Moshe Dayan Notes Moshe Dayan's career spans the gamut of military affairs: from guerrilla fighter with the Haganah (Israeli militia) in the 1930s to field commander during the 1956 war with Egypt to Defense Minister during the Six Day War to Israeli Foreign Minister towards the end of his life, Dayan stands as Israel's greatest warrior.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the British jailed members of the Haganah. Dayan was released in 1941 and in June of that year he lost his left eye while fighting against the Germans and Vichy French. On May 18, 1948 Major Dayan, during Israel's War of Independence, successfully defended a Jordan Valley sector against a much larger Syrian Army. By the conclusion of the war in 1949, Dayan was a Major General in charge of the Israeli Army's Southern command in Beersheba.
In 1953 Dayan became the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force. He undertook a major overhaul of the IDF. He dramatically increased the number of infantry and armored elements. He instituted rigorous training programs and formed an elite airborne unit. Dayan is the individual given most of the credit for making the IDF into a first-rate fighting force.
On October 29, 1956 General Dayan led his well-trained mechanized infantry and armored columns into the Sinai peninsula and quickly routed four Egyptian divisions. The Israeli invaders pushed forward and stopped barely 30 miles from the important Suez Canal. Israel claims it lost 180 men in the attack. Egyptian killed-in-action were estimated at 3,000 with another 7,000 taken as prisoners. All Egyptian materiel in the Sinai was captured by the IDF. This battle became a major feather in Dayan's headdress.
After his spectacular Sinai campaign, Dayan left the military and entered politics. He was elected to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in 1959 and served as Minister of Agriculture in David Ben-Gurion's government.
Dayan was recalled to active duty as Israel's Minister of Defense to supervise the Six Day war which was initiated with a bold pre-emptive air strike that destroyed the Egyptian air force while it sat on the ground. It took less than a week for the IDF to defeat Egyptian land forces. Further, the IDF captured the Golan Heights from Syria. As a result of these victories, Dayan's star soared as he became the greatest Israeli military leader in the country's short and violent history.
In October, 1973 Dayan's shine dimmed somewhat as a result of the Yom Kippur War when Egypt launched a surprise attack against a relatively unprepared Israeli army. The IDF ultimately rallied and prevailed but Dayan resigned in 1974 against a background of sharp criticism.
In 1977, Dayan was appointed Foreign Minister by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. From this position he was intimately involved in the peace treaty negotiations between Egypt and Israel. However, Dayan resigned his post amid strong policy disagreements related to the peace process.
On October 16, 1981, Israel's greatest warrior died in Tel Aviv at age 66.
In reviewing Dayan's career, historian Michael Lanning wrote:
[Dayan's] military education came not from the academies or service school but from the kibbutz and the battlefield.
Under the charismatic and talented Dayan, the State of Israel fielded one of the best and most efficient fighting forces in the 20th century.
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