Ariel Sharon

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Ariel Sharon
אֲרִיאֵל שָׁר‏וֹן
Ariel Sharon

11th Prime Minister of Israel
In office
March 7, 2001 –  April 14, 2006
(incapacitated from January 4, 2006)
Deputy Ehud Olmert
Preceded by Ehud Barak
Succeeded by Ehud Olmert

Born February 27, 1928
Kfar Malal, British Mandate of Palestine
Political party Kadima (formerly Likud)
Spouse Margalit Sharon (d. 1962);
Lily Sharon (d. 2000)

Ariel Sharon  (Hebrew: אֲרִיאֵל שָׁר‏וֹן, also known by his diminutive Arik אָרִיק) (born February 27, 1928) is a former Israeli politician and general.

He served as Prime Minister of Israel from March 2001 until April 2006, though the powers of his office were exercised by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert following Sharon's massive stroke on January 4, 2006. He fell into a coma, and has not regained consciousness.

During his lengthy career, Sharon was a highly controversial figure among many factions, both inside and outside Israel. His supporters view him as a leader who strove to establish peace without sacrificing Israel's security. Many Israelis likewise consider him a war hero who helped defend the country during some of its greatest struggles. Some of his critics have sought to prosecute him as a war criminal for alleged crimes related to the Sabra and Shatila massacre during the 1982 Lebanon War, for which the Kahan Commission held him both 'indirectly' and 'personally' responsible. While no Israelis participated in the massacre, the investigation found that Sharon was personally responsible due to negligence and complacency. Sharon was dismissed as Defense Minister as a result. Nevertheless, Sharon remained a leading figure in the Likud Party, and held various senior cabinet and party posts, ultimately becoming party leader in 1999 and Prime Minister in 2001.

During his tenure as Prime Minister, Sharon's policies caused a rift within the Likud Party, and Sharon ultimately left Likud to form a new party called Kadima. He became the first Prime Minister of Israel who did not belong to either Labor or Likud — the two parties that have traditionally dominated Israeli politics. The new party created by Sharon, with Olmert having stepped in as its leader, won the most Knesset seats in the 2006 elections, and is now the senior coalition partner in the Israeli government.

Early life

Sharon was born Ariel Scheinermann to Shmuel and Dvora (formerly Vera) in Kfar Malal. His family immigrated to the British Palestine Mandate from Russia, fleeing the Red Army. Sharon's father spoke Yiddish and his mother spoke Russian, and Sharon learned to speak Russian as a young boy.

The family arrived in the Second Aliyah and settled in a socialist, secular community where, despite being Mapai supporters, they were known to be contrarians against the prevailing community consensus:

The Scheinermans' eventual ostracism... followed the 1933 Arlozorov murder when Dvora and Shmuel refused to endorse the Labor movement's anti-Revisionist calumny and participate in Bolshevi(k)-style public revilement rallies, then the order of the day. Retribution was quick to come. They were expelled from the local health-fund clinic and village synagogue. The cooperative's truck wouldn't make deliveries to their farm nor collect produce.

In 1942 at the age of 14, Sharon joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion, and later the Haganah, the underground paramilitary force and the Jewish military precursor to the Israel Defense Forces. At the creation of Israel (and Haganah's transformation into the Israel Defense Forces), Sharon was a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade. He was severely wounded in the groin by the Jordanian Arab Legion in the Second Battle of Latrun, an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the besieged Jewish community of Jerusalem. His injuries eventually healed.

In September 1949, Sharon was promoted to company commander (of the Golani Brigade's reconnaissance unit) and in 1950 to intelligence officer for Central Command. He then took leave to begin studies in history and Middle Eastern culture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A year and a half later, he was asked to return to active service in the rank of major and as the leader of the new Unit 101, Israel's first special forces unit.

Unit 101 undertook a series of military raids against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states that helped bolster Israeli morale and fortify its deterrent image. The unit was known for targeting civilians as well as Arab soldiers, notably in the widely condemned Qibya operation in the fall of 1953, in which 69 Palestinian civilians, some of them children, were killed by Sharon's troops in a reprisal attack on their West Bank village. In the documentary Israel and the Arabs: 50 Year War, Ariel Sharon recalls what happened after the raid, which was heavily condemned by many Western nations, including the U.S.:

I was summoned to see Ben-Gurion. It was the first time I met him, and right from the start Ben-Gurion said to me: "Let me first tell you one thing: it doesn't matter what the world says about Israel, it doesn't matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won't survive."

