent commander. I know this doesn’t go over very well with this crowd here but you can’t ignore some facts and dwell on others.

Comments are closed.