Gilad Sharon is the author of a new biography on the life of his father, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “Sharon: The Life of a Leader,” released Tuesday.
Gilad, who is a columnist for an Israeli newspaper, was a close personal confident to his father and often provided him advice, which he says his father would listen to and take seriously. Ariel Sharon was one of Israel’s greatest military commanders and most historic political leaders, culminating in his election as prime minister in 2001. As prime minister, he would transform the Israeli political landscape, pushing through disengagement from Gaza and successfully creating a new centrist party, Kadima. Sharon’s political career ended in 2006 after suffering a debilitating stroke that forced him from the prime minister’s office.
Gilad recently discussed his new book and the legacy of his father with The Daily Caller:
First things first, how is your father? What is his current condition?
My father is currently in the hospital. We visit him each and every day. We have been visiting him every single day — my brother, my wife and myself. Now that I am in [the United States] my brother is covering for me. He is strong, my father is very strong …
When he is asleep, he looks like lord of the manor sleeping. And when he is awake he looks at me, he moves his fingers when I ask him. For me, every little thing like that is a big deal and we hope for the best.
Is he aware when you are there, does he know what is going on around him?
When he is awake, he looks at me, I cannot — I don’t have any scientific proof, and I am not looking for one. I think that he is, you know.
Is there hope that his condition will improve?
I don’t know, I’m not dealing with chances or the percentage of people, you know, it is what it is and we are looking forward for him to get better.
What do you think your father’s legacy is?
My father will always be known as somebody who protected his people as a historical leader, as someone who cared always for Jews in Israel and all over the world. He enjoyed tremendous amount of love, love for him as prime minister across every political boundary. But not only in Israel. I mean, look at what other world leaders said about him. “Visionary leader,” said [former British] Prime Minister [Tony] Blair. “I admired him,” said [former U.S. President George W.] Bush. So this will be his legacy. He will be known. But for me, the most important thing is he’s my father, personal thing. The personal stories which I bring in the book, his presence at home, this is what we’ll miss. His great sense of humor. This is the most important thing for me.
You say in the book that in many ways you were the impetus for the idea of the disengagement from Gaza. How did that come about?
The thing is that we are a very united, close and warm family. I am very proud that my father would listen about what I had to say. But the real thing is to take the decision and execute it. And that was a great act of leadership. At the end of the day it was his decision and his responsibility. But I see no other in those days or even today that would have that leadership. This is something that had to be done. The public in Israel supported it. And he conducted it. And you know what, Arab leaders appreciated his efforts toward peace. As the [former] president of Egypt [Hosni Mubarak] said in December 2004, Sharon is the only chance for peace. That says it all.
Critics look back and say that disengagement was a failure due to Hamas’ takeover and the stream of rocket attacks targeting Israel from Gaza. How do you respond?
We had rockets before. We had rockets since April 16, 2001. It was a few years before. But the difference is, for instance, in 2004 alone, one year before disengagement, before withdrawing from Gaza, we had more rockets than we had after disengagement in 2005 and 2006 together. So that claim is wrong. The thing is that it gave us the possibility to fight the terror from Gaza because while we were there we were considered sovereign, so we couldn’t act against a place we were responsible for. But after withdrawing from Gaza, it gave us the opportunity to act against terror there.
One interesting part of the book is that you list many of the conversations your father had with world leaders after various terror attacks in Israel. The world leaders would call and perfunctorily condemn the attacks before urging restraint, restraint, restraint. Did that ever get on your father’s nerves?
Restraint is very good advice when terror attacks are not in your own country. My father, he was handling those two battles at the same time. The first one was the fight against terror. And the second one was the diplomatic one. He was explaining to other world leaders what Israel was going through. Of course it became easier after Sept. 11 could understand what terror means. In the book I bring the actual transcripts of those meetings and they are very interesting.
Which world leaders did your father most appreciate?
Well, my father had very good relations with leaders all over the world. He had very good connections with Arab leaders. For instance, even before my father was prime minister, he was the only one who was able to free the two Mossad agents that were arrested in Amman, if you remember that incident. [The late Jordanian] King Hussein was willing to speak only with my father about that issue. And he had great relations with Prime Minister Blair, and with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and with President Bush. As President Bush himself told me in the Oval Office when I was invited there in July 2008, “I admired your dad.” I mean, it says it all.
On his father’s relationship with President Bush
President Bush and my father had a special connection, very strong ties. My father visited President Bush twelve times. My father, I think, except for Prime Minister Blair — as far as I know — was the only one that was invited to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas where Bush was driving the pick-up and my father sat beside him and they were touring the ranch [Editor’s note: Several other world leaders visited President Bush at his ranch]. This was the place where my father had a very interesting discovery. He found out that the prime minister of that tiny little country Israel has more cows than the President of the U.S.
What would your father have thought of the so-called Arab Spring?
Well, calling it spring, you know, might be a little bit confusing because spring symbolizes blossom and renewal. Now, we did see elections in Tunisia, but what did we see in Egypt so far? Exit Mubarak, and then you have a military junta so the freedom of speech is even less than it used to be. And Syria, I don’t have to add any words. Or in Saudi Arabia, what are they doing? They are going to let women drive in like 4 – 5 years — maybe they will do that?
So we don’t know what is going to happen. We just don’t know. It might be the same, it might be worse. And we’ve got to be very careful regarding what we give and to whom. And that’s exactly what Prime Minister Blair told me, he told me that, “You’re father led the Israeli approach toward peace.” And in Blair’s words it’s the “tough road for peace,” meaning you cannot rely on your counter-sides’ words, but only on their actions.
Your father helped facilitate hostage exchanges like what we just saw with Gilad Shalit where over 1,000 terrorists were released from Israeli jails in return for one Israeli soldier. How would your father respond to the criticism that negotiating with terrorists only emboldens them and incentivizes more bloodshed?
Look, Shalit was held without any visitors allowed, not even the Red Cross. This is illegal, immoral and not human. Now, you should see how Shalit looks when getting out of the prison and how the Palestinian prisoners look. You can tell the difference. My father was the one who set the rules that became a value for the entire IDF, the Israeli Army: We do not leave our men behind. I would say the source of it is a hot day on May 1948, the Independence War. My father was badly wounded and was left alone on the battlefield. His story of survival that I write on in [the book] is a miracle. There is no other way to define it. But since that day, which was a very significant day for him, he set that rule: we do not leave our men behind.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.