A Real Commander in Charge

The Fellowship  |  June 28, 2019

Moshe Dayan and Haim Bar-Lev
Moshe Dayan and Haim Bar-Lev

Haim Bar-Lev

November 16, 1924 – May 7, 1994

Born to a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria, Haim made aliyah (immigrated to the Holy Land) as a young teenager after the Nazis invaded his home country.

From 1942 until 1948, he served in various pre-state military units like the Palmach, becoming both a pilot and a parachutist. Each of these skills would serve him well later on as he helped found the respective units of the IDF. In 1946, Bar-Lev detonated the Allenby Bridge near Jericho, in order to keep terrorists from Trans-Jordan from attacking Jewish towns west of the Jordan River. When Israel’s War of Independence began two years later, he commanded the Negev Brigade’s Eighth Mechanized Battalion, which fought in southern Israel and the Sinai.

But Bar-Lev’s help in founding the state of Israel was not his only service to his homeland. In 1956, his 27th Armored Brigade captured Gaza before reaching the Suez Canal. In 1964, he began to serve as the IDF’s Director of Operations. And during the Six-Day War of 1967, he was the IDF’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

After the victorious Six-Day War, Bar-Lev agreed to build a high sand wall along the east bank of the Suez Canal. This was done to keep Egypt from spying on Israeli defenses, and became known as the Bar Lev Line. From 1968 until 1971, Bar-Lev served as Israel’s highest-ranking military officer — IDF Chief of General Staff.

By the time the Yom Kippur War began in 1973, Bar-Lev had retired. But Prime Minister Golda Meir called him back into service to command Israel’s southern forces defending the Sinai Peninsula. Before Bar-Lev arrived, Israel’s southern defenses were nearing collapse. He took charge, stabilized the entire front, and helped his field generals carry out an effective campaign. Afterwards, this was said of the effect Bar-Lev’s presence had on the IDF:

Bar-Lev brought calmness on all of us. Finally there was a feeling that we had a real commander in charge. This feeling spread between us and later also in the battlefield radios like fire…No one challenged his authority. The country owes much to him.

Once Bar-Lev had retired from the IDF for good, he continued to serve Israel, first as Minister of Trade and Industry, as a member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), as Minister of Police, and even as Ambassador to Russia, which was his position when he passed away in 1994. May the memory of this man — who came to his biblical homeland as a boy, and who served Israel bravely his entire life — be a blessing.

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