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'Symbol of Israeli success'. Moshe Dayan
Photo: GPO
Dayan and Golda Meir, 1973
Photo: Getty Images Imagebank
The shattered myth of Moshe Dayan
As demi-god sporting legendary eye-patch and fame that followed Six Day War victory he seemed invincible. Former defense minister's comrades explain how image of fearless general splintered over revelations included in newly released Yom Kippur War Records

Only one who has truly loved can carry a broken heart for 37 years. Only he is capable, years after the love of his life has died and been buried, to continuously fling the betrayal and disappointment in her direction, to try and understand the why and how. True love is what turned the cabinet protocols from the first days of the Yom Kippur War to a riveting read. The eyes race through the print seeking out the words of Moshe Dayan. As if by understanding what happened there, in the room where Dayan fell from the heights of a demi-god and transformed before our very eyes into a hated bitter man, we could find what was lost: the trust, the power, the emotion.

 

"In all the years of Israel's history, there has not existed a military hero or dominant figure like him," says military historian Yossi Argaman, "Moshe Dayan symbolized the national and military rebirth and the revitalization of Jewish strength, the myth of the Jewish fighter. He climbed so high, that he became a kind of god. His clerks at the Ministry of Defense even dressed like him. He would walk around in a brown suede coat, and everyone followed suit. He had a magical influence. I don't remember anyone, not even military heroes, who had such an influence and who were elevated to such heights on a national level".

 

Special: Never before released Yom Kippur War records

 

It would appear that Dayan was sadly lacking as the "nation's lover." In the newly released protocols he suggests leaving wounded soldiers to their fate behind enemy lines, admits his evaluations were mistaken, and he never once said "everything will be OK". His words are true, but not the truth a heartbroken nation wishes to hear. The real Dayan was pessimistic, fearful, cold and lacking any sentiment. The affair has ended, now for life after the end.

 

Arrogant, over confident

Dayan was the epitome of the arrogant Israeli, smug, over confident, waltzing around radiating the glow of his Six Day War victory, but whose complacency later led to the fiasco that was the Yom Kippur War. With this view of Dayan in mind, his statements in the newly released protocols have a shattering effect – the pessimism, the ominous prophesies, the mental health problems brought on by the war.

 

"Dayan put the arrogance in army" say Argaman, "The over familiarity, the smugness, the lack of modesty, it wasn't there before his time…Nevertheless he was always a loner. When you compare him with Yigal Alon, Dayan was always the black knight, Alon the white knight".

 

"Dayan was a very artistic character", says Professor Oz Almog, an expert on Israeli society at the Haifa University. "When I look at him in pictures and movies there is something in his demeanor, something in his face that is almost inhuman. He looks bionic, with an unmoving look, even his voice lacked intonation, very mechanical. This is a man with a remarkable personality…Even though he seems like the ultimate Tzabar, he is more like Peres, with his un-Tzabar characteristics, there is something very private about him. I fail to see his sex appeal, although he was quite successful with the ladies, a Yiddish pirate. His myth was constructed on the foundations of his biography and from some magical aura he carried with him. Something in his speech, his sparkling smile, his look".

 

Rising through the ranks

Even his harshest critics agree that it wouldn't be fair to remember Dayan only for those eight days in October of 1973. Born in Degania, he is one of the people who most influenced Israel in the first 30 years of its existence. The fighter, the chief of staff and the defense minister who fought in every war was also the man who led the peace process as foreign minister in Begin's government.

 

At 15 he enlisted in the Haganah and went on to serve in Wingate's special night brigade. In June 1941 he lost his eye in Syria when a French sniper hit his binoculars. From the age of 26 and until the day he died, Dayan wore the famous eye patch.

 

In 1948, he took part in the War of Independence, and enjoyed a meteoric rise through the IDF ranks and in 1953 he was appointed chief of ctaff. Dayan was responsible for establishing the IDF's world renowned offensive approach. Ben-Gurion said he was Israel's best chief of staff, a remark which sparked anger among previous holders of the title. He retired from the IDF in 1958 after a tempestuous and dramatic career; he then joined the Knesset under the aegis of the Mapai party, soon becoming agriculture minister inBen Gurion's government.

 

Dayan once again took center stage in 1967. In May, the Egyptian army entered the Sinai Peninsula, the straits of Tiran were closed and a general draft was announced in Israel and the surrounding Arab countries. Fear of an impending attack grew due to the government's lack of resolve. Prime Minister Eshkol caved and Dayan was appointed defense minister.

 

After four days Dayan gave the go ahead for war and when victory was achieved six days later, he received all the credit. For the next six years, until the day documented in the protocols, Dayan was the king of Israel, like no man before him and no man after him. He was adored in Israel and around the world. Together with Israel's next Prime Minister, Golda Meir, he led a firm state policy, which opposed receding any territories, approved the first settlements and delayed peace efforts.


'Symbol of Israeli succcess.' Signing autographs (Photo: David Rubinger)

 

"You can't ignore the fact that he was one of the most fascinating figures in the history of the State of Israel", says former MK and historian Dr. Moredechai Bar-On, who was Dayan's bureau chief. "I speak as a man who was very much against Dayan's policies after he became defense minister, but I can't ignore his personal strength of purpose. He was no man's dupe. Very independent. Feared no man, and said whatever he felt like saying. That is power, the kind which you don't usually find among leaders. Dayan never sought public approbation. Any support he received he earned through the power he welded and not through political maneuvering".