Shortly afterwards, just a few months after its founding, Unit 101 was merged into the 202nd Paratroopers Brigade (IDF) (Sharon eventually became the latter's commander), which continued to attack military and civilian targets, culminating with the attack on the Qalqilyah police station in autumn of 1956.

As reflected in the above-mentioned episode, Sharon -- while formally no more than a middle-ranking officer at the rank of Rav Seren (Major) -- had direct access to the Prime Minister as well as to then-Army Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, bypassing the normal chain of command.

Ben Gurion and Dayan, as well as Sharon himself, were well aware that the actions of his commando unit had a significant role in shaping Israel's relations with its neighbors, and that such raids could become the subject of headlines in the international press and debates in the UN.

Perforce, Sharon was already at this stage of his career involved in strategic considerations which are normally the province of senior officers and of the political echelon. Moreover, historians often point to this period as shaping Sharon's habit of acting on his own judgment and ignoring or circumventing the instructions of his direct superiors.

Sharon has been widowed twice. Shortly after becoming a military instructor, he married his first wife, Margalit, with whom he had a son, Gur. Margalit died in a car accident in May 1962. Their son, Gur, died in October 1967 after a friend shot him while they were playing with a rifle. After Margalit's death, Sharon married her younger sister, Lily. They had two sons, Omri and Gil'ad. Lily Sharon died of cancer in 2000.

Mitla incident

In the 1956 Suez War (the British " Operation Musketeer"), Sharon commanded the 202nd Brigade, and was responsible for taking ground east of the Sinai's Mitla Pass and eventually taking the pass itself. Having successfully carried out the first part of his mission (joining a battalion parachuted near Mitla with the rest of the brigade moving on ground), Sharon's unit was deployed near the pass. Neither reconnaissance aircraft nor scouts reported enemy forces inside the Mitla Pass. Sharon, whose forces were initially heading east, away from the pass, reported to his superiors that he was increasingly concerned with the possibility of an enemy thrust through the pass, which could attack his brigade from the flank or the rear.

Sharon asked for permission to attack the pass several times, but his requests were denied although he was allowed to check its status so that if the pass was empty, he could receive permission to take it later. Sharon sent a small scout force, which was met with heavy fire and became bogged down due to vehicle malfunction in the middle of the pass. Sharon ordered the rest of his troops to attack in order to aid their comrades. In the ensuing successful battle to capture the pass, 38 Israeli soldiers were killed.

Sharon was not only criticized by his superiors, he was damaged by revelations several years later by several former subordinates (one of IDF's first major revelations to the press), who claimed that Sharon tried to provoke the Egyptians and sent out the scouts in bad faith, ensuring that a battle would ensue. Deliberate or not, the attack was considered strategically reckless because the Egyptian forces were expected to withdraw from the pass in the following one or two days.

Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War

The Mitla incident hindered Sharon's military career for several years. In the meantime, he occupied the position of an infantry brigade commander and received a law degree from Tel Aviv University. When Yitzhak Rabin (who within a few years became associated with the Labor Party) became Chief of Staff in 1964, however, Sharon began again to rise rapidly in the ranks, occupying the positions of Infantry School Commander and Head of Army Training Branch, eventually achieving the rank of Major General ( Aluf). In the 1967 Six-Day War, Sharon commanded the most powerful armored division on the Sinai front which made a breakthrough in the Kusseima-Abu-Ageila fortified area. In 1969, he was appointed the Head of IDF's Southern Command. He had no further promotions before retiring in August 1973. Soon after, he joined the right-wing Likud ("Unity") political party.

Sharon's military career was not over, however. At the start of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, Sharon was called back to duty and assigned to command a reserve armored division. His forces did not engage the Egyptian Army immediately, but it was Sharon who helped locate a breach between the Egyptian forces, which he then exploited by capturing a bridgehead on October 16 and throwing a bridge across the Suez Canal the following day. He violated orders from the head of Southern Command by exploiting this success to cut the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army, located to the south of the canal crossing, isolating it from other Egyptian units.

