The Most Decorated Soldier in Israeli History

Stand for Israel  |  September 11, 2023

Ehud Barak and his family, 1966
(Photo: GPO)

Born in 1942, on Kibbutz Mishmar HaSharon in then British-mandate Palestine, Ehud Barak would go on to a life of service to Israel, including as the Jewish state’s 10th prime minister. While raised in the Holy Land, Barak’s grandparents faced anti-Semitic violence elsewhere—his paternal grandparents were murdered in 1912 during a Lithuanian pogrom, and his maternal grandparents were murdered by the Nazis in the Treblinka death camp during the Holocaust.

Barak would go on to earn degrees in physics, mathematics, engineering, and economics, but first he chose to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Joining the IDF in 1959, he would serve for 35 years, reaching the rank of Rav Aluf (Lieutenant-General) and the highest position possible, as Chief of the General Staff.

During his time in the IDF, Barak served as a commando in Israel’s elite Sayeret Matkal. It was in this commando group that he led many important operations, including: Operation Isotope in 1972, which freed nearly 100 hijacked passengers on a plane at Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion Airport); a covert 1973 raid in Lebanon, where dressed as a woman, Barak took out Palestinian terrorists who were behind the Munich Olympics massacre the year before; Operation Entebbe, which freed Israeli passengers who had been hijacked and taken to Uganda; Operation Bayonet, which dismantled the Palestinian terror group Black September; and the 1988 Tunis raid that neutralized PLO terror leader Abu Jihad.

But Barak also stood out on the standard battlefield, as well, commanding an IDF tank regiment during the 1973 Yom Kippur War that rescued a paratrooper battalion, and later commanding the IDF’s 401st armored brigade, the 611st “Pillar of Fire,” and the 252nd “Sinai” division. After his time on the battlefield was over, Barak served as head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, head of Central Command, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, and Chief of the General Staff.

He was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service and four Chief of Staff citations for his courage and excellence, which make him the most decorated soldier in Israel. The United States has also recognized Barak’s bravery and service, awarding him the Legion of Merit in 1992 and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 2012.

Barak began his political career in 1995, first serving under Yitzhak Rabin, then under Shimon Peres after Rabin’s assassination. He was elected to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) in 1996, where he served on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In 1999, Barak was elected as Israel’s Prime Minister by a large margin, defeating Benjamin Netanyahu, serving until 2001 when he was defeated by Ariel Sharon.

From his days as a soldier in the field to his time leading Israeli soldiers, from his entrance into the Knesset to his years serving as Israeli P.M., Ehud Barak has spent his life serving his biblical and historic homeland and the Jewish people who also call it home.