Moshe Dayan Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: A native-born Israeli, Dayan helped Israel win its independence and homeland in 1948-1949 and, as chief of staff, helped build the Israeli Defense Forces into one of the most aggressive military forces in the world. He served as defense minister and as foreign minister and was a member of the Knesset.

Early Life

Moshe Dayan was born of Russian immigrant parents on May 20, 1915, the first child born on the first kibbutz in Palestine, Deganya A, where the Jordan River flows from the Sea of Galilee. Moshe Dayan, then, was a Sabra, a native-born Israeli who grew up speaking both Hebrew and Arabic and was intimately acquainted with both cultures and the hardship of life in Palestine in the early twentieth century.

Palestine was still under Ottoman Turkish rule until the end of World War I, when it became a League of Nations Mandate under the authority of the British government. In 1929, at the age of fourteen, Dayan joined the Haganah, the secret underground defense force of the Israeli settlers. One of Dayan’s first duties was to help patrol the fields on horseback to guard against marauding Arab bands and to drive out Arab goats from the crops.

When Dayan was eighteen, in 1933, he studied math, Hebrew, and literature in Tel Aviv. The next year, he took a walking tour of Palestine to Bet She’an, along the Jordan Valley to Jericho, and south to Beersheba. On July 12, 1935, Moshe Dayan and Ruth Schwartz, a student from Jerusalem, were married. From 1936 to 1939 the “Arab revolt” brought much violence to Palestine, and Dayan served as part of the British-sponsored Jewish Settlement Police Force. He was a guide in the area between Tiberias and Mount Tabor. At the same time, Dayan was a platoon commander in the Haganah and set ambushes at night on roads leading from Arab to Jewish settlements.

Life’s Work

Moshe Dayan thought of himself as a farmer with an avid interest in archaeology and Jewish history, but by the late 1930’s it was obvious to him that his life must be devoted to establishing the State of Israel. That meant a military and, later, a political career for him. In May, 1939, the British government drastically limited Jewish immigration to Palestine and restricted Jewish purchase of land in many areas of Israel. Membership in the Haganah was illegal, and Dayan and forty-two others were arrested for possession of firearms and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment by the British. They served one and a half years and were released in February, 1941, to serve as Jewish volunteers with British forces. Dayan was attached to an Australian unit invading Syria in June, 1941. In a fierce exchange of fire at a French police outpost, Dayan was hit in the left eye and endured twelve hours of pain, with glass and metal fragments in his head, until he finally arrived at a Haifa hospital. The black patch he wore over his left eye was his trademark for the rest of his life.

When World War II ended and the British realized they could not work out a solution for Arabs and Jews in Palestine, they announced their intention of withdrawing from Palestine. The United Nations sought a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews and proposed a partition plan that would have created an Arab state of forty-five hundred square miles and a Jewish state of fifty-five hundred square miles. The Arabs refused to accept the plan. In many parts of the Arab world, violent attacks killed Jews and destroyed many of their homes and synagogues. Seven thousand non-Palestinian Arabs infiltrated Palestine to join Palestinians in attacks against Jews. The Jews responded by joining Haganah or other resistance groups. Dayan’s twenty-two-year-old brother, Zorik, was killed in a battle with the Druze. Nevertheless, Dayan met with Druze leaders and persuaded them not to participate in the coming Israeli-Arab war.

On May 14, 1948, the British completed their withdrawal from Palestine, and David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the existence of the State of Israel. Diplomatic recognition was extended to the new nation by the United States, the Soviet Union, and many Latin American and European nations. Israel was accepted for membership into the United Nations by a 37-12 vote. Immediately the neighboring Arab nations launched the invasion they had planned: ten thousand Egyptians, forty-five hundred Jordanians, seven thousand Syrians, eight thousand Iraquis, and three thousand Lebanese invaded Palestine.

The Syrian sector was northern Israel including Deganiah, under the defensive command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dayan. The Syrians had two hundred armored vehicles, including forty-five tanks. Dayan had only three antitank bazookas and, later, four sixty-five-millimeter guns. After nine hours of bloody fighting between inexperienced, clumsy forces, the Syrians retreated. From there Dayan was ordered to a most unpleasant task, that of armed combat against fellow Israelis to secure weapons brought in on the Altalena by the Irgun, a Jewish underground movement which refused to accept the authority of the new Israeli government. Several Israelis were killed on both sides before Dayan was able to negotiate a settlement.

