Netanyahu during Sharon memorial 2016
Netanyahu during Sharon memorial 2016Miriam Alster/FLASH90

The Knesset held a special session on Monday, two years after the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took to the plenum to remember Sharon, offering both praise and criticism.

Addressing Sharon’s lengthy military career, Netanyahu lauded his service heading the elite Unit 101 commando group during the 1950s.

"Ariel Sharon left his clear mark on the State of Israel. He gained his fame in the 1950s when he commanded the legendary Unit 101's retaliatory operations,” Netanyahu said.

“He pushed for a change in the IDF and advocated the perception that the Jewish state was formed to give Jews back their rights and the ability to defend themselves.”

The Prime Minister also cited Sharon’s role as a general in turning back the Egyptian army, calling him “one of the best commanders the IDF has ever had.”

Netanyahu noted Sharon’s achievements as Prime Minister as well, praising the difficult decision to launch Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada.

Netanyahu was harshly critical, however, of Sharon’s controversial decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip in the 2005 Gaza Disengagement. He blamed Sharon’s actions for the rise of the Hamas government in Gaza and its increasing ability to strike at the heart of Israel.

“In Gaza, we received a base for Hamas terror adjacent to our territory,” he said. “Unfortunately, transferring control over and responsibility for Gaza to the Palestinians not only did not put us on the path to peace, it enhanced the arming of terror organizations. Our obligation is to at least learn the necessary lessons from this episode.”

Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) a former member of Kadima, objected to Netanyahu’s condemnations of the Gaza Disengagement as being tasteless, while Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog defended the Gaza withdrawal from Netanyahu’s criticism, noting that no one recommends undoing the withdrawal and “going back into Gaza.”