The divisions of Sharon and Abraham Adan (Bren) passed over this bridge into Africa advancing to within 101 kilometers of Cairo. They wreaked havoc on the supply lines of the Third Army stretching to the south of them, cutting off and encircling the Third Army, but could not force its surrender before the ceasefire*. Tensions between the two generals followed his decision, but a military tribunal later found his action was militarily effective. This move was regarded by many Israelis as the turning point of the war in the Sinai front. Thus, Sharon is viewed by some as a war hero who saved Israel from defeat in Sinai. A photo of Sharon wearing a head bandage on the Suez Canal became a famous symbol of Israeli military prowess.

Sharon's aggressive political positions were controversial and he was relieved of duty in February 1974.

Beginnings of political career

In the 1940s and 1950s he seemed to be personally devoted to the ideals of Mapai (Workers Party of the Land of Israel), the predecessor of the modern Labor Party. However, after retiring from military service, Sharon was instrumental in establishing the Likud in July 1973. The Likud was comprised of Herut (Freedom), the Liberal Party and independent elements. Sharon became chairman of the campaign staff for the elections which were scheduled for November 1973. But two and a half weeks after the start of the election campaign, the Yom Kippur War erupted and Sharon was called back to reserve service (see above). In December 1973 Sharon was elected to the Knesset, but a year later he was tired of political life and resigned.

From June 1975 to March 1976, Sharon was a special aide to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. With the 1977 elections near, Sharon tried to return to the Likud and replace Menachem Begin at the head of the party. He suggested to Simkha Erlikh, who headed the Liberal Party bloc in the Likud, that he was more fitting than Begin to win an election victory; but he was rejected. Following this he tried to join the Labor Party and the centrist Dash, but was rejected in those parties too. Only then did he form his own list, Shlomtzion, which won only two Knesset seats in the subsequent elections. Immediately after the elections he merged Shlomtzion with the Likud and became Minister of Agriculture.

When Sharon joined Begin's government he had relatively little political experience. During this period, Sharon supported the Gush Emunim settlements movement and was viewed as the patron of the messianic settlers' movement. He used his position to encourage the establishment of a network of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to prevent the possibility of the return of these territories to Palestinian Arabs. Sharon doubled the number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip during his tenure.

On his settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party: "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Judean) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours... Everything we don't grab will go to them." (Agence France Presse, 15 November 1998.)

After the 1981 elections, Begin rewarded Sharon for his important contribution to Likud's narrow win, by appointing him Minister of Defense.

Sabra and Shatila massacre

During the 1982 Lebanon War, while Ariel Sharon was Defense minister, the Sabra and Shatila massacre took place, in which between 460 and 3,500 Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges -- Lebanese Maronite Christian militias. The Security Chief of the Phalange militia, a Lebanese himself, Elie Hobeika, was the ground commander of the militiamen who entered the Palestinian camps and killed the Palestinians. The Phalange had been sent into the camps to clear out PLO fighters, and Israeli forces had been sent to the camps at Sharon's command to provide them with logistical support and to guard camp exits. The incident led some of Sharon's critics to refer to him as "the Butcher of Beirut".

The Kahan Commission found the Israeli Defence Forces indirectly responsible for the massacre and charged Sharon with "personal responsibility." It recommended in early 1983 the removal of Sharon from his post as Defense minister. In their recommendations and closing remarks, the commission stated:

We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense [Ariel Sharon] bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office - and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which "the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office."

An AP report on 15 September 1982 stated:

Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement, tied the killing [of the Phalangist leader Gemayel] to the PLO, saying: "It symbolises the terrorist murderousness of the PLO terrorist organisations and their supporters." Habib Chartouni, a Lebanese Christian from the Syrian Socialist National Party confessed to the murder of Gemayel, and no Palestinians were involved. Sharon had used this to instigate the entrance of the Lebanese militias into the camps.

Sharon was dismissed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin but he remained in successive governments as a Minister.

In its February 21, 1983, issue, Time published a story implying Sharon was directly responsible for the massacres. Sharon sued Time for libel in American and Israeli courts. Although the jury concluded that the Time story included false allegations, they found that Time had not acted with "actual malice" and did not award any damages.

On June 18, 2001, relatives of the victims of the Sabra massacre began proceedings in Belgium to have Ariel Sharon indicted on war crimes charges. In June 2002, a Brussels Appeals Court rejected the lawsuit because the law was subsequently changed under heavy U.S. pressure to disallow such lawsuits unless a Belgian citizen is involved.