Dayan was a key commander in the Israeli victories at Lod, Ramla, and Faluja. On July 23, 1948, he was appointed commander of Jerusalem. A cease-fire had been fixed between Jordanian and Israeli positions. As a result, Dayan really had more of a political role, negotiating local arrangements with Arab Jerusalem and national agreements with King Abdullah of Transjordan. The armistice agreements left Israel with eight thousand square miles of Palestine, 21 percent more land than allotted under the United Nations Partition Plan, which the Arabs had refused to accept. Jordan occupied the West Bank and most of Jerusalem. About 70 percent of Palestinian Arabs fled Israel during the war (720,000): 300,000 into the West Bank and Jordan, 180,000 into the Gaza Strip, and 170,000 to Lebanon and Syria. In the next decade, half a million Jews were forced to leave their Muslim homelands in various...

(The entire section is 2499 words.)

Moshe Dayan Biography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

Moshe Dayan’s autobiography, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life, is interesting for what it includes and what it excludes. There is in this account little of the inner or private Moshe Dayan, for the book focuses on the man as a military leader and a member of Israel’s various governments. While Dayan reveals little of his personal relationships even with his wives (divorced from Ruth in 1971; married to Rahel in 1973) and children, the book is important for the information it supplies on the history of Israel and Dayan’s role in Israel’s war of Independence, the Suez Crisis and the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War and its consequences.

The book begins with a description of Moshe Dayan’s parents and childhood. Dayan was born and reared in a Kibbutz, and throughout his life maintained a fondness for farming and for the inhabitants of Kibbutzim (agricultural communities). He also acquired a respect for Arabs and especially for Bedouins that has remained with him throughout his life.

Dayan’s earliest memorable experiences were of attempts of Jewish settlers in Palestine to protect themselves against Arab terrorism at a time when England, the Mandatory government, both prohibited the Jews from arming themselves in self-defense while at the same time refusing to protect Jewish settlements. Consequently, the Jews formed their own Jewish Settlement Police Force and the Haganah, the secret self-defense force of the Jews in Palestine. In 1929 at the age of fourteen Dayan joined the Haganah and in 1937 was assigned to regular defense and other duties which occupied him until the outbreak of World War II. In May, 1939, the British Government issued its White Paper on Palestine, which limited further Jewish immigration to Palestine for the subsequent five years (thereafter banning it altogether) and restricting the purchase by Jews of land in Palestine. The White Paper, which would guarantee that Jewish refugees from Nazi concentration and death camps during World War II could not escape to Palestine, caused a further deterioration of relations between the British Mandatory government and the Jewish settlers in Palestine. Nonetheless, Jews had little alternative but to support England during World War II, and Dayan participated in recruiting and training young Jewish settlers for the Haganah and to assist British military forces in the Middle East.

In serving as a part of an Australian military unit in 1941, Dayan participated in a military engagement in which he lost his left eye. Recovering, he returned to military duties, aiding the British and organizing the Haganah in Palestine and in other Arab countries to prevent such occurences as the 1941 massacre of some four hundred Jews in the Jewish section of Baghdad. The Haganah was also involved in facilitating clandestine immigration to Palestine of Jews from the Arab nations.

Dayan’s autobiography jumps from mid-World War II to 1947. Curiously missing is any description of the Holocaust or its effects on Palestine, or the ingathering into Palestine after the war of Jews from Europe. Nor is there a description of the problems of settlement. These deficiencies underscore the nature of this autobiography as a description primarily of Israel’s military history. Dayan returns to his story when, in November, 1947, the United Nations approved a partition resolution recognizing Israel’s right to statehood. In refusing to accept the resolution, Palestinian Arabs and their supporters from various Arab nations began a war that raged intermittently against Jewish settlements and that eventually broadened into a full-scale war. Within hours of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May, 1948, the Arab armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt (Saudi Arabia sent troops that fought under Egypt’s direction) invaded Israel. Dayan’s leadership abilities in this war resulted in his elevation from commander of the 89th commando battalion to commander of Jerusalem. That strategic position permitted Dayan to negotiate directly with King Abdulla of Jordan. Failing to defeat Israel, the Arab states signed peace treaties in the spring and summer of 1949.

