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Moshe Dayan, ( , 20 May 1915 – 16 October 1981) was an Israelimarker military leader and politician. The fourth Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (1953–1958), he became a fighting symbol to the world of the new State of Israelmarker. He went on to become Defense Minister and later Foreign Minister of Israel.

Early life

Dayan was born on Kibbutz Degania Alefmarker near the shores of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galileemarker) in pre-Mandate Palestine. His parents were Shmuel and Devorah, Jewish immigrants from Ukrainemarker. He was the second child to be born on the kibbutz (after Gideon Baratz). He was named Moshe after Moshe Barsky, the first member of the kibbutz to be killed in an Arab attack. Soon after, his parents moved to Nahalalmarker, the first Moshav to be established. He attended the Agricultural School there. At the age of 14, he joined the newly formed Jewish militia known as the Haganah. In 1938 he joined the Palestine Supernumerary Police and became a company commander. One of his military heroes was the British pro-Zionist officer Orde Wingate, whom he served as second-in-command.

World War II

He was arrested by the British in 1939 (when the Haganah was outlawed), but released after two years in February 1941, as part of Haganah cooperation with the British during World War II.

Dayan was assigned to a small Australian-Palmach-Arab reconnaissance task force, formed in preparation for the Allied invasion of Syria and Lebanon and attached to the Australian 7th Division. Using his home kibbutz of Hanitamarker as a forward base, the unit frequently infiltrated Vichy French Lebanon, wearing traditional Arab dress, on covert surveillance missions.

On 7 June, the night before the invasion, the unit crossed the border and secured two bridges over the Litani River. When they were not relieved as expected, at 04:00 on 8 June, the unit perceived that it was exposed to possible attack and — on its own initiative — assaulted a nearby Vichy police station, capturing it in a firefight. A few hours later, as Dayan was using binoculars they were struck by a French bullet, propelling metal and glass fragments into his left eye and causing it severe damage. Six hours passed before he could be evacuated and Dayan lost the eye. In addition, the damage to the extraocular muscles was such that Dayan could not be fitted with a glass eye, and he was forced to adopt the black eyepatch that became his trademark.

In the years immediately following, the disability caused him some psychological pain. Dayan wrote in his autobiography: "I reflected with considerable misgivings on my future as a cripple without a skill, trade, or profession to provide for my family." He added that he was "ready to make any effort and stand any suffering, if only I could get rid of my black eye patch. The attention it drew was intolerable to me. I preferred to shut myself up at home, doing anything, rather than encounter the reactions of people wherever I went."

Military commander

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Dayan occupied various important positions, first as the commander of the defense in the Jordan valley; he was then given command over a number of military units on the central front. He was the first commander of the 89th Armoured Battalion and took part in Operation Danny and Ten Days. He was extremely well-liked by Israel's founding Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion and became his protégé, together with Shimon Peres (a future Prime Minister and President). It was on Ben-Gurion's insistence that he became Military Commander of Jerusalem.

After the war, Dayan began to rise rapidly through the ranks. From 1953 to 1958, he was the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. In this capacity, he personally commanded the Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai during the 1956 Suez Crisis. It was during Dayan's tenure as Chief of Staff that he delivered his famous eulogy of Roi Rutenbergmarker, a young Israeli killed in 1956.

On taking over command, based on Ben-Gurion's three year defence programme, Dayan carried out a major reorganisation of the Israeli army which, among others, included:-
  • Strengthened combat units at the expense of administrative 'tail'.
  • Raising the Intelligence and Training Branches of the Israeli Army.
  • Surrendering the activities of stores and procurement to the civilian Ministry of Defense.
  • Revamping the mobilisation scheme and ensuring earmarking for adequate equipment.
  • Starting a military academy for officers of the rank of major and above.
  • Emphasised strike forces (Air Force, Armour) and on training of Commando battalions.
  • Developed GADNA, a youth wing for military training.


In 1959, a year after he retired from the IDF, Dayan joined Mapai, the leftist party in Israeli politics, then led by David Ben-Gurion. Until 1964, he served as the Minister of Agriculture. Dayan joined with the group of Ben-Gurion loyalists who defected from Mapai in 1965 to form Rafi. The Prime Minister Levi Eshkol disliked Dayan; however, when tensions began to rise in early 1967, Eshkol appointed the charismatic and popular Dayan as Minister of Defense in order to raise public morale and bring Rafi into a unity government.