Political downturn and recovery

After being dismissed from the Defense Minister post because the Kahan Commission found him "personally responsible" for his "disregard of the danger of a massacre," Sharon remained in successive governments as a Minister without portfolio (1983—1984), Minister for Trade and Industry (1984—1990), and Minister for Housing Construction (1990—1992). During this period he was a rival to then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, but failed in various bids to replace him as chairman of the ruling Likud party. Their rivalry reached a head on the "Night of Microphones" in February 1990, when Sharon snapped the microphone from Shamir, who was addressing the Likud central committee, and famously exclaimed: "Who's for wiping out terrorism?". The implication was that only Sharon knew how to destroy the scourge and whoever deemed this as important should support him. The incident was widely viewed as an apparent putsch attempt against Shamir's leadership of the party.

In Benjamin Netanyahu's 1996–1999 government, he was Minister of National Infrastructure (1996—1998), and Foreign Minister (1998—1999). Upon the election of the Barak Labor government, Sharon became leader of the Likud party. After the collapse of Barak's government, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.

Prime Minister

Ariel Sharon was allegedly involved in the Greek island affair related to attempts by David Appel to purchase an island near the coast of Athens for the purpose of building a multimillion-dollar resort complex. The charge against Sharon was dropped in 2004.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, United States President George W. Bush, and Ariel Sharon after reading statement to the press during the closing moments of the Red Sea Summit in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, United States President George W. Bush, and Ariel Sharon after reading statement to the press during the closing moments of the Red Sea Summit in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003.

According to the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon has followed an aggressive policy of non-negotiation. Palestinians allege that the al-Aqsa Intifada (September 2000-February 2005) was sparked by a visit by Sharon and an escort of several hundred policemen to the Temple Mount complex, site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. Sharon's visit, prior to his election as Prime Minister, came after archeologists claimed that extensive building operations at the site were destroying priceless antiquities and a few months before the election. While visiting the site, Sharon declared that the complex would remain under perpetual Israeli control. Palestinian commentators accused Sharon of purposely inflaming emotions with the event to provoke a violent response and obstruct success of delicate ongoing peace talks.

Sharon's supporters claim that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority planned the intifada months prior to Sharon's visit. They state that Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub provided assurances that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. They also often quote statements by Palestinian Authority officials, particularly Imad Falouji, the P.A. Communications Minister, who admitted months after Sharon's visit that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon's visit, stating the intifada "was carefully planned since the return of (Palestinian President) Yasser Arafat from Camp David negotiations rejecting the U.S. conditions". According to the Mitchell Report, the government of Israel asserted that

President George W. Bush, center, discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003.
President George W. Bush, centre, discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003.
the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on 25 July 2000 and the “widespread appreciation in the international community of Palestinian responsibility for the impasse.” In this view, Palestinian violence was planned by the PA leadership, and was aimed at “provoking and incurring Palestinian casualties as a means of regaining the diplomatic initiative.”

The Mitchell Report, based on a subsequent investigation, also found that the Sharon visit did not cause the Al-Aqsa Intifada, though it was poorly timed and would clearly have a provocative effect.

Palestinians doubt the existence of popular support for Sharon's actions. Polls published in the media, as well as the 140% call-up of reservists (as opposed to the 60% in regular periods) seem to indicate that the Israeli public is quite supportive of Sharon's policies. A survey conducted by Tel Aviv University's Jaffe Centre in May 2004 found that 80% of Jewish Israelis believe that the Israel Defense Forces have succeeded in militarily countering the Al-Aqsa Intifada, indicating widespread faith in Sharon's hard-line policy.

President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon meet in the White House on 14 April 2004.
President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon meet in the White House on 14 April 2004.

On July 20, 2004, Sharon called on French Jews to emigrate from France to Israel immediately, in light of an increase in French anti-Semitism (94 anti-Semitic assaults reported in the first six months of 2004 compared to 47 in 2003). France has the third largest Jewish population (about 600,000 people), after the United States and Israel. Sharon claimed that an "unfettered anti-Semitism" reigned in France. The French government responded by describing his comments as "unacceptable", as did the French representative Jewish organization CRIF, which denied Sharon's claim of intense anti-Semitism in French society. An Israeli spokesperson later claimed that Sharon had been misunderstood. France then postponed a visit by Sharon. Upon his visit, both Sharon and Chirac were described as showing a willingness to put the issue behind them.

