Mordechai (Motta) Gur was born in Jerusalem in 1930 and later joined the Haganah. He continued serving in a military capacity with the founding of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.
In the IDF, Gur served in the Paratroopers Brigade most of his career and became one of the symbols of the “red beret” brigade. During the 1950s he was a company commander under the command of Ariel Sharon participating in cross-border reprisal raids against Palestinian terrorists and Egyptian and Jordanian forces. He was wounded during a counter-terror raid (Operation Elkayam) on the police station in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis and received a commendation from Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan.
In 1957, he was appointed as adjutant to the brigade commander. After serving in this position Gur went to study at the École Supérieure de Guerre in Paris.
After two years in France, he returned and was appointed as the commander of the Golani Brigade (1961–1963) and commanded the counter-terror raid in Nukiev. He brought over the traditions and attitude of the paratroopers, raised morale, and helped instill an esprit de corps in Golani for which the brigade is still famous.
In 1965, he was appointed as the head of the operations branch in the general staff of the IDF. He later also served as a commander of the IDF commanders’ school.
In 1966, Gur was appointed as the commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade (Reserve), which he led during the
Paratroopers surround IDF chief rabbi Shlomo Goren at the Western Wall on June 7, 1967.
Six-Day War. Gur and his troops were part of the assault force which captured Jerusalem from the Jordanians, and which were the first to visit the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The pictures of paratroopers crying at the Wall and Gur’s audio recording in the communication networks, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” (Hebrew: !הר הבית בידינו, Har HaBayit BeYadeinu!) inspired Jews around the world.
After the war he was promoted to Brigadier General’s rank and was appointed as the IDF commander in the Gaza Strip and northern Sinai Peninsula. In 1969, he was promoted to Major General and was appointed as the commander of the northern front, where PLO terrorists, backed by Syria, attacked Israel’s northern settlements. Gur led several counterattacks to reign in the terror attacks, capturing the Shebaa farms from Syria to establish a defensive position to prevent border attacks.
From August 1972 to December 1973, he served as the IDF military attaché at Israel’s Washington D.C., embassy. In January 1974, he was reappointed as the commander of the northern front.
Following the retirement of General David Elazar due to the criticism of the Agranat Commission over his performance during the Yom Kippur War, Gur was appointed the 10th Chief of Staff in April 1974. He held this position until 1978. During that time Gur rebuilt the army and directed the hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, and the 1978 campaign to drive Palestinian terrorists out of Lebanon.
Gur, the Jerusalem Post noted, “was not immune to controversy. Some say that he drove Maj.-Gen. Israel “Talik” Tal so crazy that the officer was overheard saying he had plans to assassinate Gur in the Knesset courtyard.” In 1977, he was criticized for suggesting the planned visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat might be a ploy to hide Egyptian plans for a war.
Following his retirement from the IDF, Gur was appointed as the general manager of Kur Mechanica company.
In 1981 he was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Labor Party. Re-elected in 1984, he served as Minister of Health and was also a member of the Knesset’s Security and Foreign Affairs Committee.
Between 1986 and 1988, he served on the board of Solel Boneh. In April 1988, he was appointed Minister without Portfolio, a position he retained following the 1988 elections until March 1990, when Labor pulled out of the governing coalition.
After the Labor Party won the 1992 elections, Gur was appointed Deputy Minister of Defense. He later served as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s liaison with Jewish settlers to calm their fears over a possible withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 War. He would also comfort Jews when they lost loved ones in terrorist attacks, but he said he would participate in talks with any Palestinians, even from Islamic resistance groups, if they were chosen in future self-rule elections.
Gur wrote three popular children’s books and three books about military history.
In 1995, Gur became seriously ill with terminal cancer. He committed suicide with a handgun on July 16, 1995, at the age of 65. He left a note saying he did not want to be a burden to his family. He was survived by his wife, Rita; four children, Ori, Tami and Rami Gur and Ruth Bar-Shalev, and four grandchildren.
The following are some of the major events of his life.
April 1948 Enlisted in Israel Defense Forces. Served in operational and policy-making positions.
1951-1954 Attended Hebrew University, Middle Eastern Studies.
1959-1960 Attended Ecole Militarie, Ecole de Guerre (Military College), Paris.
1967 Commander of Brigade which liberated Jerusalem.
1970-1972 OC Northern Command.
1972-1973 Military Attache to the United States.
1973 Following the Yom Kippur War returned to his post as OC Northern Command until his appointment as IDF Chief of Staff. During this period he was responsible for the Entebbe Operation (1976) and Operation Litani (1978).
1978 Discharged from IDF.
1979 Harvard School of Business, Boston.
1979-1984 Director of Koor Mechanics, a division of Koor Ltd.
1981 Elected as Labor Party Member of Knesset, appointed Member of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
1984 Re-elected to Knesset, appointed Health Minister.
1986 Chairman, Board of Directors, Solel Boneh Ltd. Appointed Member of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
1988 Re-elected to Knesset, appointed Minister without Portfolio.
1992 Re-elected to Knesset, appointed Deputy Defense Minister.
Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
Joel Greenberg, “Mordechai Gur Is Dead at 65; Army Chief and Entebbe Planner,” New York Times, (July 17, 1995);
“Mordechai Gur,” Wikipedia;
“Gen. Mordechai Gur Dies,” Washington Post, (July 17, 1995);
Uri Milstein, “The life of Mordechai ‘Motta’ Gur: From those who knew him,” Jerusalem Post, (August 4, 2015)
Photo: Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson's Unit. Public Domain.