Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan

(1915-1981)

One of the true military geniuses of the 20th century, Moshe Dayan was born in Daganyah A, the first Jewish collaborative settlement in Palestine (modern-day Israel). At the age of 14, he joined the Haganah, the Jewish militia that operated in British-admin¬ istered Palestine. During the Palestine- Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939, Dayan led special night squadrons to protect British military installations and Jewish settlements.

The Haganah went underground in 1939 after British policy appeared to favor Arab control of Palestine. Dayan was caught by the British and sen¬ tenced to a five-year prison term, but was released in 1941. He then joined British and Free French troops in their campaign to liberate Syria and Lebanon from the control of Vichy France, which had joined the Nazis in 1940. Dayan lost his right eye in this conflict; he soon took to wearing the large, black eye patch that became his person¬ al trademark.

When the Israeli war for independence began in 1948, Dayan commanded a battal¬ ion on the Syrian front. By the end of the war in 1949, he had risen to command of the Jerusalem front, thereby gaining an intimate knowledge of the vital geographic points of the new Jewish state.

Dayan received military training in Britain after the war. He returned to Israel and became chief of the general staff in 1953. He was supreme commander of the Israeli Defense Forces during the 1956 war against Egypt, and fought in the Sinai Desert. By this time, the Israelis had gained an edge over the Arabs in both skill and weaponry. Dayan’s vic¬ tory in the war confirmed Israel’s position as a new military power.

Dayan left the army in 1958 and studied politics before he won a seat in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. A member of the Labor Party, he served as minister of agriculture (1959—1964). When the Israeli government organized a united coalition cabinet just prior to war in 1967, he was made minister of defense.

The Six Day War in June 1967 vindicated everything Dayan had worked toward for more than 30 years. The Israeli air force destroyed Arab planes on the ground; Israeli soldiers seized the Golan Heights, liberated Jerusalem, and captured the Sinai peninsula. The stunning victory was attributed to Israeli preparedness, which in no small measure was due to Dayan’s vigilance and forethought.

Dayan was replaced as defense minister in 1974. He suffered criticism over Israel’s lack of preparedness for the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He returned to politics to serve as foeign minister (1977-1979), an exciting time during which Israeli and Egyptian leaders laid the basis for peace between their two countries.