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Sharon's legacy of controversy

Israel's cabinet declared Tuesday that the prime minister was 'permanently incapacitated.'

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Israel's cabinet declared Tuesday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was "permanently incapacitated" by a stroke that effectively ended his lifetime in the public eye - one that historians are likely to find hard to categorize.

The tail end of his tenure earned Mr. Sharon the sort of domestic and international respect he had not enjoyed for decades, first by pulling Israel out of Gaza in August after a 38-year occupation, and then by setting up his own party when the rightist Likud Party didn't want to go along with his vision for disengagement. But many who take a longer view remember a resume of warmaking, with Sharon's controversial moves often blurring the lines between defense and aggression.

Since he joined a military youth movement more than 60 years ago, Sharon has alternatively been described as brave and brutal, charming and aloof, cunning and clever, inspiring and intimidating. After a lifetime of waging war and then seeking some level of peace, there is one thing that Sharon's fans and foes can agree on: the man's nearly unstoppable determination to do whatever he deemed best for the sake of Israel's security.

His career, marked with controversy and contradictions - and most recently, congratulations for his decision to lead Israel through a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - came to a sudden halt after his stroke.

Sharon's is a history replete with quick, dramatic moves that inflicted heavy losses on his enemies. Born and raised as Ariel "Arik" Scheinerman in a pre-state agricultural community, Sharon never let critics get in the way of his drive to build an Israel that would survive amid hostile Arab neighbors. Scheinerman became Sharon upon the suggestion of David Ben Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, who helped groom Sharon from a fearless and feisty young platoon commander in the 1948 war into a major military leader.

Sharon, wounded during a famous battle in Latroun, was quickly promoted.

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