The Israeli general and statesman Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) served as minister of defense of Israel, beginning in 1967.
Moshe Dayan was born in the kibbutz of Degania, Palestine, in 1915. His father Samuel, a farmer, was a founder of Degania and Nahalal and a leader of the cooperative settlement (moshavim) movement. During the riots of 1936 to 1939 Dayan joined the Supplementary Police Force of Palestine under the British. Later he joined the first mobile commando platoons (palmakh) of the Haganah. In 1940 Dayan was arrested by the British because of his participation in the underground Haganah organization. After his release from prison in 1941, however, he joined the British army in order to fight against Nazi Germany. On a foray into Vichy-controlled Syria, he was wounded and lost his left eye. This scar, or rather the patch that covered it, would become his lifelong trademark.
During the struggle between the Palestine Jewish community and the British mandatory government in 1947, Dayan again served in the underground Haganah. During the War of Independence in 1948 he participated in the campaign against the Egyptian army. In 1949 he led the Israeli forces in the final battles around Jerusalem, and after the war he represented Israel at the Rhodes Armistice Conference. He was acclaimed a national hero for his part in the Sinai campaign against Egypt in 1956.
After retiring from the army in 1958, Dayan entered politics as a leading member of the "Young Mapai" and was appointed minister of agriculture in 1959, a post he occupied until 1964. Shortly after David Ben-Gurion's resignation as prime minister in 1963, Dayan also withdrew from government. But he soon returned to politics as a member of the Rafi opposition party, which Ben-Gurion formed in 1965.
In May of 1967 Dayan became minister of defense for Israel. Under his command and with the close collaboration of the chief of staff, General Itzhak Rabin, the Israeli armed forces won an unprecedented victory over the combined Arab military forces of Egypt (United Arab Republic), Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia in the Six Day War of June 1967. As a result of its victory, Israel occupied vast Arab territories and blocked the Suez Canal to international navigation. After this conflict, Dayan continued to strengthen Israel's military forces in order to ensure the state's survival in the troubled Middle East. Dayan had a deep concern for the soldiers in the field and always paid meticulous attention to their safety and comfort. He became upset when, during retaliatory actions, lives were lost without territorial gains.
In the minority among Israel's leaders, Dayan foresaw a new war if the nation did not retreat from the Suez Canal. Mounting tensions exploded on October 6, 1973, the high holy day of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Forces from Egypt and Syria attacked Israel from north and south. Dayan predicted a grim, costly effort, yet he stood alone among Israel's military leaders. He flew to the Sinai after he received news of embattled Israeli troops, and reorganized command and strategy. Likewise, he worked with prime minister Golda Meir to organize an immediate airlift of supplies from the United States. The war turned in Israel's favor on October 10, and a cease-fire was declared by October 23.
Despite his efforts, Dayan was harshly criticized for what was seen as unpreparedness for the assault, and soon left the Ministry of Defense. In 1977 he was elected to the Ninth Knesset on the Labor party ticket, but continued to serve as foreign minister to the Begin administration until 1980. The next year he formed the Telem party and was its representative until he died on October 16, 1981, with his wife and his daughter by his side. He was buried in Nahalal, site of the Dayan family farm.
Dayan vigorously denied the allegation that he saw the problem of Arab-Israeli relations "through the sights of a gun." As minister of agriculture, he met frequently with Arab farmers and tried to give them every assistance. He always held that the Arabs of Israel should have equal rights and bear equal responsibilities with the other citizens of Israel.
Dayan's attitude toward prisoners of war and Arab civilians in the territories occupied after the Six Day War attested to his strong sense of justice. While energetically combating terrorist activities, he maintained a liberal policy toward the people of the occupied areas, giving them as much freedom as possible to run their own affairs and allowing commercial and social relations with Jordan.
Dayan had sides to his character that belied his image as a tough, unemotional fighter. He was passionately attached to the land and in particular to his farm in Nahalal. He had a great interest in archaeology, which he pursued through digging in his spare time and reading extensively on the subject. Dayan was also an author, and among his publications are Israel's Border and Security Problems (1955), Diary of the Sinai Campaign (1966), and A New Map, New Relationships (1969).
Further Reading on Moshe Dayan
One of the best books on Dayan's life is his own autobiography, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life. A biography was written by his daughter, Yael Dayan, My Father, His Daughter. Naphtali Lau-Lavie's Moshe Dayan (1968) is also a full-length biography. Moshe Ben Shaul, ed., Generals of Israel (trans. 1968), contains a succinct portrayal of Dayan by Doris Lankin. Two works that rely primarily on pictures are David Curtis and Stephen G. Crane, Dayan: A Pictorial Biography (1967), and Pinchas Jurman, ed., Moshe Dayan: A Portrait (1969).