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The bulldozer | The Indian Express

Namdeo Dhasal’s poetry dared the reader to look reality in the eye. It also offered a redemptive vision. Ariel Sharon’s controversial legacy will continue to divide Israel and the world. With a life and career marked by dramatic highs and spectacular lows, Sharon was the last Middle Eastern leader of his stature, and Israel’s last prime ministerial link to its foundation as a state. As soldier, Ariel “Arik” Scheinermann took every opportunity to secure his country — which also meant its expansion. When he was defence minister, Sharon’s achievements as a strategist were trailed by questions about his tactics, and he was brought to one of his lowest points in 1982, when the Sabra and Shatila massacres by Christian militias in Lebanon were indirectly blamed on him. Sharon was the man behind the Gaza settlements that, through a turnaround decision as prime minister, he demolished — a unilateral action that split the Likud party and destroyed his premiership. Arik Sharon’s actions always came on his own terms. Once the staunchest hardliner, he could then project himself as a man of peace and promote the idea of withdrawal from territories and pursuit of a settlement with the Palestinians. In projecting India on the world stage, too, he showed a similar capacity to follow his conviction — because he believed India belonged there, at a time when Delhi was still smarting from being ignored post-9/11, and the Indo-US nuclear deal was not in sight. It was his 2003 visit, the first by an Israeli prime minister, which lifted the understated bilateral ties to the level of a strategic partnership. That made it possible for India to go on to become Israel’s largest defence customer and for Israel to become India’s second largest defence supplier. It also paved the way for improved India-US ties. Extensive collaboration in space, IT, biotechnology and agriculture have kept the relationship with Israel buoyant even through a period of policy paralysis, which has also seen a harking back to the 1970s-style ideological posturing in India vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a time when the imperative for India is to engage with all major Middle Eastern partners, not least because of its dependence on Gulf oil, and to conclude the free trade agreement with Israel that can double bilateral trade to $10 billion over five years, it is the right moment to remember the second important thing Sharon’s 2003 visit had accomplished — it helped bring home the realisation that India had no reason to be shy of its close ties with Israel, even as it pursues common interests with Israel’s neighbours.
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