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Ariel Sharon is an Israeli military leader and politician who was elected prime minister of the country in 2001, serving until 2006.
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In 1982, Sharon launched a controversial and much-contested invasion of Lebanon. The purpose of this attack was drive out PLO leader Yasser Arafat and his forces in the Beirut, but it led to a decades-long military presence in Lebanon by Israeli troops.
To accomplish his end, Sharon allied himself with pro-Christian factions within Lebanon, and supported a new government that was led by Bachir Gemayel. After Gemayel's assassination,
a militia of Gemayel's supporters attacked the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Sharon had allowed the militia to enter these camps, but he later explained that the militia was supposed to rid them of any remaining terrorists. But, in fact, they went in and indiscriminately killed men, women and children. The Israeli government launched an investigation into the massacres, and found Sharon negligent in how he handled the matter. He was removed from his position in 1983.
While a scandal of that magnitude has destroyed many of a political career, Sharon managed to stay on within the Israeli government. He served as the minister of Industry and Trade from 1984 to 1990. During this time, Sharon was instrumental in signing the 1985 free trade agreement with the United States. He oversaw a tremendous wave of real estate development, as the minister of housing and construction. From 1990 to 1992, Sharon managed the building of 144,000 new apartments, which were created to meet the new needs of the country's growing population. There was a new wave of immigrants coming to Israel from the Soviet Union.
In 1999, Sharon became the chairman of the Likud Party. He made a controversial trip to Jerusalem to visit the Temple Mount, a Jewish holy site that is also home to the al-Aqsa Mosque. This mosque is a revered place for Muslim, and Sharon's presence there in 2000 is considered by some to have helped ignite a new wave of attacks by the Palestinians against the Israelis. In wake of renewed violence, the military hardliner Sharon easily won election as prime minister.
As Israeli's prime minister, Sharon initially seemed to continue his relentless pursuit for security for his country. He launched Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, which was actually a military offensive in several Palestinian areas. Sharon also authorized the construction of protective barriers in certain areas, including the West Bank. As his time in office progressed, he seemed to be shifting away from his militant political position. Sharon began talking about a policy of disengagement with the Palestinians, and seemed to embrace the U.S. "Road Map" for peace between the two sides.
Sharon alienated many of his supporters and his own party members with his call for a withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. This was a radical change of heart for the creator of so many Jewish communities built on disputed territory. Some have speculated that Sharon, a pragmatist at heart, came to realize that holding on to the area had become untenable.
In 2005, Sharon broke with the Likud Party to form a new centrist political group, known as the Kadima Party.
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