With the conclusion of the war, Dayan’s appointment as commander of Israel’s Southern Command involved him significantly in supporting the development of settlements within his command. Dayan played an important role in assisting the government of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in encouraging settlement. As commander in these desert regions, Dayan also developed an interest, sustained throughout the remainder of his life, in archaeology. He eventually acquired a substantial collection of high quality items unearthed in his digs. Dayan’s administration of the Southern Command was of sufficient skill and competence that promotion followed.

On December 7, 1952, Dayan became head of the Operations Branch of the General Staff and on December 6, 1953, he was elevated to Chief of Staff of the Israeli Armed Forces. In this position, he concentrated his efforts on improving the training and overall quality of Israel’s armed forces. In November, 1955, the Soviet Union began supplying Egypt with massive quantities of arms. This alerted the Israeli General Staff to the possibility of a threat from Egypt and convinced the General Staff and the Israeli government to seek arms from abroad. While the United States refused to sell arms, France and England provided Israel with limited quantities of weapons. In addition to producing a Middle East arms race, the Soviet armaments provided Egypt’s ruler, Gamal Abdel Nasser, with the confidence to nationalize the Suez Canal on July 16, 1956. The nationalization of the Canal convinced France to seek English and later Israeli cooperation to launch a joint invasion of Egypt to recover the Suez Canal and topple the government of Nasser.

Dayan eventually became part of the team negotiating with France and England to undertake an invasion of Egypt. Israel, in Dayan’s view, hardly needed a justification for an invasion of Egypt, in the face of Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran, terrorist activities launched from Egypt against Israel, Egyptian military preparation for an invasion of Israel, and Nasser’s continuous statements of a state of war between Israel and Egypt. However, England and France still sought further justification for their invasion. Although in negotiating with the British and the French, Israel found the English particularly uncooperative, a strategy was finally developed for British and French entry into a war against Egypt. Israel would initiate military action against Egypt; France and England would then issue an ultimatum to Egypt and Israel demanding their withdrawal from the Suez Canal, and when it was rejected, they would then intervene to secure the Canal.

The Sinai Campaign began on October 29, 1956, as Israel began an invasion of the Sinai desert. The Sinai campaign has become a classic in military strategy. Eventually it involved Israel in four thrusts across the Sinai desert. In the first operation, Israeli paratroopers were dropped at the western end of the Sinai in position to seize two crucial passes, the Mitla Pass and the Gidi Pass. The paratroopers received support when armored and infantry forces linked with them at the end of a thrust directly west across the desert and toward the Egyptian city of Suez. Meanwhile another column was successful in crossing the desert from east to west on a line parallel to and...

(The entire section is 3065 words.)

Moshe Dayan Biography

(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)
0111215522-Dayan.jpg Moshe Dayan. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Military significance: Dayan, minister of defense during the Six-Day War, played a key role in the Israeli victory, the results of which brought him international fame.

Following the Arab riots of 1929, Dayan joined the Haganah, the underground Jewish defense organization, later serving as an instructor in the Supernumerary Police Force. During World War II, Dayan was a member of the Special Night Squads under the command of General Orde Wingate. During an engagement in southern Lebanon in June, 1941, Dayan lost an eye when shot by a sniper. The eyepatch he wore for the remainder of his life made Dayan a recognizable figure.

In 1948, Dayan commanded a battalion on the...

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Moshe Dayan Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

Christian Science Monitor. October 12, 1976, p. 38.

Economist. October 9, 1976, p. 125.

Los Angeles Times. October 4, 1976, Books, p. 9.

New Republic. CLXXV, November 27, 1976, p. 35.

New Statesman. XCII, September 17, 1976, p. 377.

New York Times Book Review. October 24, 1976, p. 4.

Spectator. CCXXXVII, September 18, 1976, p. 31.

(The entire section is 35 words.)