Moshe Dayan became one of Israel’s most famous men. Moshe Dayan found fame as a military leader associated with victories that were seemingly impossible within the Middle East conflicts. Dayan developed the aura of a military ‘superman’.
Dayan was born in 1915. Unlike people like David Ben-Gurion, who was born in Poland, and Golda Meir, who was born in Russia, Dayan was actually born in the region. He was born in Degania, which was to the south of the Sea of Galilee. He studied science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Dayan joined Hagannah that was a secret organisation that had been formed to protect the Jews in Palestine from attacks by Arabs. Hagannah became the military arm of the Jewish Agency. The British who administrated Palestine saw Hagannah as nothing more than a terrorist organisation that undermined their rule in the region. Known members of it were arrested – a fate that befell Dayan. He was sent to prison between 1939 and 1941.
Ironically on his release, Dayan fought in World War Two for those who had sent his to prison! He joined an auxiliary force that fought with the British and the Free French Army to rid Syria of Axis forces. Whilst fighting for this unit, Dayan was wounded and lost the sight of his left eye. It was at this time that Dayan came under the influence of Ben-Gurion who was effectively the leading voice for the Jews in Palestine.
In May 1948, Israel achieved its independence. Almost immediately, the new state was attacked by a coalition of neighbouring Arab states. Dayan put into practice what he had learned fighting in World War Two. He assisted General Yigael Yadin in repulsing the attacks on Israel and the attacks by the Arab nations were a failure. Dayan achieved fame within his own nation. Aged just 33, he seemed to epitomise what people had to do for Israel to survive. A photogenic character, photos and pictures of the one-eyed Dayan became common.
Dayan served on a commission held in Rhodes which had assembled to try to work out a settlement between the Jews and the Arabs. Between 1949 and 1950, he held secret talks with King Abdullah of Jordan. They king was one of the most influential Arabs in the region and his input and support was vital if the area was to become peaceful as opposed to a hotbed of malcontents. However, at these meetings, Dayan proved to be a tough negotiator and refused to compromise. As a result, nothing came out of these meetings that would lead to stability in the Middle East.
Dayan’s friendship with Ben-Gurion had elevated him to a high military/political status in Israel. From 1953, aged 38, Dayan was appointed as Chief of Staff. He held the post until 1958. It was Dayan who held military sway in the 1956 Suez Crisis. He attacked Egypt and reached the Suez Canal and the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba in less than one week. Such military success earned him legendary status in Israel. His skill in organising and preparing the army for speedy attacks was seen again in 1967 in the Six-Day War. In this war, Dayan assumed that the Arab nations would attack Israel. Rather than wait to be attacked, he attacked them.
On Monday June 5th, 1967, Israel attacked her neighbours. By June 11th, their military power had been severely weakened. Days prior to the attacks of June 5th, Dayan had been appointed Minister of Defence. The success of the Six-Day War was such that he held this political position until 1974. He oversaw the attacks by the Egyptian forces in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Initially, Israel was taken by surprise. Such was the skill of Dayan, that the war ended in what was an effective stalemate (though many had believed Egypt would be victorious after the success of their initial attacks).
For most of his career, Dayan could do little wrong. However, by the 1970’s, there were those who saw Dayan as being too hawkish in his approach. Some in the Labour Party criticised him and he in turn criticised the way the Labour Party was developing its policies. In 1974, Dayan (who still enjoyed huge public support) moved into opposition politics. In 1977, the Labour Party was defeated in a general election and Menachem Begin took over control of Israel. He appointed Dayan Foreign Minister but he resigned from this position in October 1979.
Dayan’s career is probably unequalled in Israel’s short history. A hugely successful military leader who developed a legendary status, he successfully crossed over to politics and held a number of highly influential government posts before he left politics. Senior military figures have tried to do the same – move from the military to politics – but many have failed.