Moshe Dayan was an Israeli military leader who later became a crusader for peace. He played a key role in four wars and helped negotiate the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
Dayan (born May 20, 1915; died October 16, 1981) was born on kibbutz Deganya Alef, near Lake Kinneret, to parents Shemuel and
Devorah. The kibbutz was founded in 1910 and called em hakvutzot - the mother of collective settlements.
When he was only 14 years old, Dayan joined the Haganah, an underground organization that defended Jewish settlements
from Arab attacks. In the Haganah, Dayan learned guerilla warfare from British Captain Charles Orde Wingate, who was a leader of
night patrols organized to fight Arab rebel bands. During the riots of 1936-1939, he served with the special police force in
the Jezreel Valley and Galilee. When the British outlawed the Haganah in 1939, Dayan was arrested and imprisoned for
Upon his release in 1941, Dayan joined the British army, where he served with the forces that liberated Lebanon and Syria
from Vichy France during World War II. Dayan was wounded in battle in Lebanon and lost his left eye. He began to wear
the black eyepatch that later became his trademark. He cooperated with British intelligence to set up a broadcasting
network for clandestine operations behind enemy lines in the event that Palestine should fall to the Germans. He remained
active in the Haganah until 1948.
Dayan's activities in the 1948 War of Independence began when he commanded the defense of Jewish settlements in the
Jordan Valley. He later commanded the battalion that attacked the city of Lydda and helped halt Egyptian forces on the
southern front. In August 1948, he was appointed commander on the Jerusalem front. In 1949, he participated in armistice talks with Jordanian officials at Rhodes. Dayan's military prowess allowed him to rise to the rank of chief of operations at
General Headquarters in 1952, and, in 1953, he was elected Chief of Staff of the armed forces.
Dayan became Chief of Staff during a time of severe Arab belligerence. Despite the military armistice of 1949, the
surrounding Arab nations remained hostile, maintaining a maritime blockade, reinforcing an economic boycott, promoting
political and propaganda warfare and supporting terrorism in Israel. The Israeli government was unable to contain the
terrorist violence. Dayan insisted on strong retaliation operations. His view was that the Arabs saw terrorism as a stage of
war, and the longer the terrorist attacks continued, the longer the Arabs had to build up their military strength. He wanted to
force the Arabs into open battle before they gained full military power. Under Dayan's command, the Israeli military
launched raids in Gaza and other retaliatory missions, causing heavy casualties to the Egyptians, Syrians, and other Arab
populations. On October 29, 1956, Dayan led Israel's Suez campaign, an invasion of the Sinai Peninsula after Egypt,
Syria and Jordan signed a pact stating as their goal the destruction of Israel.
Dayan left the military in 1958 and entered his second career politics. He joined Israel's Labor Party, Mapai, and was
elected to the Knesset in 1959. He served as Minister of Agriculture in the government of David Ben-Gurion from 1959
until 1964. In 1964, Dayan resigned as Minister of Agriculture after an argument with new Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and
joined Ben-Gurion in forming a new party called Rafi (Alliance of Israel's Workers). Dayan did not stay out of the
government for long, however. One year later, Dayan was reelected to the Knesset representing Rafi, which later rejoined
the Labor Party.
Dayan's reputation as an effective leader grew when he was appointed Minister of Defense under Levi Eshkol just in time
for the Six-Day War in 1967 against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. When the Syrians were shelling Israeli villages in Upper
Galilee, Dayan was the one who made the decision to launch a full-scale attack against the Syrians. It was also Dayan who
ended the fighting by arranging a cease-fire with Syria through Chief of Staff of the UN Observer Corps, General Odd Bull.
Dayan was seen as "a solo performer, partly admired, partly feared for his political stunts."
After the war, Dayan controlled the territories occupied by the Israeli Army. He opened the borders for Arab residents of
the territories to travel to Arab countries, while at the same time maintaining order and security in Israeli-held areas.
Dayan kept his position as Defense Minister when Golda Meir of the Labor Party succeeded Eshkol as Prime Minister in
1969. Ambassador Gideon Rafael wrote about Dayan, "Rocking the boat is his favourite tactic, not to overturn it, but to
sway it sufficiently for the helmsman to lose his grip or for some of its unwanted passengers to fall overboard." One of his
most controversial demands, made in 1973, was for the construction of Yamit, a new Israeli port city in Egyptian territory.
Fearful of Dayan's defection from the Labor Party, Meir supported the plan.
Before the Yamit plan could advance, however, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat launched a surprise attack against Israel.
On Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, Egyptian armies crossed the Suez Canal, moved anti-aircraft
missiles into the canal area, and waged war on Israel. Israeli losses were high and Israel had too short a supply of
equipment to conduct a prolonged war.
On October 22, a cease-fire was declared, but the Israeli public's confidence had been severely shaken. Israel had been
unprepared for the surprise attack and unable to repulse it quickly. The nations lack of preparation was blamed on Defense
Minister Dayan and an outraged public demanded his resignation. The president of the Supreme Court set up a commission
to investigate the performance of generals during the war. The commission recommended the resignation of the Chief of
Staff, but reserved judgement on Dayan. The press and the public, however, condemned him. After attending a military
funeral at which bereaved parents had called him a murderer of their sons, Dayan submitted his resignation
to Meir in 1974.
Dayan was "loath to close his life story marked by the events of the Yom Kippur War," and, in 1977, newly elected Likud
Prime Minister Menachem Begin gave him a second chance by offering him the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Although Dayan was from the opposition Labor Party, he accepted the appointment because he believed, "I could
significantly influence Israel's moves towards achieving a peace arrangement with our neighboring Arab States and with
the Palestinian inhabitants of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip."
In May 1977, Dayan began negotiating with the Egyptians. As lead negotiator, Dayan began with the premise of receiving
an Arab acceptance of Israeli rule over Judea, Samaria and Gaza, in exchange for a return of Sinai to Egypt. He negotiated
for 18 months, and held secret meetings with officials in India, Iran, England and Morocco. His style is described as acting
"alternately with dash and deliberation, advancing and stalling, vacillating between surprising compromises and
inexplicable intransigence." With help from U.S. president and mediator Jimmy Carter, Dayan met with the Egyptians
first at Leeds Castle and later at Camp David. Eventually, a peace agreement, the Camp David Accords, was drawn up and
signed at 11 p.m. on Sunday September 17, 1978.
In 1979, Dayan resigned as Foreign Minister. Dayan and Begin disagreed about the building of settlements in the territories
and Dayan was frustrated by the fact that he was not leading the autonomy talks with the Palestinians. Dayan also felt that
he was increasingly being bypassed on foreign policy issues. In 1981, he formed the Telem party, which advocated
unilateral disengagement from the territories occupied in 1967. The party received only two mandates in the subsequent
On May 14, 1979, Dayan was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died on October 16, 1981, in Tel Aviv and was buried in
Nahalal, the moshav where he was raised.
During his life, Dayan wrote four books: Diary of the Sinai Campaign (1966), Mappah Hadasha-Yahasim Aherim (1969)
on problems after the Six-Day War, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life (1976) and Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel
Peace Negotiations (1981).