Remembering General Moshe Dayan
In this observer’s naivete, I always thought that all Israelis loved General Moshe Dayan. Not so.
As a person, I found him enormously likeable. In August of 1966, your humble correspondent was an assistant operations officer in the 1st Air Cavalry Division then located near Pleiku, South Vietnam.
General Dayan came to the 1st Air Cavalry Division to learn something about helicopter warfare. After all, we were the world’s foremost airmobile fighting force. By the way, if you have not seen “We Were Soldiers,” please do.
As one of the G3 briefing officers, it was my honor to conduct a portion of the evening briefing for our commanding general, our senior staff and for visiting dignitaries such as General Dayan. With his trademark black patch over one eye, his other eye seemed almost as penetrating as the piercing questions he put to us about the conduct of airmobile warfare. Clearly, he was not in Vietnam on holiday. He was there to learn as much as he could, as quickly as he could.
Then, one day he disappeared. He wanted to experience airmobile operations at first hand. So, with saying anything to anyone, he hopped on a helicopter that was carrying one of our long-range reconnaissance patrols to overlook the river that separated South Vietnam from Cambodia. At a location just west of where the battle depicted in “We Were Soldiers” was fought.
All heck broke loose when it was discovered that General Dayan had, literally, flown the coop. Top priority messages rained down on us all the way from the White House to our primitive outhouses behind the division headquarters. Where is General Dayan? That was the question. Well, he was lying out in the jungle with a patrol whose orders were to maintain radio silence. That’s why, for several days, we could not find one of the world’s most famous general officers.
Then, one morning General Dayan reappeared. He was dirty and grimy. But he had learned some things on the Cambodian border that he could not have learned hanging around our division headquarters. How do you spell relief? Well, it wasn’t the name of a popular antacid even though our commanding general was later hospitalized in Hawaii on his way back to the States with an ulcer.
But, as we got to know the rather shy General Dayan, he became the teacher and we became his students. With a map of the Middle East, he showed us how Israel was only nine miles wide near its center. He showed us how Syria’s Golan Heights looked down on Israel making the northern end of the nation a sitting duck for artillery and rocket fire. He showed us how Israel’s southern borders pointed down into indefensible desert terrain. He showed us how the Gaza Strip was like a small cancer attached to the southwestern corner of Israeli.
Then, one night in June of 1967, our secure telex machines began to rumble with news of the outbreak of a major war in the Middle East. Fortunately, we had a radio that could pick up the BBC World Service and we listened to an almost blow-by-blow account of what became known in history as the Six-Day War. When the dust settled, Israel had repelled the Arab invasion and ended up with much more defensible borders. Israel ruled supreme over the West Bank and Gaza.
But here is why some Israelis dislike General Dayan: Instead of expelling the Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza, General Dayan invited them to stay and to become citizens if Israeli. Many of them did. And that is why some Israelis revile the memory of one of the greatest generals who ever lived.
General Dayan’s generosity now comes under the heading of: Let no good deed go unpunished. Now that we have seen the seemingly endless stream of suicide attacks launched against Israeli from the West Bank and Gaza, maybe General Dayan’s critics are correct.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist who served two years with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about a terrorist attack on Colorado’s high country.
©2002. William Hamilton.