The 11th Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, was laid to rest in a military funeral at the Shikmim Farm in the Negev. He was eulogized by Israeli and world leaders.

 Ariel Sharon 1928-2014

 

Copyright: GPO

On Monday, 13 January 2014, a state memorial ceremony was held at the Knesset. Eulogies were delivered by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and family members.

US Vice President Joe Biden and Quartet representative Tony Blair also delivered eulogies. Other senior guests included Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, Russian State Duma Chairman Sergey Naryshkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Spanish Home Affairs Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and others.

 Ariel Sharon 1928-2014

 Copyright: GPO

Following the ceremony, the funeral procession departed for the Shikmim Farm in the Negev by military convoy, stopping en route at Latrun for a special meeting of the IDF General Staff forum. Ariel Sharon was laid to rest in a military funeral at the Shikmim Farm, alongside his wife Lily.

Ariel Sharon – From soldier to statesman

 Ariel Sharon 1928-2014

 Photos – Copyright: GPO

 Ariel Sharon 1928-2014

 Copyright: GPO

Ariel Sharon was one of the greatest military leaders of the people of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces. Arik belonged to our founding generation, the generation of our national revival. Israel’s revival depended first and foremost on a generation of Jewish leaders who reintroduced the legacy of Jewish bravery in the Land of Israel – a legacy that seemed to have vanished during our years in exile. Arik Sharon played a central role in building this legacy of bravery. He fought with the Israel Defense Forces for many years – from the War of Independence to the fateful battles of the Yom Kippur War.

He laid the foundations for the IDF war doctrine, primarily the concept of retaliation and offensive measures in the fight against terrorism. He did so when he established Unit 101, commanding heroic fighters such as Meir Har-Zion and his comrades. Arik also personified and implemented the "outflanking doctrine" in battle. He did so when he parachuted at the Mitla Pass during the Sinai Operation and in the great outflanking maneuvers of the Six Day War. However, his maneuvering and command abilities were demonstrated primarily during the Yom Kippur War when he led the IDF forces across the Suez Canal and surrounded the Egyptian Third Army. This maneuver, under his command, reversed the direction of the battle and led to the successful conclusion of the war, which began under very difficult circumstances for the State of Israel. On those occasions, Arik demonstrated courage and resourcefulness – which filtered down to his soldiers and served to significantly embolden the fighters.

As minister and Prime Minister he insisted on our right to defend ourselves in this region so that we can live here safely – a right we continue to defend today and which is a necessary precondition for our existence and for the achievement of peace.

I did not always agree with Arik and he did not always agree with me. But when we served in each other’s governments we worked in cooperation for the benefit of Israel’s security and economy. Arik was a practical and pragmatic man. His pragmatism was rooted in his deep emotional ties to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He understood all too well the essence of anti-Semitism and the need for the Jews to be masters of their own fate in a country of their own. He attributed great importance to our relations with our greatest ally, the United States, but also stood firm in defending Israel’s vital interests in times of trial.

When the international reaction to one of the terror attacks against us seemed too conciliatory to him, he appealed to the international community and said the following: "Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when enlightened democracies in Europe decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a convenient temporary solution. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense. We will not tolerate it". End quote.

Arik understood that when it came to our existence and our security, we must stand firm. These are principles that we continue to safeguard. The State of Israel will continue to fight terrorism; the State of Israel will continue to strive for peace while preserving its security; and the State of Israel will make every effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Ariel Sharon will go down in history as one of Israel’s greatest military leaders and one of the greatest fighters for the people of Israel in their land.

Arik, the people of Israel bid you farewell today. Your unique contribution to Israel’s security is etched on the pages of our nation’s history. May your memory be forever cherished in the heart of this nation.

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 Ariel Sharon 1928-2014

 Copyright: Reuters

… Like all historic leaders, Prime Minister Sharon was a complex man about whom, as you’ve already heard from his colleagues, who engendered strong opinions from everyone. But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a North Star that guided him – a North Star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His North Star was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, wherever they resided.

In talking about his spiritual attachment to the land of Israel back in an interview in the late ‘90s, he said, and I quote, “Before and above all else, I am a Jew. My thinking is dominated by the Jews’ future in 30 years, in 300 years, in a thousand years. That’s what preoccupies and interests me first and foremost.”  And because he possessed such incredible physical courage – and I would add political courage – he never, never, never deviated from that preoccupation and interest, as he referred to it. It was his life’s work that even someone on the shores hundreds of – thousands of miles from here could see, could smell, could taste, could feel, and when you were in his presence there was never, never any doubt about it.

