Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon still lies comatose at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer where he remains hospitalized. February 27 marks Sharon’s 80th birthday, and his family plans to mark the day with a symbolic token gift, but little more.
Sharon served as Prime Minister from March 2001 until April 2006, though the powers of his office were exercised by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert following Sharon’s stroke on January 4, 2006. At that time, Sharon fell into a coma; as of February 2008, he is in a persistent vegetative state.
During his lengthy career, Sharon was a highly controversial figure among many factions, both inside and outside Israel. Some of his critics have sought to prosecute him as a war criminal for alleged crimes related to the Sabra and Shatila massacre during the 1982 Lebanon War. The Kahan Commission held him personally responsible for the massacre. Sharon lost his post as Defense Minister as a result, but remained in the cabinet as minister without portfolio. Sharon continued as a leading figure in the Likud Party, and held various senior cabinet and party posts, ultimately becoming party leader in 1999 and Prime Minister in 2001.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Sharon’s policies caused a rift within the Likud Party, and he ultimately left Likud to form a new party called Kadima. He became the first Prime Minister of Israel who did not belong to either Labor or Likud — the two parties that have traditionally dominated Israeli politics. The new party created by Sharon, with Olmert having stepped in as its leader, won the most Knesset seats in the 2006 elections, and is now the senior coalition partner in the Israeli government.
Sharon was hospitalized on December 18, 2005 after suffering a minor ischemic stroke. During his hospital stay, doctors discovered a heart ailment requiring surgery and ordered bed rest pending a cardiac catheterization scheduled for January 5, 2006. Instead, Sharon returned immediately to work and suffered a massive stroke on January 4, the day before surgery. After two surgeries lasting 7 and 14 hours, doctors stopped bleeding in Sharon’s brain, but couldn’t prevent him from entering a permanent coma. Subsequent media reports indicated that Sharon had been diagnosed with Cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) during his December hospitalisation. Hadassah Hospital Director Shlomo Mor-Yosef declined to respond to criticism that the combination of CAA and blood thinners after Sharon’s December stroke may have caused his more serious, subsequent stroke.
Then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert became acting Prime Minister the night of Sharon’s second stroke. Knesset elections followed in March, with Olmert and Sharon’s Kadima party winning a plurality. The next month, the Israeli Cabinet declared Sharon permanently incapacitated and Olmert officially became Prime Minister of Israel on April 14, 2006.
Sharon has undergone a series of subsequent surgeries related to his comatose state. He has remained in a long-term care facility since November 6, 2006. Medical experts indicate that his cognitive abilities were likely to have been destroyed by the massive stroke. He is in a persistent vegetative state with extremely low chances of recovery.