Ariel Sharon’s Son Says His Father Would Have Kept Israel From Iran

Ariel Sharon would have kept Israel safe from Iran, his son Gilad tells Dan Ephron.


Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who remains incapacitated since suffering a stroke six years ago, would have done “everything in his power” to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons if he were still prime minister, his son Gilad Sharon has told The Daily Beast.

He said he’s sure Israel would be better off today had his father never left the political stage because Sharon “was a much better prime minister” than current leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I cannot point out a specific decision he would take, but I can tell you he would do everything in his power—and his power was always something you cannot underestimate—to prevent that from happening [Iran developing nuclear weapons],” Sharon said in an interview to promote the biography he’s written about his father, Sharon: The Life of a Leader.

The book traces Ariel Sharon’s trajectory over decades from soldier to general to right-wing politician. In the sections dealing with the elder Sharon’s five years as prime minister, starting in 2001, Gilad draws on his own experience as his father’s informal adviser. Among other things, Gilad says he was the one who came up with the idea of withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, a move that angered Sharon’s more hawkish supporters when he carried it out in 2005.

Gilad also advised his father to break away from his right-wing Likud Party, which Netanyahu now leads, to form the more centrist Kadima Party.

While quelling the Palestinian uprising consumed much of Sharon’s energies, Gilad says his father was also heavily focused on Iran. According to an Israeli press report published earlier this year, one of Sharon’s deputies suggested after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that Israel exploit the chaos in order to launch an air assault on Iran. Sharon rejected the idea, according to the newspaper. Gilad Sharon said in the interview he knew nothing about that.

Instead, Sharon is thought to have tapped Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to actively undermine the Iranian program. The Mossad is widely assumed to have assassinated Iranian scientists, blown up facilities, and helped plant viruses in computers at Iran’s nuclear installations. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though a report issued this month by the International Atomic Energy Agency said the regime in Tehran is bent on developing nuclear weapons.

How to counter Iran’s alleged program has been the subject of an intense public debate in recent weeks, with some Israeli analysts speculating that Netanyahu intends to attack Iran in the coming months. In his interview, Gilad refused to give his opinion of Netanyahu’s leadership. But in the book he describes him as a “subversive” and a “coward.”

Netanyahu served as finance minister in Sharon’s cabinet. He initially supported the withdrawal from Gaza but later resigned his post, saying Palestinian Islamists would turn Gaza into an Iranian outpost. Gilad Sharon said the resignation was designed to curry favor with hardliners.

In response to the criticism, a member of Netanyahu’s staff, who did not want to be identified by name, said Netanyahu’s warnings from 2005 have been vindicated: “He said Israel would get rocket fire from Gaza, and that turned out to be true.” The official also said it’s natural for the son of a former prime minister to depict his father as the better man.

Regarding Sharon’s talks with the Palestinians, Gilad said his father regularly heard criticism of President Yasir Arafat. He showed The Daily Beast a document in his father’s handwriting that Gilad described as Sharon’s notes about a meeting that then–foreign minister Shimon Peres had with Mahmoud Abbas in October 2002, when Arafat led the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, served as his deputy.

The document reflects Peres’s summary of what Abbas said. In bullet point eight of the document, Sharon writes: “Abu Mazen: Not subordinate to Arafat but equal to Arafat who has led his people to ruin.”

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Abbas had not been publicly critical of Arafat at the time. But he has since criticized him for allowing Palestinians to take up arms against Israelis during the second uprising, which erupted in September 2000. In an interview with Newsweek earlier this year, Abbas said he told Arafat repeatedly that the uprising was a mistake.

Abbas’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment regarding the document. Arafat died in 2004.

Gilad said he and his brother have spent some part of each day with their father in the hospital since his stroke. He said Sharon’s routine includes receiving guests and watching television. His eyes remain open during much of the day, and he has moved his fingers in response to requests.

“He doesn’t look helpless. He looks like usual—good color in his cheeks. When he’s awake I showed my book; there are many good photographs in my book.”