Succinct biography of the “lone wolf” defense minister during Israel’s decisive first campaigns.
Bar-On (A Never-Ending Conflict: A Guide to Israeli Military History, 2004, etc.) states from the first sentence of this crisp, selective new biography that “the story of Moshe Dayan is the story of the State of Israel,” and thereby, this contains all of its inspiring, problematic and confounding mythology. Dayan (1915–1981), like Israel, was full of contradictions, which were part of his mystique and magnetism. The child of educated Ukrainian immigrants to Palestine committed to eking out a living on one of the earliest kibbutzim in Palestine, Dayan connected first and foremost with the land. His early experience in the farming cooperative involved the moshav, which his “trailblazer” parents forged, draining swamps and enduring Arab reprisals—an experience that would inform his later work as Israel’s minister of agriculture and his “lifelong ambivalence toward treatment of the Palestinians.” Dayan’s fearlessness, which verged on recklessness, characterized his youth, as he learned the basic rules of military field conduct in the fledgling Haganah and lost an eye during an invasion of Syria in 1941, after which he was convinced his military career was over. Occasionally recruited to quell the infighting from the Irgun, he found many of his old colleagues now commanders, and he hitched his star to David Ben-Gurion, who appointed him first as commander of Jerusalem, then head of the Israeli Defense Force, and later defense minister during the Six-Day War. Architect of the doomed reprisals policy along the borders, sidelined and vilified for his role in the Yom Kippur debacle, and unable to accept Palestinian autonomy, Dayan wrestled ceaselessly between hubris and humanity.
A sharp, fully fleshed, somewhat biased portrait of “one of the most fascinating and compelling figures to have appeared on Israel’s stage.”