Ariel Sharon would be remembered above all as a soldier. He participated in many military operations and held various military positions mostly as a commander of ground units.
In 1953 he led the elite “101” commando outfit. Later on he became the commander of a parachute battalion. In the 1956 war he was the commander of the 202nd parachute brigade. One of his battalions, the 890th, parachuted deep in the Sinai Peninsula, which was the opening stage in the war against Egypt. This landing was more a political move, rather than a military one, since it was supposed to give Britain and France an excuse to attack Egypt. It was a complicated maneuver but Sharon’s part was just to send off his troops in harm’s way. Sharon and almost all the Israeli officers, up and including the head of the southern command, were not aware of many aspects of that war due to the secret alliance between Israel and the two European powers against Egypt.
However, in the 1982 war in Lebanon, Sharon – then a dominant minister of defense – would call all the shots, although his troops in the field would be often confused and ignorant about the real goals of the war.
In the 1956 war Sharon and the rest of his brigade joined the 890th battalion. It was then Sharon got involved in what turned out to be one of the major disputes of his carrier: the battle of the Mitla pass. Sharon was seen as an officer who ignored his superiors. However, he stayed in active military service.
In the 1967 war, as commander of the 38th division Sharon orchestrated the cracking and conquest of a major Egyptian stronghold in north – east Sinai. Sharon’s attack was a combination of airborne assault, armor charge, massive artillery barrage and infantry soldiers who marched 14 kilometers in the sands in order to reach his objectives. This campaign has been considered a masterpiece.
In the 1973 war Sharon commanded the 143rd division, which crossed the Suez Canal in a very costly battle. About 300 troops from His division alone were killed in one night. The 162nd Division, under the command of Avraham Adan also played a major part in that offensive, which turned the tide of the war in favor of Israel on the Egyptian front.
Physically, since he was a junior officer in the 1950s Sharon was a bulky guy, who enjoyed good food. His heavy build became part of his image, but his weight did not stop his rise to the rank of major general and actually contributed to his reputation. He was seen as someone who could not be blocked, which was often true. Although he came from the infantry he was considered to be a human tank.
For many years some Israelis have expressed harsh criticism against his pushy manner, while others cultivated enormous respect for Sharon, even admiration, and they did not care about his chunky appearance. That was true also in the Israeli military, since there were many Israeli officers, including those who came from combat units, who did not maintain their fitness when they became generals. Still Sharon’s physical proportions were quite unique among the top brass of the IDF. It was the same when Sharon entered Israeli politics including serving twice as prime minister.
Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is known among others for his bulky size, which became a growing political issue since he was beginning to be considered as a possible future presidential candidate. Indeed, there was already in the White House a very hefty man, William Howard Taft (1909-1913). Christie might lose many pounds until 2016, but he could wave that by using similar foreign leaders like Sharon.
There are other similarities between those two. Sharon was also known to talk back and quite loud against his opponents, as Christie did. Although belonging to right wing parties, both leaders have demonstrated their pragmatism.
Recently Christie has become entangled in a scandal due to traffic jams his staff caused on purpose. Time will tell if like Sharon, who overcame many scandals, many worse than that, Christie will too eventually reach the leadership of his country.