 

Man of contrasts 

Dayan's mysterious power stemmed, among other things, from his complex personality. He was a man of contrasts - an army man who loved being in the field, a true intellectual who enjoyed reading and writing and extremely interested in the bible. Well known for his string of passionate and scandalous romantic liaisons while married to Ruth, until he left her to live with Rachel, he was a questionable family man, as his children affirm to this day. He was a noted archeology enthusiast, but took his hobby too far and became something of a grave robber. He never felt the need to apologize for anything, and the public accepted him as is, for he was Moshe Dayan.

 

The Yom Kippur War, the breaking point for Israeli society, caught even Dayan off guard. It is difficult to isolate his part in the failures of the war, but it is clear that he was one of those chiefly responsible for the disaster. His greatest tragedy is most likely the fact that the Agranat commission absolved him of any responsibility, and allowed him to continue in a position others were made to resign from in similar circumstances.

 

On the night between the 5th and 6th of October 1973, the phone rang at the house of Transportation Minister Shimon Peres. Dayan was on the other line asking to meet with Peres urgently. Dayan told Peres that both Golda Meir and Chief of Staff David Eliezer ("Dado") believe that a general draft should be announced, though Dayan himself had reservations. He claimed that the draft would take 48 hours, during which time Egypt and Syria might consider the announcement as Israeli aggression and start the war claiming Israel had in fact started it. Dayan's solution was a discreet reserve draft for the first day. Meanwhile in the field, soldiers were called back from leave. Both agreed it was the right thing to do.

 

This story is a lesson in the refutability of the facts from that day in October, and that war in general. The widespread claim is that Dayan was against a general draft and remained complacent to the last minute – it also says something about Dayan's loneliness. Peres was very faithful to Dayan, and their relationship had always been strong, though it is hard to understand why Dayan needed Peres's support in particular at that critical time.

 

'Mr. Security'

General (res.) Avraham "Bren" Adan, Commander of the 162nd Division which crossed the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, knew Dayan from the 1948 War of Independence and served as his operations officer in the early 1950s when Dayan was Southern Command chief. "I got the impression he was a brave man. That he saw with one eye further ahead than most people could. That he was smart and did whatever he wanted to," he says.

 

Nevertheless, Bren admits there was "a huge gap between Dayan's image as 'Mr. security' and his functioning in the Yom Kippur War." He further adds, "He gave many 'ministerial advises' during the war, i.e. non-binding suggestions, and to many it seemed he was shirking responsibility. For instance, when he listened to Arik (Ariel Sharon) who had many claims, he came to the command and said: 'Arik said so and so, I want you to discuss this.' He was very passive."

 

"The refocus on Dayan is wrong," says Colonel (res.) Yaakov Hesdai, who served as battalion commander in the Sinai during the war and who was later appointed as a military investigator on behalf of the Agranat Commission. "Dayan lost the trust of a large part of the public immediately after the war and therefore the protocols being published now offer no news. All facts about him were already known. The big question was what happened during the war.

 

"I was of the opinion that the war reflected several fundamental problems, both on the senior command level and on the national leadership level. Dayan did not represent the problems I pointed to. He was no more responsible for the army's preparation than Dado was. Dado himself admitted he erred and did not foresee reality. Everyone was caught off guard, not just Dayan. The military thinking failure was a collective one, not to mention the Military Intelligence Directorate that had erred.

 

"The security establishment fell dormant, pure and simple. When the committee investigated it turned out there were no complete war plans. Many of the commanders were not yet ready for their roles. These things did not happen suddenly on October 7, 1973, but formed years earlier. The arrogance and complacence were not characteristic of Dayan. It characterized the senior IDF leadership as a whole on the eve of the previous war.

 

"Moshe Dayan's moods and status evaluations had no effect on the course of the war," says Brigadier General (res.) Avner Shalev chairman of Yad Vashem, who served as Dado's right hand man during the war and who attended the meetings documented in the newly released protocols. "Lucky for the State of Israel that it had a very strong prime minister who ran the war together with the chief of staff. True, Moshe Dayan came to the meeting feeling very down and had his own status evaluation but he experienced mood swings throughout the war.

 

"What is important to understand is that at that stage Dayan's influence was very small and it diminished as the war progressed. On that night, Golda did not accept Dayan's assessment but the IDF chief of staff's and adhered to it all the way in a very firm manner. It is important for me that the public know that at that point in the war, as in most others, Moshe's status evaluations had no effect on the way the war was conducted or of the chief of staff's evaluations."

 

"The problem with Dayan is that he became a symbol," Hesdai says. "A symbol of the Tzabar, a symbol of 'Mr. security', a symbol of Israeli success. You ask me on a personal level whether he deserved that trust? I would want to see people with other qualities leading the country. But the trust given to him by the public, that is what was special. It is hardly surprising that a man climbs up a ladder placed before him. But those who placed the ladder, those who trusted him as he climbed it, they are the ones who should provoke interest. It's the story of an entire country, not of him."

 

"We are in the midst of a post-mythical age," says Professor Almog. "A large percentage of the Jewish population doesn't know who Dayan was or that specific period in time. He belongs to a past that only the older generation knows. My aunt has a saying: 'Now, one cannot know what will happen in the past.' There's no one to kill anymore, it's just abusing the corpse."

 

Zvi Singer contributed to this article

 

 

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