Six Day War (1967)

Although Dayan did not take part in most of the planning before the Six-Day War of June 1967, his appointment as defense minister contributed to the Israeli success. He personally oversaw the capture of East Jerusalem during the 5 June-7 June fighting. During the years following the war, Dayan enjoyed enormous popularity in Israel and was widely viewed as a potential Prime Minister. At this time, Dayan was the leader of the hawkish camp within the Labor government, opposing a return to anything like Israel's pre-1967 borders. He once said that he preferred Sharm-al-Sheikhmarker (an Egyptian town on the southern edge of the Sinai Peninsulamarker overlooking Israel's shipping lane to the Red Seamarker via the Gulf of Aqabamarker) without peace to peace without Sharm-al-Sheikh. He modified these views later in his career and played an important role in the eventual peace agreement between Israel and Egyptmarker.

In 1997, years after Dayan died, an Israeli journalist, Rami Tal, published conversations he had with Dayan in 1976. In that conversation Dayan claimed that 80 percent of the cross-border clashes between Israel and Syriamarker in the years before the war were a result of Israeli provocation (Dayan was not Defense minister at the time). He confessed:
I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let's talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plough someplace where it wasn't possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that's how it was.

Also, later, he regretted it as:
I made a mistake in allowing the Israelmarker conquest of the Golan Heightsmarker.
As defense minister I should have stopped it because the Syrians were not threatening us at the time [fourth day of the war].

He also portrayed the desire of the residents in the Kibutzim beneath the Golan Heightsmarker that they be captured as stemming from the desire for their agricultural land and not primarily for security reasons. This description was hotly denied by the Kibutz leaders (the Hula Valleymarker kibutzim did not get any land on the Golan).

Dayan's contention was hotly denied by Muky Tsur, a longtime leader of the United Kibbutz Movement who said "For sure there were discussions about going up the Golan Heights or not going up the Golan Heights, but the discussions were about security for the kibbutzim in Galilee," he said. "I think that Dayan himself didn't want to go to the Golan Heights. This is something we've known for many years. But no kibbutz got any land from conquering the Golan Heights. People who went there went on their own. It's cynicism to say the kibbutzim wanted land."

About Dayan's comments, Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren says
"There is an element of truth to Dayan's claim, but it is important to note that Israel regarded the de-militarized zones in the north as part of their sovereign territory and reserved the right to cultivate them—a right that the Syrians consistently resisted with force.
Syria also worked to divert the Jordan River before it flowed into Israel, aiming to deprive the Jewish state of its principle water source; Syria also actively supported Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel.
Israel occasionally exploited incidents in the de-militarized zones to strike at the Syrian water diversion project and to punish the Syrians for their support of terror.
Dayan's remarks must also be taken in context of the fact that he was a member of the opposition at the time.
His attitude toward the Syrians changed dramatically once he became defense minister.
Indeed, on June 8, 1967, Dayan bypassed both the Prime Minister and the Chief of Staff in ordering the Israeli army to attack and capture the Golan."

Yom Kippur War (1973)

After Golda Meir became Prime Minister in 1969 following the death of Levi Eshkol, Dayan remained Minister of Defense. He was still in that post when the Yom Kippur War began catastrophically for Israelmarker on 6 October 1973. As the highest-ranking official responsible for military planning, Dayan may bear part of the responsibility for the Israeli leadership having missed the signs for the upcoming war. In the hours preceding the war, Dayan chose not to order a full mobilization or a preemptive strike against the Egyptians and the Syrians. He assumed that Israel would be able to win easily even if the Arabs attacked and, more importantly, did not want Israel to appear as the aggressor, as it would have undoubtedly cost it the invaluable support of the United States (who would later mount a massive airlift to rearm Israel, a major turning point of the war).

Following the heavy defeats of the first two days, Dayan's views changed radically; he was close to announcing "the downfall of the "Third Templemarker" at a news conference, but was forbidden to speak by Meir. Dayan further backed from high level political role, and turned publicly as symbol for Israelmarker independence and hope for a Third Temple to be built.

