For over 25 years he was a member of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), reaching the rank of Major-General before retiring. He is particularly known for his daring actions during the Yom Kippur War, when he took the initiative from the Egyptians by crossing the Suez Canal with his brigade.
He was a member of the Knesset 1973-1974, and then from 1977-present. He served as Minister of Agriculture (1977-1981), then as Defense Minister (1981-1983) in Menachem Begin's Likud government. He resigned from his post as Defense Minister amid allegations surrounding a massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon by Lebanese factions allied with Israel (see below), and then served as a Minister without portfolio (1983-1984), Minister for Trade and Industry (1984-1990), and Minister for Housing Construction (1990-1992). Then he was Minister of National Infrastructure (1996-1998), and Foreign Minister (1998-1999). Upon the election of the Barak Labor government, he became leader of the Likud party. After the collapse of Barak's government, he was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.
Role in Lebanese Massacre
During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, while Ariel Sharon was Defense Minister, a massacre of several hundred Palestinians occured in the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The massacre was done by Lebanese factions aligned with Israel (known as the Phalanges, led by Bashir Gemayel). Israel claimed that Yasser Arafat's Fatah terrorists, who incessantly attacked Israeli civilians on Israel's northern border, were hiding inside the camps, a claim which many disagree with. Sharon reached agreement with these factions that the Israeli army would only surround these camps, while the factions' forces would enter the camps and treat the Fatah militants within.
Prior to Thursday September 16, 1982 all went by plan. Israeli troops surrounded the camps. However when the Planages went in, they began a great massacre, in retaliation for the killing of Bashir Gemayel, their leader, by a Muslim faction several days earlier. For the next 36 hours they went on uninterrupted. The Israeli military then ordered the Phalanges to leave the camps. Israel claims that the Israeli military was not aware that the massacre was occuring, and ordered the Phalangists to withdraw when they discovered it had happened. While Israel and most Western sources claim that about 300 Palestinian refugees were killed, the Arab side claims that the number could be almost ten times as high.
These events aroused a great degree of controversy in the Israeli public. The Israeli government appointed a commission, led by the former Supreme Justice Kahan, that investigated these events. Their report, which was finished in early 1983, stated that while there was no evidence Sharon knew about the Phalangists' plans (and was in no way associatated with the massacres), his ignoring of the hostility between Lebanese Christians and Muslims was outrageously negligent. The committee recommended Sharon's dismisal as the Minister of Defense.
This view of the things was also upheld by an American court, when Sharon won a libel case against the Time Magazine, which had published in 1987 a story that implied Sharon's direct responsibility for Sabra and Shatila. In early 2001, relatives of the victims of the massacre have begun proceedings in Belgium, seeking to have Ariel Sharon indicted on war crimes charges.