By LAHAV HARKOV
Ariel Sharon. Photo: ReutersFigures from all parts of the political spectrum paid tribute to former prime minister Ariel Sharon Saturday night.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who replaced Sharon after he fell into a coma in 2006, called him “one of the greatest soldiers and fighters for the State of Israel before and after its establishment.”
“Sharon spent his whole life in the line of fire, in the place where the State of Israel’s fate was decided. In the beginning of his life it was the military line of fire, and later it was the diplomatic line of fire.”
Olmert said he personally missed Sharon over the last eight years and the whole country will continue to miss him in the future.
“Sharon wasn’t an ideologue and didn’t claim to be. He had a clear sense of reality,” Olmert told Army Radio. “He was a man of action and pushed things as far as possible, but knew when to stop. He knew how to adjust to match changing realities; he was very practical.”
Sharon’s leadership was marked by his ability to make decisions, Olmert added.
“He made great mistakes, but was also a partner in Israel’s greatest achievements,” Olmert stated.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that, as prime minister, Sharon was “a soldier, a brave warrior, a commander, a leader and a farmer with roots deep in the Land of Israel’s soil.”
“In Sharon’s body beat a Jewish heart that was concerned about the Jewish people around the world. He was a prime minister who became a great father of a great nation, a father who made us feel secure.
And more than anything else, Arik was a man that I loved,” Livni added.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, who was finance minister and foreign minister under Sharon, called Sharon “a hero of Israel and one of the greatest leaders of our nation in recent generations.”
“He built a military defensive shield and a socioeconomic defensive shield by building along and across our land,” Shalom said.
“The State of Israel owes Sharon the fighter, commander, statesman and man of the Negev a great debt. I valued and respected him.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Sharon was “unstoppable in his readiness to carry the nation’s burden in all areas, on every front, in any situation and at all times.”
Edelstein, one of the first Likud MKs to rebel against Sharon after he announced his plan to evacuate Israelis from Gaza and northern Samaria, admitted he completely disagreed with Sharon’s position, but respected the former prime minister’s accomplishments in the IDF and politics.
Responding to news of Sharon’s death, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the former premier was “first and foremost an extraordinary military leader and one of the designers of the IDF, as a military that strives for engagement and a speedy victory over the enemy. He displayed his military leadership in the combat field, in battles against standard militaries and in combating terrorism.”
Ya’alon said Sharon’s life paths are entwined with the history of Israel, describing him as “a man of the land and a son of this country,” adding that he risked his life many times in Israel’s defense.
Despite significant difference of opinion, Ya’alon said, “I’ve always valued his experience and leadership.
The defense minister sent his condolences to Sharon’s sons, Omri and Gilad.
“The security forces, of which Sharon was a full part of and headed, bow their heads at his departure,” he added.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sharon was a role model for combat soldiers and commanders, adding that his legacy “will continue to accompany us in our work for Israel’s security.”
Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak said Sharon “was always groundbreaking and set high standards for the units he led and for the entire IDF. Sharon was one of the leading commanders in the IDF since its establishment, and set records for his daring and tenacity, which will serve as an example for generations of commanders and fighters.”
Barak called Sharon “a complicated man who was well-read, liked music and had a sarcastic sense of humor.
He was a clear-eyed rival who was patient with those who opposed him and dedicated to his friends.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said “Sharon accompanied the State of Israel from its establishment until he could not anymore and took part in central events that shaped its image,” and added that “Sharon will be remembered, first of all, as a great commander who led many important battles.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett also commended Sharon for his military record, from the establishment of Unit 101 to Operation Defensive Shield, during which Sharon was prime minister.
“Throughout his years, he chose not to react and defend; rather he attacked and created deterrence for which all of Israel owes him,” Bennett stated.
As for the disengagement from Gaza, Bennett said “let’s remember his great actions and leave the disagreements on his legacy for another day.”
Meanwhile, Bayit Yehudi legislators sent conflicting messages about Sharon.
MK Zevulun Kalfa, an evacuee from Gaza, sent condolences to Sharon’s family and called him “an Israeli hero who defended the people and the land for most of his days.”
However, MK Orit Struck said “Sharon was one of the great builders of the Land of Israel, but also one of its great destroyers. He who knew how to defeat terror, but brought a plague of terror to the south.”
“Sharon lived twice,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Facebook, “once as a charming, wild man and once as a responsible adult.”
“He died twice,” Lapid added, “once eight years ago and once again today. May his memory be blessed.”
Education Minister Shai Piron instructed schools to hold discussions of Sharon’s contributions to the country throughout this week. The Education Ministry uploaded to its website lesson plans about Sharon for teachers to use.
According to opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor), “Sharon will be remembered as a great leader. For years, we were in opposing camps, but I value a man who knew how to change his world-view and recognize the correct path for the State of Israel.”
Herzog, housing minister in Sharon’s government, said he was “confident, measured and unafraid to make decisions, even if they were unpopular.
He was a real Zionist who wanted what was best for Israel. Ariel Sharon was a leader with courage.”
MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Labor), who was defense minister under Sharon during the Second intifada, said “Sharon brought back security and quiet to the country and he did not hesitate to make brave decisions.
This is a sad and difficult day and I send my condolences and a hug to his family.”
MK Eli Yishai, who was interior minister in Sharon’s first government, said he will remember Sharon’s “great contributions to building and strengthening the country. Even those who disagreed with his politics cannot ignore his legacy and unique contribution. I had the privilege of knowing him and seeing his special work and devotion and determination up close.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On focused on Sharon’s family, saying she is sure his sons had a difficult time over the past eight years, visiting his hospital bed daily. She did not say anything about his military or political record.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.