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The warhorse battles for life

Dubbed as 'Bulldozer', Sharon has etched an indelible mark on Israel's military and political landscape over the last half-century.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2006 17:03 IST
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Dubbed as "the Bulldozer" for his style and physique, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has etched an indelible and controversial mark on Israel's military and political landscape over the last half-century.

Although the burly premier had cut down on his foreign travels in recent years, he continued to lead from the front during some of the most far-reaching changes in Israeli history.

In November, the domineering Sharon announced he was leaving the right-wing Likud party that he was instrumental in forming in 1973 and setting up his new party, Kadima.

Ariel Sharon during the 1967 Middle East War

The decision came as a result of his frustration at having to battle hardliners within Likud who refused to forgive him for pulling settlers and troops out of the Gaza Strip over the summer.

His abandonment of Likud was seen as the ultimate political gamble for the man once reviled for masterminding Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon and now lauded for withdrawing troops and settlers from Gaza.

Over the years, the premier has shown himself an artful politician, trading in his image of hardline to one of moderate, with US President George W Bush and even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak describing him as a man of peace.

Polls have since indicated that Kadima was likely to emerge as the largest party after the election, pushing the Likud rump into third place at best.

Sharon has long courted controversy in an extraordinary career.

When he was elected prime minister in 2001 after a controversial visit to a disputed holy site in Jerusalem sparked the Palestinian intifada, his incoming administration was seen as the most hawkish in the history of the Jewish state.

Less than four years later, Sharon oversaw what none of his predecessors from either end of the political spectrum ever achieved -- withdrawing settlers and soldiers from Palestinian territory.

Branded a dictator and traitor by one-time allies, the former darling of Israel's right-wing ran roughshod over an avalanche of criticism over his Gaza pullout, turning his international and domestic reputation on its head.

Born in British-mandate Palestine in 1928, the prime minister began his military career at the age of 17 and first came to prominence on the battlefield in Israel's wars against Arab states such as Egypt.

As defence minister, he masterminded the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and siege of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation headquarters in Beirut.

The following year, he was forced out in disgrace after being held "indirectly responsible" for the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon perpetrated by his Christian Phalangist allies.

Despite the commission's recommendation that Sharon was unfit for public office, he slowly rebuilt his reputation before becoming leader in 2000 of Likud, the party he helped develop, and rising to the pinnacle of government.

First Published: Feb 11, 2006 17:38 IST