In 1946, he became a member of the Palmach and during the War of Independence carried out reconnaissance in Syria. In 1948 he was appointed company commander of the Harel Brigade and led the forces which broke through to the Old City of Jerusalem via the Zion Gate in May of that year.
He studied economics and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After the Sinai Campaign, in which he commanded the infantry brigade which fought in Gaza, he was transferred to the Armored Corps and, in 1961, succeeded General Ḥaim Bar-Lev as its commander, being promoted to the rank of major-general in 1962.
In November 1964, Elazar was appointed O.C. Northern Command and was responsible for the capture of the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War. In 1971, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. A year later, he was appointed Chief of Staff.
On October 1, 1973, the armies of Egypt and Syria were placed on alert. Due to an erroneous intelligence assessment and poor decisions by the Israeli military, the IDF responded with only limited measures, few reserve units were called up, and it was determined that war was
“unlikely.” In the early hours of October 6, Yom Kippur, Elazar finally became convinced that war would indeed break out that same day, even though the Chief of Military Intelligence Major General Eli Zeira and the Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan still believed that this was highly unlikely.
Israeli General Aviezer Ya’ari, head of the IDF’s research department, credits two decisions made by Elazar relatively early in the fighting as crucial to achieving Israel’s victory. One was Elazar’s decision to shift reserve forces that were being held along the Jordanian border in the event Jordan entered the war to the Golan Heights. These forces were instrumental in first halting the Syrians’ rapid advance, then turning the tide of battle against them.
The second was his decision, despite vigorous objections from his field generals, to postpone further counter-attacks in the Sinai until the Egyptians, which had dug in defensive positions alongside the east bank of the Suez Canal, first started an offensive push eastwards from those positions. This led to the Battle of the Sinai, which was fought on terms better suited to Israeli tactics, and which they decisively won, thus weakening overall Egyptian resistance and facilitating a hard-fought but eventually successful counteroffensive that allowed the IDF to cross the Suez Canal and trap most of the Egyptian Third Army on its eastern bank by the end of the war.
On November 21, 1973, shortly after the war ended, the Agranat Commission was set up to investigate why the IDF was so poorly prepared for the Yom Kippur War. The report, published early in 1974, stated that “Elazar bears personal responsibility for the assessment of the situation and the preparedness of the IDF” and recommended that Elazar and Zeira be removed from their posts.
Elazar immediately submitted his resignation. In his resignation letter, Elazar wrote:
It is not the job of the chief of staff to oversee all tactical details. I testify that as Northern Front Commander in 1967 I submitted a general plan to the chief of staff and did not receive detailed plans...I cannot comprehend why the commission thought that I should have concluded that reserves should be called on 5 October, and yet the Minister of Defense could not have arrived at the same conclusion, while we had exactly the same information and there was no one on the general staff who thought or suggested that reserves be called
Many Israelis felt he had been made a scapegoat for Israel’s failures in the war.
After he left the military, Elazar was appointed head of the Zim Shipping Company.
On April 15, 1976, he died of a heart attack while swimming. He is buried on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem.
A biography of Elazar, Dado, by Hanoch Bartovo, appeared in 1978.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved:
“David Elazar,” Wikipedia.
The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente.
Photo: Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson’s Unit. Public Domain.