On July 26, 2005, Israeli attorney general Menachem Mazuz announced that he would indict Sharon's son, Omri, on charges of corruption. Omri had parliamentary immunity at the time, but indicated willingness to stand trial. The Knesset passed a law limiting members' immunity in order to allow the indictment and Omri was formally indicted on August 28.

Unilateral disengagement

While some believe that his recent efforts have been damaging to the peace process, he has embarked on a bold course of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, while maintaining control of its coastline and airspace. It has been welcomed by both the Palestinian Authority and the left-wing in Israel, as well as by many abroad, including the United States and the European Union, as a step towards a final peace settlement. However, it has been greeted with opposition from within his own Likud party and from other right-wing Israelis, on security, military, and religious grounds. Other detractors have publicly distrusted Sharon's motives for this plan, and their suspicions were further roused after publication of an interview with top Sharon aide Dov Weisglass in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on October 8, 2004, in which he explained Israel's motivation for withdrawing from Gaza. He told the newspaper that both Israel and the US felt Palestinian terrorism must end before a political process leading to a Palestinian state begins. Otherwise, Weisglass said, "the result would be a Palestinian state with terrorism..." The Gaza withdrawal would allow Israel to delay negotiations, and a Palestinian state, until such time that their leadership abandons violence. Critics interpreted Weisglass' comments as saying the purpose of disengagement was to destroy Palestinian aspirations for a state for years to come. This incident has been interpretated by critics that Sharon was intentionally trying to destroy the peace process, an accusation denied by the Prime Minister's camp.

On December 1, 2004, Sharon dismissed five ministers from the Shinui party for voting against the government's 2005 budget. In January 2005 Sharon formed a national unity government that included representatives of Likud, Labor, and Meimad and Degel HaTorah as "out-of-government" supporters without any seats in the government ( Haredi parties usually reject having ministerial offices as a policy). Between August 16 and August 30, 2005, Sharon controversially expelled 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza. Once it became clear that the evictions were definitely going ahead a group of extreme right-wing Rabbis, led by Rabbi Yosef Dayan placed an ancient curse on him known as the Pulsa diNura, calling on the Angel of Death to intervene and kill him. After Israeli soldiers bulldozed every settlement structure except for several former synagogue buildings, Israeli soldiers formally left Gaza on Sunday, September 11, 2005 and closed the border fence at Kissufim. The synagogues were later looted and burned to the ground by Palestinians. While his decision to withdraw from Gaza sparked bitter protests from members of the Likud party and the settler movement, opinion polls showed that it was a popular move among most of the Israeli electorate. On September 27, 2005, Sharon narrowly defeated a leadership challenge by a 52-48% vote. The move was initiated within the central committee of the governing Likud party by his main rival, Binyamin Netanyahu, who had left the cabinet to protest Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza. The measure was an attempt by Netanyahu to call an early primary in November 2005 to choose the party's leader.

Founding of Kadima

On November 21, 2005, Sharon resigned as head of Likud, and dissolved parliament to form a new centre-left party called Kadima ("Forward"). November polls indicated that Sharon was likely to be returned to the prime ministership. On December 20, 2005, Sharon's longtime rival Benjamin Netanyahu was elected his successor as leader of Likud. Following Sharon's incapacitation, Ehud Olmert replaced Sharon as Kadima's leader. Netanyahu, along with Labor's Amir Peretz, were Kadima's chief rivals in the March 2006 elections.

In the elections, which saw Israel's lowest-ever voter turnout, Kadima received the most Knesset seats, followed by Labor. The new governing coalition installed in May 2006 includes Kadima, with Olmert as Prime Minster, Labor (including Peretz as Defense Minster), the Gil (Pensioner's) Party and the Shas religious party.


Sharon was hospitalized on December 18, 2005 after reportedly suffering a minor ischemic stroke. Sharon spent several days in the hospital before being released. During his hospital stay, he was also diagnosed with a minor hole in his atrial septum and was scheduled to undergo a cardiac catheterization on January 5, 2006. Despite stern medical advice to the contrary, Sharon immediately returned to work.

