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Israel's Sharon to Undergo Minor Heart Procedure

  • Robert Berger

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will undergo a minor heart procedure next month. The announcement adds to growing concern about his health.

Mr. Sharon will undergo a procedure called catheterization in the next two to three weeks to repair a small hole in his heart. Doctors say it is routine and not life-threatening.

Doctor Natan Borenstein says the procedure will not slow the prime minister down.

"I think that Mr. Sharon can go back to work, and I don't think it should change his lifestyle," he said.

But Mr. Sharon is 77 and overweight, and there has been growing concern about his health since he had a mild stroke last week. Doctors say he suffered no lasting damage, but they have urged him to go on a diet. Mr. Sharon's adviser, Ra'anan Gissin, says that is easier said than done.

"Maybe, you know, to use his sense of humor, his overweight makes it much difficult to move him around, you know," he said.

But the prime minister's health is no laughing matter, especially since he faces a grueling campaign ahead of national elections in March. Israeli analyst Amotz Asa-El says Mr. Sharon does not have a successor.

"Ariel Sharon has come to embody a broader transformation in Israeli society - he has restored a consensus," he said. "It is a consensus between military resolve and diplomatic flexibility, and that kind of balance has not only been his creation, but also been identified largely with his individual."

It took a long time to build that national consensus, and it could be lost if Mr. Sharon dies or is incapacitated. He is a popular and strong leader, who pulled Israel out of Gaza and is prepared for further withdrawals from parts of the West Bank. What many Israelis fear is that there is no one to take his place.

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