An ex-general, Yitzhak Ben-Israel, told me yesterday: "He was an Imperator!" I find this a very apt description.
Like a Roman imperator, Sharon was a supreme being, admired and feared, generous and cruel, genial and treacherous, hedonistic and corrupt, a victorious general and a war criminal, quick to make decisions and unwavering once he had made them, overcoming all obstacles by sheer force of personality.
One could not meet him without being struck by the sense of power he emanated. Power was his element.
He believed that destiny had chosen him to lead Israel. He did not think so -- he knew. For him, his personal career and the fate of Israel were one and the same. Therefore, anyone who tried to block him was a traitor to Israel. He despised everyone around him -- from Begin down to the last politician and general.
His character was formed in his early childhood in Kfar Malal, a communal village which belonged to the Labor party. His mother, Vera, managed the family farm with an iron will, quarreling with all the neighbors, the village institutions and the party. When little Arik was injured in a fall on a pitchfork, she did not take him to the village clinic, which she hated, but put him on a donkey and led him for several kilometers to a doctor in Kfar Saba.
When rumor had it that the Arabs in neighboring villages were planning an attack, little Arik was hidden in a haystack.
Later in life, when his mother (who still managed the farm) visited his new ranch and saw a low wall with holes for irrigation, she exclaimed: "Ah, you have embrasures! Very good, you can shoot through them at the Arabs!"
How could a poor army officer acquire the largest ranch in the country? Simple: he got it as a gift from an Israeli-American billionaire, with the help of the finance minister. Several dubious large deals with other billionaires followed.
SHARON WAS the most typical Israeli one could imagine, embodying the saying (to which I modestly claim authorship): "If force does not work, try more force."
I was therefore very surprised when he came out in favor of the law dispensing with the military service of tens of thousands of orthodox youngsters. "How can you?" I asked him. His answer: "I am first of all a Jew, and only after that an Israeli!" I told him that for me it was the other way round.
Ideologically, he was the pupil and successor of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, leaders who believed in military force and in expanding the territory of Israel without limit. His military career started for real in the 1950s when Moshe Dayan put him in charge of an unofficial outfit called Unit 101, which was sent across the border to kill and destroy, in retaliation for similar actions committed by Arabs. His most famous exploit was the massacre of Qibya village in 1953, when 49 innocent villagers were buried under the houses which he blew up.
Later, when requested to put an end to "terrorism" in Gaza, he killed every Arab who was caught with arms. When I later asked him about killing prisoners, he answered: "I did not kill prisoners. I did not take prisoners!"
At the beginning of his career as commander he was a bad general. But from war to war he improved. Unusual for a general, he learned from his mistakes. In the 1973 war he was already considered the equal of Erwin Rommel and George Patton. It also became known that between the battles he gorged himself on seafood, which is not kosher.
THE MAIN endeavor of his life was the settlement enterprise. As army officer, politician and successively chief of half a dozen different ministries, his central effort was always to plan and set up settlements in the occupied territories.
He did not care whether they were legal or illegal under Israeli law (all of them, of course, are illegal under international law, for which he did not give a damn).
He planned their location, with the aim of cutting the West Bank into ribbons which would make a Palestinian state impossible. Then he rammed it through the cabinet and the ministries. Not for nothing was he nicknamed "the Bulldozer."