Dayan suggested options at the beginning of the war, including a plan to withdraw to the Mitleh mountains in Sinai and a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights in order to carry the battle over the Jordan, abandoning the core strategic principles of Israeli war doctrine, which says that war must be taken into enemy territory as soon as possible. The Chief of Staff, David Elazar, objected to these plans and was proved correct. Israel broke through the Egyptian lines on the Sinaimarker front, crossed the Suez canalmarker, and encircled the 3rd Egyptian Army. Israel also counterattacked on the Syrian front, successfully repelling the Jordanian and Iraqi expeditionary forces and shelling the outskirts of Damascusmarker, ending the war on favorable terms.

Foreign Minister in the Likud Government

According to those who knew him, the war deeply depressed Dayan. He went into political eclipse for a time. In 1977, despite having been re-elected to the Knesset for the Alignment, he accepted the offer to become Foreign Minister in the new Likud government led by Menachem Begin. He was expelled from the Alignment, as a result and sat as an independent MK. As foreign minister in Begin's government, he was instrumental in drawing up the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement with Egypt. Dayan resigned his post in October 1979, because of a disagreement with Begin over whether the Palestinian territories were an internal Israeli matter (the Camp David treaty included provisions for future negotiations with the Palestinians; Begin, who didn't like the idea, did not put Dayan in charge of the negotiating team). In 1981 he founded a new party, Telem.


Telem won two seats in the 1981 elections, but Dayan died shortly thereafter, in Tel Avivmarker, from a massive heart attack. He had been in ill-health since 1980, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer late that year. He is buried in Nahalalmarker in the moshav (a collective village) where he was raised.


Dayan was very complicated and controversial; his opinions were never strictly black and white. He had few close friends; his mental brilliance and charismatic manner were combined with cynicism and lack of restraint. Ariel Sharon noted about Dayan:

He would wake up with a hundred ideas. Of them ninety-five were dangerous; three more were bad; the remaining two, however, were brilliant.

Dayan combined a kibbutznik's secular identity and pragmatism with a deep love and appreciation for the Jewish people and the land of Israel --but not a religious identification. In one recollection, having seen rabbis flocking on the Temple Mountmarker shortly after Jerusalem was captured in 1967, he asked "what is this? Vatican?" Dayan later ordered the Israeli flag removed from the Dome of the Rockmarker, and gave administrative control of the Temple Mount over to the Waqf, a Muslim council. Dayan believed that the Temple Mount was more important to Judaism as a historical rather than holy site.

Dayan was also an author and an amateur archaeologist, the latter hobby leading to some controversy as his amassing of historical artifacts, often with the help of his soldiers, broke a number of laws. Dayan's habit of pilfering newly discovered archaeological sites, before arrival of the Antiquities Authority and State-authorized archaeologists, once almost cost him his life and left him with a slight permanent impairment. Shortly after the Six-Day War Dayan heard of a new archaeological find near Holonmarker, due south of Tel Aviv. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, he entered the dig alone, and started to look for artifacts, when suddenly the entire dig caved in upon him, burying him alive. Only a hand remained visible. Shortly thereafter, a group of playing kids passed and saw a human hand protruding from the caved-in hole in the ground. They managed to dig him out alive, but due to possible oxygen deficiency in his brain, he remained with a speech impairment during the rest of his life, as well as with a partially paralyzed hand. Upon his death, his extensive archaeological collection was sold to the state.

His daughter, Yael Dayan is a novelist. She followed him into politics and has been a member of several Israeli leftist parties over the years. She has served in the Knessetmarker and on the Tel Avivmarker City Council, and is the current Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, responsible for social services.

One of his sons, Assi Dayan, is an actor and a movie director.

Another son, novelist Ehud Dayan, who was cut out of his father's will, wrote a book critical of his father after Moshe died.Ari Ben Canaan in the book Exodus is susposely based on him.

Books by Dayan

  • Diary of the Sinai Campaign, 1965.
  • Living with the Bible, 1978.
  • Story of My Life, 1978.
  • Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Peace Negotiations, 1981.

Further reading

  • Lau-Lavi, Napthali, (1968), Moshe Dayan - A Biography. English Book Store, New Delhi (First Indian Reprint 1979).


See also

External links

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