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.)