Sharon’s illness has thrust his deputy, Ehud Olmert, to the most powerful position in Israel. Under Israeli law the former mayor of Jerusalem is authorised to make all prime ministerial decisions whether urgent or not He will be among the contenders to replace Sharon on a permanent basis if he dies or is unable to return to his duties.
Olmert is a staunch Sharon ally, having given his leader his full backing over the Gaza withdrawal. Olmert was one of the first to follow the prime minister when he quit Likud to create the new Kadima party.
After joining the government he would often float dilplomatic initiatives in the media before Sharon formally adopted them.
But analysts question whether he would have the stature or experience to lead Israel in difficult negotiations with the Palestinians as Sharon did.