Moshe Dayan

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Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan

(May 20, 1915October 16, 1981), was an Israeli military leader and politician. He was the fourth Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (1953-1958).

In Hebrew, his name translates as "Moses [the] Judge". He became a fighting symbol to the world of the new State of Israel with his famous eyepatch.


Early life

Moshe Dayan was born in a kibbutz ("collective farm"), Degania Alef ("Degania A"), Palestine, near the Kinneret Sea of Galilee. His parents were Shmuel and Devorah, and he was the first child born in the newly established community. At age 14 he joined the Haganah at a very early stage. He was greatly influenced by the military teachings of the English pro-Zionist officer Orde Wingate when Dayan was a sergeant prior to World War II.

Birthplace and home of Moshe Dayan, Kibbutz Degania Alef, during the 1930s
Birthplace and home of Moshe Dayan, Kibbutz Degania Alef, during the 1930s

World War II

He was arrested by the British ten years later (when the Haganah was outlawed), but released after two years as part of the Haganah's renewed cooperation with the British during World War II. While attached to the Australian 7th Infantry Division, which was fighting Vichy French forces in Syria, Dayan lost his left eye and began wearing the eyepatch that became his trademark. On the recommendation of an Australian officer, Dayan received the Distinguished Service Order, one of the British Empire's highest military honours.

Military commander

Chief of Staff of the IDF, General Moshe Dayan
Chief of Staff of the IDF, General Moshe Dayan

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Dayan occupied various positions of importance, first as the commander over the defensive effort in the Jordan valley; he was then given command over a number of military units on the central front. He was extremely well-liked by Israel's founding Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion and became his protege, together with Shimon Peres (the future Prime Minister).

After the 1948 war, Dayan began to rise rapidly through the ranks. From 1955 to 1958 he was the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. In this capacity, he commanded the Israeli forces during the 1956 Suez Crisis.


In 1959, a year after he retired from the IDF, Dayan joined Mapai, the leftist block 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. Levi Eshkol, the following Prime Minister disliked Dayan; however when tensions began to rise in early 1967, Eshkol decided to hand over the position of Minister of Defense (previously also occupied by him, in spite of Eshkol's never serving in the army) to the charismatic Dayan.

Six Day War (1967)

Defense Minister  General Moshe Dayan (center), flanked by Chief of Staff General Yitschak Rabin (right) and General Uzi Narkiss (left), enter Old Jerusalem in 1967
Defense Minister General Moshe Dayan (center), flanked by Chief of Staff General Yitschak Rabin (right) and General Uzi Narkiss (left), enter Old Jerusalem in 1967

Although Dayan did not take part in most of the planning before the Six-Day War of June 1967, his appointment contributed to the Israeli success. Following the war, Dayan, whose traits did not include particular modesty, invested PR efforts to take credit for much of the fighting to himself. During the years following the war Dayan enjoyed enormous popularity in Israel and was widely viewed as a potential future Prime Minister. At this time Dayan was the leader of the hawkish camp within the Labor government, opposing return to anything like Israel's pre-1967 borders. He once said that he preferred Sharm-al-Sheikh (an Egyptian town on the Southern edge of the Sinai Peninsula overlooking Israel's shipping lane to the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aqaba) 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 Egypt.

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 on October 6, 1973. As the most high-ranking official responsible for military planning, and in particular for examining the intelligence apparatus, it is of little doubt that Dayan, who became the symbol of victorious complacency following the Six-Day War, bears a part of responsibility for the Israeli leadership having missed the signs for the upcoming war. In the hours preceding the war, Dayan opted for not carrying out a full mobilization or carrying out a preemptive strike against the Egyptians and the Syrians; he assumed that Israel would be able to win easily even if the Arabs had attacked and did not want Israel to appear as the aggressor.

Following the heavy defeats of the first two days, Dayan's views experienced a radical turn; he was close to announcing "the downfall of the "Third Temple" at a news conference, but was luckily forbidden to speak by Meir. He also began to speak openly of using weapons of mass destruction against the Arabs.

Israeli Defense Minister General Moshe Dayan (foreground with eye-patch) with General Ariel Sharon (left rear with white head-bandage) during the Yom Kippur War
Israeli Defense Minister General Moshe Dayan (foreground with eye-patch) with General Ariel Sharon (left rear with white head-bandage) during the Yom Kippur War

To Dayan's credit, he had managed to recover his self-control and direct Israel's fighting during the rest of the war. Although the Agranat Committee Report published after the war did not lay substantial responsibility on the political layer to which Moshe Dayan belonged, a wave of public protests led to the resignation of both him and Golda Meir.

Serves as 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 on the Labor Party list, he became Foreign Minister in the new Likud government led by Menachem Begin. While Dayan never formally joined the Likud, this move was still seen as a betrayal by many of his Labor colleagues. As Prime Minister Menachem Begin's foreign minister, he was instrumental in drawing up the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement with Egypt. Dayan withdrew in 1980 (joined by Ezer Weizman who then defected to Labor), because of his disagreement with Begin over whether the Palestinian territories were an Israeli internal 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 negotiation team.)


In 1981, Dayan formed a new party, Telem, which advocated unilateral separation from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The party received two seats in the Tenth Knesset (elections took place on June 30, 1981) but Dayan died shortly thereafter, in Tel Aviv, from colon cancer. He is buried in Nahalal in the moshav (a collective village) where he was raised.

His legacy

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Dayan was undoubtedly a very complicated and controversial individual; his opinions were never strictly black and white. He had few close friends; his mental brilliance and charismatic manner were often 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 pragmaticism (reportedly, having seen rabbis flocking on the Temple Mount shortly after Jerusalem was captured in 1967, he asked "what is this? Vatican?" then handed the keys to the Waqf, (the Muslim trust) with a deep sense of love and appreciation to Jewish legacy and the land of Israel, apparent in his writing.

Dayan was also an author and an amateur archaeologist, leading to some controversy, as his amassing of historical artifacts, often with the help of his soldiers, broke a number of laws. Upon his death his extensive archeological collection was sold to the state.

His daughter, Yael Dayan is a novelist and followed him into politics as a member of several Israeli leftist parties over the years. She has served in the Knesset and on the Tel Aviv City Council.

His son, Assi Dayan, is a movie director.

Preceded by:
Mordechai Maklef
Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces
Succeeded by:
Chaim Laskov
Preceded by:
Levi Eshkol
Minister of Defense of the State of Israel
Succeeded by:
Shimon Peres

See also

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