12 Things You Need to Know About…Moshe Dayan

Israeli warrior and politician

1. Moshe Dayan was a military leader who played key roles in four wars–and then worked effectively for peace. He was a sabra, born May 1915, the second child born on the first kibbutz to be established in Palestine, Kibbutz Degania Alef, near the shores of Lake Kinneret. His parents were immigrants from Ukraine. They moved to Nahalal, the first moshav, when Dayan was young; he attended agricultural school there.

2. His career as a warrior began in 1929, when he joined the newly formed Haganah at age fourteen to help guard Jewish settlements. During 1936-9, he was with the special police force in the Jezreel Valley and Galilee. In 1938, he joined the Palestine Supernumerary Police, serving under Orde Wingate in the Special Night Squad operations [see my post of March 12]. In October 1939 he was imprisoned in Acre along with other Haganah members, serving a ten-year sentence; all of them were released in 1941 after intervention by Chaim Weizmann. He then served in a small Australian-Palmach-Arab reconnaissance task force, infiltrating Vichy French Lebanon in preparation for an Allied invasion. It was there, in 1941, that he was shot by a sniper who had caught the glint from the binoculars he was using; he lost his eye and extraocular muscles.

dayan3. Following the war, he made his way quickly up the ladder, appointed to the Haganah general staff in 1947 to work on Arab affairs, including espionage and distribution of abandoned Arab property. In 1948, commanding the Jordan Valley sector, he stopped the Syrian advance. He was first commander of the 89th Battalion, appointed June 1948, and in July of that year became Military Commander of the Jewish-controlled areas of Jerusalem. He was a controversial figure, narrowly escaping court-martial a number of times for disobeying orders. Nonetheless, by October 1949 he was promoted to Major-General and made head of the Southern Command, replacing Yigal Allon [see my post of March 12], much to the dismay of the officers, many of whom resigned. To curb Palestinian infiltration of the borders, he instituted harsh policies, including strafing, raids, mines, and “collective punishment,” against the Arabs by harassing nearby villages and bedouin camps. He considered this policy effective, though not justified or moral. The Arabs were hostile, and he considered terrorism as a stage of war, a way of gaining time while they built up their military strength.

4. In May 1952, after attending a British Army Officer school, he was appointed Operational Commander of the Northern Command; seven months later, Head of Operations (G) Branch, the second-most senior position on the General Staff. A year later, he became Chief of Staff. He reorganized the army, strengthening combat units, revamping mobilization plans, starting a military academy for officers, and emphasizing air force capability. Over the next several years he approved a number of cross-border operations in which civilians were killed. Having carried out operations to instigate an attack by Egypt, in 1956, during the Suez Crisis, he commanded the Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai. He retired from the IDF in 1958.

5. The following year, 1959, he joined the Mapai party and was elected to the Knesset for the first time. He served as Minister of Agriculture from 1959-64. In 1965, with those loyal to Ben-Gurion [see my post of 10/9/13] he formed the Rafi (Alliance of Israel’s Workers) party. He served as Defense Minister  (1967-74) and later Foreign Minister (1977-79).

6. During the Six-Day War (1967), he oversaw the capture of East Jerusalem. He was hawkish and did not want to return the occupied territories. A popular hero at that time, he was blamed in 1973 for the ill-preparedness of the IDF at the start of the Yom Kippur War – and for his negative view of Israel’s chance of success following the losses of the first two days.

7. His work as a peacemaker began as early as 1948-9, when he was involved in negotiations with Jordan for a cease-fire in Jerusalem and an armistice; at the same time, though, he urged Ben-Gurion to use the army to open the road to Jerusalem and gain access to the Kotel and Mt. Scopus. As Foreign Minister, he began talks with Egypt in May 1977. The negotiations continued for eighteen months, until finally the Camp
David accords were agreed upon and signed, and the peace agreement with Egypt was a reality. At the end of his life, he advocated unilateral disengagement from the occupied territories.

8. Ariel Sharon said of him,”He would wake up with a hundred ideas….Ninety-five were dangerous; three more had to be rejected; the remaining two, however, were brilliant.”

9. Ambassador Gideon Rafael said of him, “Rocking the boat is his favorite tactic, not to overturn it, but to sway it sufficiently for the helmsman to lose his grip or for some of its unwanted passengers to fall overboard.”

10. His published works include: Diary of the Sinai Campaign, Living With the Bible: A Warrior’s Relationship with the Land of his Forebears, Story of My Life, and “Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Negotiations.

11. Suffering from cancer, he died of a massive heart attack in October 1981 in Tel Aviv. He was buried in Nahalal cemetery.

12. In 2005, Dayan was voted seventy-third on the list of greatest Israelis of all time.

In the Tel Aviv area, you’ll find Moshe Dayyan Street east of, and parallel to, the Ayalon River, and south of Derech HaShalom.

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