On January 4, however, Sharon suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke at his ranch Havat Hashikmim, in the Negev region. He was transported by ambulance to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem to undergo brain surgery. Although Sharon was reportedly in stable condition, his doctors called the stroke "significant", adding that he "suffered a cerebral hemorrhage", or bleeding in the brain. Sharon underwent seven hours of surgery to stop the bleeding and drain the accumulated blood. Hadassah Director Shlomo Mor-Yosef reported after the surgery that the bleeding had stopped, saying that "all the parameters are according to expectations after an operation of this type." However, now comatose, Sharon's chances for recovery are estimated as "very low".

While the hospital was preparing announcements of his death, members of the media incorrectly reported that Sharon had already died. Nevertheless, Sharon's family and advisors urged his physicians to try once again to save his life.

On the night of Sharon's stroke, in the wake of his serious illness and following consultations between Government Secretary Israel Maimon and Attorney General Meni Mazouz, Sharon was declared "temporarily incapable of discharging his powers". As a result, Ehud Olmert, the Deputy Prime Minister, was officially confirmed as the Acting Prime Minister of Israel. Olmert and the Cabinet announced that the elections would take place on March 28 as scheduled.

During the rest of January, Sharon's condition remained essentially unchanged. On February 11, he underwent an operation to investigate damage to his digestive tract. It was found that he was suffering from intestinal bleeding and life-threatening necrosis, and about 50 cm of his intestines were consequently removed. On February 22, he underwent an additional procedure to drain excess fluid from his stomach, discovered during a routine CT scan.

According to Israeli law, an Acting Prime Minister can remain in office 100 days after the Prime Minister has become incapacitated. After 100 days, the Israeli President must appoint a new Prime Minister.

At the time of his stroke, Sharon enjoyed considerable support from the general public in Israel. The new centrist political party that he founded, Kadima, won the largest number of seats in the Knesset elections held on March 28, 2006. (Since Sharon was unable to sign a nomination form, he was not a candidate and therefore ceased to be a Knesset member.)

On April 6, President of Israel Moshe Katsav formally asked Olmert to form a government, making him Prime Minister-Designate. Olmert had an initial period of 28 days to form a governing coalition, with a possible two-week extension.

On April 11, 2006, the Israeli Cabinet deemed that Sharon was incapacitated. Although Sharon's replacement was to be named within 100 days of his becoming incapacitated, the replacement deadline was extended due to the Jewish festival of Passover. A provision was made that, should Sharon's condition improve between April 11 and April 14, the declaration would not take effect. Therefore, the official declaration took effect on April 14, formally ending Sharon's term as Prime Minister and making Ehud Olmert the country's new Prime Minister.

Medical experts reported that Sharon's cognitive abilities were destroyed by the massive stroke, and that he is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) with extremely slim chances of regaining consciousness. Although the Israeli press (Yediot) reported that Sharon had opened his eyes several times, doctors were quick to note that that was not unusual with comatose patients.

On May 28, 2006, Sharon was transferred from the hospital in Jerusalem to a long-term care unit of the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel HaShomer, a large civilian and military hospital. Ha'aretz reported that this move was an indication that Sharon's doctors did not expect him to emerge from his coma in the foreseeable future. Dr. Yuli Krieger, a physician not involved in Sharon's case, told Israel Radio on Sunday that the chances of waking up after such a lengthy coma were small. "Every day that passes after this kind of event with the patient still unconscious the chances that he will gain consciousness get smaller," said Krieger, Deputy Head of Levinstein House, another long-term care facility.

On July 23, 2006, CNN reported that his condition was deteriorating and his kidney function was worsening . On July 26, 2006 doctors moved him to intensive care and began hemofiltration. On August 14, 2006 doctors reported that Sharon's condition worsened significantly and that he was suffering from pneumonia in both lungs. On August 29, doctors reported that he had been successfully treated for his pneumonia and moved out of intensive care back to the long-term care unit .

On November 3, 2006, it was reported that Sharon has been admitted to intensive care after contracting an infection, though doctors insisted that his condition was 'stable'.

On November 6, 2006, it was reported that Sharon has been moved out of an intensive care unit after treatment for a heart infection. "His heart function has improved after being treated for an infection and his overall condition has stabilised,".

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