Moshe Dayan: A Warrior’s Story (1996)

Moshe Dayan: A Warrior’s Story (Produced and directed by Harrison Engle, A&E & Signal Hill Entertainment, 1996).

A man of war with the wish to make peace

The story of how Israel emerged from the Palestine partition plan, then survived against a much larger Arab military, and the critical role of Moshe Dayan in these events, is a saga that merits a multi-hour miniseries. Harrison Engle has marvelously captured the essence of both in this 50-minute A&E Biography.

Dayan is a person who embodied the spirit of Israel. Born a sabra in Israel’s first kibbutz, Dayan’s early years included playing with his Arab neighbors and developing a life-long deep appreciation for the Old Testament and its tales of ancient Jewish warriors.

When fourteen Dayan joined the Haganah, a militant underground Jewish group. In 1937 he enlisted in the British-created Jewish settlement police force, while also leading settler raids for the outlawed Haganah. He learned a lot about guerrilla warfare from a non-conventional British officer, Orde Wingate, before being arrested and given a ten-year prison sentence for his Haganah activities.

World War II got him out of prison and into the Australian 7th Division, where he received the Distinguished Service Order and also lost an eye and gained his distinctive black eye patch.

As a protégé of David Ben-Gurion, this courageous and controversial soldier played a major role in Israel’s 1948 fight for independence. One of his most difficult tasks, during the war, was blocking arms shipments to Irgun, a renegade Jewish group.Fourteen Israelis were killed and the armaments ship was shelled. As the Arabic-speaking commander of the Jerusalem Brigade, he skillfully worked out a Jerusalem settlement with Jordanian leaders.

Charismatic Dayan became Ben-Gurion’s military Chief of Staff in 1953.
While his personal life was reckless, he relentlessly enforced rigorous military training that resulted in high morale and a sense of military elitism. His brilliant field generalship during the 1956 war further enhanced his heroic mystique with the Israeli people.

After retiring from the Israeli Defense Force and entering politics, Dayan was called back as Minister of Defense just before the 1967 Six-Day War. His hawkish views overrode Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s equivocation and resulted in the devastating June 5th preemptive strike against the Egyptian air force that initiated a stunning Israeli victory. At the height of this triumph, Dayan also sought a path towards a peaceful settlement with the Arabs.

Dayan and Prime Minister Golda Meir were caught unaware by Egypt’s initiation of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After devastating initial losses, Israel, with massive U. S. armaments assistance, successively seized the offensive. Nonetheless, Dayan’s mantle as Israeli hero was severely tarnished.

Dayan was a warrior. He was also a poet, a politician, an amateur archeologist, and, in his final years, a peacemaker. It was ironic that, as foreigner minister for his long-time adversary, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, he played an important role in achieving the historic Camp David Accords, under which much of the territory that Dayan had captured from Egypt was returned.

Dayan was an extraordinary individual. Even his friends might call him a ‘loose cannon.’ As Ariel Sharon noted about Dayan: “He would wake up with a hundred ideas. Of them ninety-five were dangerous; three more were bad; the remaining two, however, were brilliant.” Drawing inspiration from the story of David and Goliath, he continually devised special ways and tactics to win a war against a much larger Arab force. The same person who stated that he “didn’t know anything more exciting than war” in his later life pursued a new mission: to find lasting peace with the Arabs.

Moshe Dayan was an intense individual with great charisma, courage, and contradictions. This documentary’s film clips of Dayan, from a 1979 film series: Dayan: Settler, Warrior, Statesman, provide keen insights into how Dayan saw himself. However a personal balance sheet on Dayan might be drawn, there is no dispute that, during this critical stage of Israel’s history, Moshe Dayan ranks second only to David Ben-Gurion.


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