The physical courage he had to lead men straight into enemy lines and deep behind them. I remember, as a young senator, that iconic picture of him with that bandage around his head, standing there after a decisive victory, which seemed to symbolize, as Bibi – as the Prime Minister said, an Israel that had reclaimed its roots of standing up and fighting, needing no help, standing on its own. The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza in order, from his perspective, to strengthen Israel. I can’t think of much more controversial; as a student of the Jewish state, I can’t think of a much more difficult and controversial decision that’s been made. But he believed it and he did it.

The security of his people was always Arik’s unwavering mission, an unbreakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now. We have an expression in the States:  never in doubt. Arik was never uncertain from my observation. I don’t know him nearly as well as the Israeli people and his colleagues, but he seemed never in doubt. But there were times when he acted, and those actions earned him controversy and even condemnation. And in certain instances, American leaders – American Presidents – had profound differences with him, and they were never shy about stating them nor was he ever shy about stating his position. As I said, from my observation he was a complex man, but to understand him better I think it’s important history will judge he also lived in complex times, in a very complex neighborhood….

Prime Minister Sharon was not only loved by the Jewish people, he not only loved them – the Jewish people – but he loved the land of Israel. Not just the idea of it, but the actual land itself. Born on a farm, about to be buried on a farm, a ranch, I remember one of the meetings I had with him. It was a somewhat heated, and he had his maps. And he spread them out in his office again. And I somewhat irreverently said, Mr. Prime Minister – I said, do you want me to do it, or are you going to do it? Because I had heard his presentation many times. And in the midst of it, he looked at me, and he said, let me tell you about the new calf that I just got on my ranch. And he started talking about a calf.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Book of Genesis says, “Arise and walk the length and breadth of the land.”  Arik Sharon did just that. He tilled it as a farmer. He fought for it as a soldier. He knew every hilltop and valley – every inch of the land. As I said, he loved his maps. He used to come to the meetings with maps of the land rolled up under each arm. There were always maps.

I’m reminded – if you’ll forgive me – of an Irish poet, an Irish writer. I’m sure Prime Minister Blair will forgive me. That Irish writer was James Joyce. And he said, “When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart.”  I am absolutely sure the land of Israel, the Negev is etched in Arik Sharon’s soul as it was written on Joyce’s heart.

And the defining attributes of this great man’s character – passion for the Jewish people, physical and political courage, and love of this land – they have all played out on the canvas of the State of Israel’s historic trajectory.

Arik Sharon’s journey and the journey of the State of Israel are inseparable. They are woven together, in war, in politics, in diplomacy.

Toward the end of his life, he said, I’ve been everywhere. I’ve met kings, queens, presidents. “I’ve been around the world. I have one thing that I would like to do:  to try to reach peace.” 

We’ll never know what the ultimate arc of Arik Sharon’s life would have been had he been physically able to pursue his stated goal. That will be for historians to speculate and debate. But we do know this:  As prime minister, he surprised many. I’ve been told that, in reflecting on the difference between how he viewed things as a general and as prime minister, he would paraphrase an Israeli song lyric that said, things you see from here, look different from over there. What would have – what would they have looked like had he lived in good health and led those eight years?

He left us too soon, but the work of trying to reach peace continues. And to quote Shakespeare:  He was a man, take him all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.

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 Ariel Sharon 1928-2014

 Copyright: IDF Spokesperson

Arik, Commander: you were described by dozens of names and descriptions, but it appears that “Commander’ is the description that best suited you. Here, on the hill where the first flowers of the season will bloom, we can remember in complete clarity the commander you were, despite the many years that passed from when you last wore a military uniform.

I too have come to salute you, as the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, as a combat soldier, as a commander in the Paratroopers Battalion and in the IDF. The IDF that followed in your path, long after you no longer had ranks adorning your shoulders.

I have come to tell you, that the military that defends the Jewish people, that was so dear to you, will continue to do so, in your image and with your vision, for many more years.

Pragmatism and boldness, creativity that leads to action, and determination are the guiding principles of commanders and leaders, traits that you embodied and made clear to your soldiers, and traits that should be taught in every school for military leadership.

In all your years as a commander and leader, these are the values that led you. These are also the traits that, in my view, are required of every commander in the IDF. You knew how to choose the best soldiers, the bravest of the brave, the future generation who became the most trusted, celebrated and senior symbols of the IDF – with your sweeping leadership, standing in front of them all.

In a discussion with commanders more than a decade ago, you said: “I remember situations in which everyone around me lost hope, situations that were described as the destruction of the Third Temple. As a commander, in these situations I looked down, not above, into the eyes of the warriors around me. From their eyes I knew we had strength. That we had hope. That we would win.”

These are words that can only be said by a commander who understands the significance of his mission and knows that he has no greater weapon than the people he leads.

Army identity number 38166, Major General Ariel Sharon, warrior, commander and general, in the name of generations of soldiers past, present and future, I salute you. May your memory be blessed.