Israeli soldier and statesman; Prime Minister (2001–06). He served in the Israeli army from the foundation of the state until 1973, playing a central role in the Yom Kippur War. First elected to the Knesset in 1973, he became Minister of Agriculture in the Likud government in 1977. Throughout his political career Sharon was a controversial figure noted for his hardline stance on security issues. As Defence Minister from 1981 he was responsible for the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, but was removed from office in 1983 following criticism over massacres of Palestinian refugees by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies. He subsequently served in a series of ministerial positions including Minister of Foreign Affairs (1998–99). He became leader of the Likud party after it lost the 1999 elections. In 2000 he visited the compound of the al-Aqsa mosque, a move that angered Palestinian opinion and sparked the second intifada. In the subsequent crisis Likud won the 2001 elections and Sharon became Prime Minister. At first his government responded to the intifada with great severity, reoccupying large parts of the West Bank. However, in 2004 he announced plans for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as part of a unilateral attempt to impose a settlement. This was carried out in 2005, but strong opposition led Sharon to split with Likud and form a new party, Kadima, to contest the 2006 elections. However, in January 2006 he was incapacitated by a stroke that placed him in a long-term coma. His functions were immediately taken over by Ehud Olmert, although Sharon officially remained Prime Minister until the following April.
Subjects: World History — Contemporary History (Post 1945).