As these lines are being written, at midnight, the prime minister is on the operating table. The situation is serious. The whole country is praying for him.
Israel is a strong country, with a regime that despite its deficiencies and shortcomings is healthy and stable. The health of the prime minister in specific and the health of the country are totally separate.
As has become clear in the past, the country can handle a transfer of power, temporary or permanent. Prime ministers come and go, but the State of Israel will continue to exist.
Even if, by some miracle, the prime minister comes out of this unharmed, his political position will change. His first stroke two weeks
ago aroused doubts. Last nights stroke was much worse, and being his second one, it placed a strong cloud over his ability to continue to function in the short term and handle the work load demanded of Israeli prime ministers for another term.
The Kadima Party, which officially registered yesterday as a political party, began as a one-man party. Sharon was its leader and its message.
The cloud that was cast over Sharon's candidacy flips the party's position at the polls on its head. Even if Sharon returns head the party, he will be forced to convince voters that his party can handle the country's leadership without him.
Sharon's replacement, Ehud Olmert, is a capable candidate. The party has other people with publicly-known names and governmental experience, including Tzipi Livni, Shimon Peres, Meir Sheetrit, Shaul Mofaz, Avi Dichter and others. Starting today, the country will look at them with different eyes.
Not the drama we'd hoped for
Sharon's deteriorating health rips up all the cards in Israeli politics. Amongst other things, it pushes off the Likud resigning from the government. It moderates the overall tone of the election campaign. The disgraces and curses of his enemies have turned to prayers. The noise about money he received or didn't receive from Austrian casino king Martin Schlaf was silenced immediately.
When the current election campaign began the assumption was that this would be an impressive one, one of the most dramatic in the country's history. That assumption has proved correct. But this isn't the drama we'd hoped for.
Confidence, composure, courage
It is too early to wrap up Sharon's public career, to sum up his military and diplomatic accomplishments, his contribution to the strength and success of Israel, the route he took, the mistakes he made, his positive points and his drawbacks.
But it can already be said that only a few Israeli leaders have had the self confidence, composure or courage that Sharon displayed during his time as prime minister. Throughout his career, starting with the time he was a young officer in the IDF, he strived to imitate the man he most admired, David Ben-Gurion.
The people that didn't want Sharon to inherit the legacy of Menachem Begin got him instead as the heir of Ben-Gurion.
Nahum Barnea is a regular contributor to Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth