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Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan: Israel's Controversial Hero

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Moshe Dayan
    Book Description:

    Instantly recognizable with his iconic eye patch, Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) was one of Israel's most charismatic-and controversial-personalities. As a youth he earned the reputation of a fearless warrior, and in later years as a leading military tactician, admired by peers and enemies alike. As chief of staff during the 1956 Sinai Campaign and as minister of defense during the 1967 Six Day War, Dayan led the Israel Defense Forces to stunning military victories. But in the aftermath of the bungled 1973 Yom Kippur War, he shared the blame for operational mistakes and retired from the military. He later proved himself a principled and talented diplomat, playing an integral role in peace negotiations with Egypt.

    In this arresting biography, Mordechai Bar-On, Dayan's IDF bureau chief, offers an intimate view of Dayan's private life, public career, and political controversies, set against an original analysis of Israel's political environment from pre-Mandate Palestine through the early1980s. Drawing on a wealth of Israeli archives, accounts by Dayan and members of his circle, and firsthand experiences, Bar-On reveals Dayan as a man unwavering in his devotion to Zionism and the Land of Israel.Moshe Dayanmakes a unique contribution to the history of Israel and the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18325-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Wild Grass: Childhood and Teens
    (pp. 1-10)

    The sight of a bareback mule trudging into the farmyard on November 22, 1913, filled the Deganya residents with foreboding. Only hours before, a member of the community, Moshe Barsky, had set out on the mule to fetch medicine for his friend Shmuel Dayan. A tiny, four-year-oldkevutza—an early collective settlement that was more intimate than a kibbutz—Deganya was situated where the Sea of Galilee spills into the Jordan River, a few miles upriver from Barsky’s destination. As the young man’s absence continued into nightfall, a small search party was dispatched. The group came upon Moshe Barsky’s mangled...

  6. 2 On the Path of Command
    (pp. 11-25)

    Starting in the early 1930s, the Zionists in Palestine faced increasing opposition and organized violence from Arab nationalists. On the night of December 22, 1932, the violence reached Nahalal when an Arab hurled a bomb at a home, killing the Jewish owner and his eight-year-old son. In response, many Nahalal residents decided to join the Haganah, the clandestine Zionist paramilitary organization in Palestine. The Haganah High Command began to supply the moshav with weapons, which were hidden in public caches, and instructors arrived to train the people to use them properly. The Haganah conscripted the moshav’s young men, including Dayan,...

  7. 3 Back to Military Work
    (pp. 26-41)

    If he had not been wounded, Dayan would have returned from Lebanon crowned with laurels, a rising Haganah star. But the bullet had smashed the bones around the eye cavity and the bridge of the nose, requiring close medical attention in place of a hero’s welcome. He remained out of combat for seven years. After the initial injury healed, he moved his small family to his in-laws’ home near a Jerusalem treatment center. He underwent further surgery to allow a glass eye to be fitted, but the operation failed, and Dayan had to wear an eye patch for the rest...

  8. 4 To the Top
    (pp. 42-57)

    On October 9, 1949, Moshe Dayan was appointed officer commanding (O.C.) of Israel’s southern front and promoted to the rank of major-general. In his new capacity, he oversaw a region that bordered Egyptian territory in the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, and Jordanian territory in the Hebron Hills and along the Arava, a desert plain that stretches from the Dead Sea to Eilat. The War of Independence had left the borders of this expanse unresolved, and disputes flared up. One such altercation escalated into a serious exchange of fire and gave Dayan the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership abilities.


  9. 5 Gathering Clouds
    (pp. 58-69)

    David Ben-Gurion’s return to government in January 1955 enhanced the Defense Ministry’s operation, prompting Dayan to note that “things are becoming increasingly clearer and the alternatives more and more apparent.”¹ After the Kibiya massacre, Jordan’s Arab Legion had attempted to keep the border calm. Conversely, Egypt’s new president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, embarked on an aggressive pan-Arab policy in which incidents of sabotage and murder were escalated along the Gaza Strip. Two days after Ben-Gurion’s return, an Egyptian intelligence unit infiltrated Israel and came within twenty-five miles of Tel Aviv, vandalizing water installations and killing a passerby en route. Israel, already...

  10. 6 On the Edge of the International Storm
    (pp. 70-84)

    Convinced that the government’s decision to take a defensive rather than offensive posture toward Egypt was wrong, Dayan nonetheless remained firm in his allegiance to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, and he set about reorganizing the army for defense. Ben-Gurion was well aware of Dayan’s frustration but trusted him to toe the government line, even pressing him to continue briefing newspaper editors, as he had done before.

    Inwardly and before his senior commanders, however, Dayan continued to develop his tactical thinking. On January 15, 1956, he convened all IDF officers with the rank of colonel or higher and delivered an address that...

  11. 7 On the Front Line
    (pp. 85-98)

    Relations with the British grew increasingly complicated in October 1956. The rise of pro-Nasser, anti-Western forces in Jordan concerned Amman and London. Britain, which wielded considerable influence in the affairs of the Hashemite kingdoms of both Iraq and Jordan by funding their armies, considered sending the Iraqi army to Jordan. Israel voiced opposition to armed Iraqis on its border and appeared ready to back up the disapproval with force. Israel and Great Britain seemed to be on a collision course.

    As the diplomatic discussions continued behind closed doors, in the field Jordanian soldiers continued to harass Jewish settlers across the...

  12. 8 The End of the Military Career
    (pp. 99-109)

    Amid the intense action and high tension of the military campaign in Egypt, two family developments awaited Moshe Dayan at home. On the day of the paratrooper drop at Mitla, his daughter, Yaël, returned from an extended trip to Europe and the United States. At her request, when war was imminent, her father had cabled her. Yaël was not yet eighteen, and her military conscription was six months away. Nevertheless, she reported for military service upon her return, and Dayan dropped in at her base on her second day of basic training. Yaël appeared before her father, the IDF chief...

  13. 9 Government and Other Battles
    (pp. 110-124)

    On January 30, 1958, Moshe Dayan took a leave of absence from the army to study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a pursuit that temporarily spared him from making decisions about his future course. His official military retirement date was set for November 1. He did not speak to David Ben-Gurion about entering politics, nor did the prime minister make any offers. “If they want me, they know where to find me,” Moshe told Yaël.¹ He knew that if he had a future in politics it would be within the Mapai Party, Israel’s largest, which had been governing since the...

  14. 10 The Six Day War
    (pp. 125-140)

    On May 15, 1967, the nineteenth anniversary of Israel’s independence, ominous news interrupted preparations for a festive parade in Jerusalem. In violation of the agreements ending the Sinai campaign ten years earlier, Egypt had flagrantly deployed troops in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israel Defense Forces began to call up reserves, and anxiety gripped the public. Should Egypt launch war, Israelis feared, Israel could suffer catastrophic consequences. Dayan was restless. He could not bear the thought of Israel fighting a war without him.

    On May 20, he asked Prime Minister Eshkol for authorization to inspect the IDF units assembling in the...

  15. 11 Occupation Policies
    (pp. 141-154)

    Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s order to blow up the Allenby, King Abdullah, and Damia bridges leading to Jordan after the IDF reached the Jordan River was a dramatic, concrete move to demarcate what he thought should be Israel’s eastern line of defense. But within hours of cutting off the crossings, he pondered a question with which he would grapple for the rest of his life: How should Israel control the territory captured west of the Jordan without imposing an alien rule on the people living there? His first step toward answering this question was to fix the bridges. When he...

  16. 12 Controversies
    (pp. 155-164)

    The ceasefire on the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts was largely maintained for the next three years, but the political stalemate worried Dayan. He believed that Israel should not retreat from the Jordan River, its natural eastern border, or from Sharm el-Sheikh, the Rafah Salient, and the Gaza Strip. Yet he knew that the Arab regimes, Egypt’s in particular, would not accept the impasse, and sooner or later war would resume.

    This expectation led him to seemingly contradictory conclusions. To preserve a de facto state of nonbelligerence, conditions for the Arabs must be tolerable: Palestinians needed to be allowed maximum autonomy...

  17. 13 Yom Kippur
    (pp. 165-180)

    Despite repeated terrorist acts by Palestinian guerrilla organizations from 1970 to 1973, a general sense of security pervaded Israel, especially among senior IDF staff. The IDF assumed that Egypt would not go to war so long as its air force was unable to launch a massive attack on Israel’s air bases. The IDF also calculated that the Egyptian army could not cross the Suez to endanger Israeli control of Sinai and that the IDF could repel any such attempt within days. If Dayan did not altogether share his colleagues’ assumptions, he did not question them either. But he was well...

  18. 14 In the Crucible
    (pp. 181-192)

    In Golda Meir’s memoirs, she pegged Henry Kissinger as the most forceful personality of the Yom Kippur War. “The main figure turned out to be not President Sadat nor President Assad nor King Faisel nor Ms. Meir,” she wrote, “it was U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose efforts for the sake of regional peace can only be defined as superhuman.”¹ Certainly, in the final stages of the war and the months following, Kissinger was the prime mover in the political and military theaters. Dayan had known Kissinger for years and entertained mixed feelings about him. He had great respect...

  19. 15 “Shall the Sword Devour Forever?”
    (pp. 193-207)

    As the 1977 candidate lists were being drawn up, Dayan’s former brother-in-law Ezer Weizman suggested to Dayan that he join the right-wing Likud Party, part of the Knesset opposition since 1948. The disgraced former defense minister did not dismiss the idea but demanded a commitment from the Likud leader, Menachem Begin, that he would not annex the occupied territories if he had an opportunity to make peace with the Arabs. Dayan thought that peace was possible and did not wish to jeopardize its prospects. He and Begin held secret meetings, exchanging formulations on Israel’s policies in the occupied territories and...

  20. 16 Sunset
    (pp. 208-214)

    At the end of April 1979, Moshe and Rachel Dayan set out on a jaunt through Southeast Asia. He had not been well for the better part of a year. He felt weakened and found physical work, even his cherished archaeology, a strain. His body seemed to be shrinking. During their trip, Dayan set aside time to puff and pant in the oppressive heat between strides up steep paths leading to Buddhist shrines. On his return to Israel, his physician administered a complete checkup and found colon cancer. The doctor scheduled surgery for May 24. Dayan became absorbed by the...

  21. 17 Legacy
    (pp. 215-218)

    More than thirty years after his death, Moshe Dayan remains a controversial figure. Many remember him with admiration; others bristle at the mere mention of his name. Numerous streets and institutions in Israel pay tribute to him, yet new criticisms continue to arise. Over the years, literary portrayals and the media have cultivated a stereotype of Dayan, always depicted with his iconic black eye patch. That stereotype, for better or worse, represents him as a fearless warrior and nonconformist, impervious in his opinions, inclinations, and passions to external influence or social convention. The public saw him as a lone wolf,...

  22. NOTES
    (pp. 219-236)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 237-247)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 248-250)