In his sermon earlier today, the rabbi of Washington Heights' "bridge shul" mentioned a quote from the Talmud that gave support for those who mourn Ariel Sharon, whatever his flaws: "Yiftach [Jephtah] in his generation was like Samuel in his generation." Samuel, of course, was the great leader and prophet who anointed King Saul, and when Saul fell short of his duties anointed King David in his place. Yiftach's story is told in Judges 11; he was a brigand and highway robber who was thrust into the leadership of Israel as they warred against the invading army of Ammon. He recklessly vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing to come out of his household, should God grant him victory; in consequence, he had to give up his daughter (whether she was actually killed, or took on a life of seclusion in the wilderness, is disputed).
Yet whatever his flaws, he saved the Jewish people in his time, as Samuel did after him. In that sense, Yiftach was as great as Samuel.
In many ways, Ariel Sharon can be compared to Yiftach. Sharon was a fierce warrior, known both for his military prowess and his ruthlessness; he commanded Paratroop 101 when they destroyed the Jordanian village of Qibya, killing many civilians, and also had some measure of involvement with the bloodshed in Sabra and Shatila. But he also fought in the forefront during every war Israel ever waged, and saved the country with his bold strategy during 1973. And when Ehud Barak was unable to deal with the so-called al-Aqsa Intifada, Sharon came to power and outlasted the enemy.
Whether his decision to withdraw from Gaza was correct, and whether it was handled well for Israel both civilly and diplomatically, events of the last week in Gaza have placed us at a net military gain, I think. That Palestinian factions are now attacking Egyptian soldiers, and each other, cannot be overstressed as a victory for us.
I still think that Sharon's dictatorial manner was bad for the country. But we must acknowledge the great debt that Israel owes him regardless. As Yiftach in his generation, so too Sharon in ours.
On another note, Chester has a sinking feeling about Iran. Make sure to read the comments, where several smart people are trying to hash out the situation.