JERUSALEM  - Israel’s former premier Ariel Sharon, who was fighting for his life on Thursday, was an arch-hawk turned statesman who pioneered plans to redraw the nation’s borders and revolutionised its political landscape.

Sharon’s health has deteriorated, with his “vital organs” failing, the hospital where he has been housed since falling into a coma on January 4, 2006, said on Thursday.

The 85-year-old politician’s extraordinary and controversial career stretches back more than half a century, when he made it his mission to safeguard national security. He became convinced Israel needed to separate from the Palestinians and unilaterally determine its own borders.

After withdrawing Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in September 2005 following a 38-year occupation, Sharon abandoned his rightwing Likud party to form a centrist grouping to fulfil what he saw as a historic calling.