Ariel Sharon: A timeline of a controversial life

A look at the key milestones in the life of Ariel Sharon, from staunch support for Israeli settlements to the watershed Gaza pullout.

Emilio Morenatti / AP
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaks during a press conference at his Jerusalem office on Nov. 21, 2005. This photo was taken shortly after Sharon broke away from Likud to form a new centrist party and push for a snap election, in a politically electrifying gamble that raised hopes for a breakthrough in Middle East peacemaking. He suffered a paralyzing stroke less than two months later.

A towering figure in Israeli politics admired by some and reviled by others, Ariel Sharon has forged a formidable legacy. Below is a look back at his journey from teenage fighter to prime minister. 

1928: Ariel Sharon is born to Russian immigrants in the farming community of Kfar Malal, north of Tel Aviv, in what was then British-controlled Mandatory Palestine.

1942-1948: After joining Hagana - an underground militia charged with defending Jewish settlements that later became a military outfit - at age 14, Sharon attends high school in Tel Aviv and returns to Hagana as a fighter and subsequently an instructor.

1948: Israel declares independence on May 14, precipitating the Arab-Israeli War.

1948-1949: Sharon distinguishes himself in the fighting as a platoon commander. He is severely wounded in the battle for Latrun, a fortress on the road to Jerusalem.   

1953: Palestinian attacks against the newly created state of Israel spur the formation of Unit 101, an elite commando group founded and headed by Sharon to undertake retaliatory cross-border strikes. Sharon and his unit come under heavy criticism for numerous civilian casualties in the attack on Qibya, a village in the West Bank. The unit is subsequently disbanded and merged with a paratrooper brigade.

1958-1967: Sharon rises through the ranks of the Israeli army, winning promotions to major, colonel, infantry brigade commander, and major general by the start of the Six-Day War in 1967, when he commands Israeli forces on the Egyptian front. The war ends with Israel’s capture of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

1971: In response for strikes emanating from the now Israel-controlled Gaza strip, Sharon leads a campaign to crush incipient Palestinian resistance.

1973: Sharon retires from the army at the rank of the chief of staff of the southern command, but is soon called back to service to command a reserve armored division in the Yom Kippur War. He led the crossing of the Suez Canal, disrupting the Egyptian Army's supply routes, in a move that many believe turned the tide of war in Israel's favor. 

1974: Sharon serves for one year in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) on the ticket of Likud, a right-wing political coalition he helped found, but resigns before his term is over.

1975-1976: He serves as Security advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

1977-1981: He serves as Minister of agriculture under Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

1981-1983: Sharon serves as defense minister under Menachem Begin, masterminding Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Following intermittent shelling of northern Israel by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon, Sharon sends the Israeli army to drive out PLO fighters. As the army advanced to Beirut, Israeli-allied Christian militiamen killed hundreds of Palestinians in the city’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. A subsequent Israeli investigation finds Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacre, and he is removed from office in 1983. The invasion gives rise to long-term presence of Israeli forces in Beirut that would persist until 2000.

1984-2001: Sharon mounts a gradual political comeback as the head of several ministries (trade and industry, construction and housing, and national infrastructure) and finally as foreign minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. He maintains staunch support for Israeli settlement policy, overseeing in the early 1990s the biggest wave of development in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel took control of the territories in 1967.

1999: Sharon becomes head of the Likud party after Benjamin Netanyahu loses the general election to Ehud Barak.

2000: While serving as foreign minister, Sharon makes a provocative visit to the disputed Temple Mount in Jerusalem, igniting outrage among Muslims that quickly escalates into what became the second intifada. The continued bloodshed precipitates a political crisis in Israel, forcing Ehud Barak to resign and a new election to be called.

2001: Sharon takes the helm as prime minister after achieving a landslide victory over Barak in a special election.

2002: Israel begins the construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank. Political tumult erupts after all six cabinet ministers belonging to the opposition Labor Party resign from Sharon’s cabinet and the Knesset rejects his 2003 budget. Sharon is forced to call another early election.

2003: After winning reelection as prime minister, Sharon participates in multilateral discussions for the Middle East “road map” in Aqaba, Jordan, with the newly elected Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, President George Bush, and Jordanian King Abdullah II.

February 2005:  Sharon and Mr. Abbas announce a cease-fire at a summit in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, pledging to take mutual steps towards peace.  

August to September 2005: Sharon oversees Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in the face of vehement opposition at home. The Israeli military oversees the evacuation of settlers, forcibly removing those unwilling to leave. 

Nov. 2005: After unrelenting dissent within Likud over Gaza pullout, Sharon resigns as Likud chairman and forms a new political party, Kadima. New elections are called for the following March.

Dec. 2005: Sharon suffers a mild stroke but is able to return to work a few days later.

Jan. 2006: Sharon suffers a massive stroke that leaves him in a coma.




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