A soldier-turned-doctor reflects on Ariel Sharon's influence

Jacob Shani first saw &to=http://english.pravda.ru/world/2003/01/13/41963.html' target=_blank>Ariel Sharon in person 40 years ago, when Shani was an Israeli soldier and Sharon, an established military commander, spoke to the troops.

"In a way he was like a coach who really gets his team together and ready to play," said Shani, now an interventional cardiologist in Brooklyn. "He was very engaging. He was very sincere and extremely charismatic."

But while Shani long admired Sharon's battlefield instincts, he only agreed with him politically after Sharon became Israel's prime minister and veered toward the center after years spent on the hard right of Israeli politics.

As the ex-general fought for his life after a massive stroke, Shani obsessively tracked the news while expressing the anxious sentiments of many Israeli-Americans: If Sharon were not there to achieve peace with the Palestinians, who would be?

"He was far from being a perfect human being, but right now he was the best person to make peace," said Shani, 58, a few minutes after checking Sharon's progress on a Web site. "He could have brought the same determination to the peace process" as in battle.

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