Dayan was assigned to a small Australian-Palmach-Arab reconnaissance task force, formed in preparation for the Allied invasion of Syria and Lebanon and attached to the Australian 7th Division. Using his home kibbutz of Hanita as a forward base, the unit frequently infiltrated Vichy French Lebanon, wearing traditional Arab dress, on covert surveillance missions.
On 7 June, the night before the invasion, the unit crossed the border and secured two bridges over the Litani River. When they were not relieved as expected, at 04:00 on 8 June, the unit perceived that it was exposed to possible attack and — on its own initiative — assaulted a nearby Vichy police station, capturing it in a firefight. A few hours later, as Dayan was using binoculars they were struck by a French bullet, propelling metal and glass fragments into his left eye and causing it severe damage. Six hours passed before he could be evacuated and Dayan lost the eye. In addition, the damage to the extraocular muscles was such that Dayan could not be fitted with a glass eye, and he was forced to adopt the black eyepatch that became his trademark. On the recommendation of an Australian officer, he received the Distinguished Service Order, one of the British Commonwealth's highest military honours and a medal which is awarded to junior officers only in exceptional circumstances.
In the years immediately following, the disability caused him some psychological pain. Dayan wrote in his biography: "I reflected with considerable misgivings on my future as a cripple without a skill, trade, or profession to provide for my family." He added that he was "ready to make any effort and stand any suffering, if only I could get rid of my black eye patch. The attention it drew was intolerable to me. I preferred to shut myself up at home, doing anything, rather than encounter the reactions of people wherever I went."
After the war, Dayan began to rise rapidly through the ranks. From 1953 to 1958, he was the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. In this capacity, he personally commanded the Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai during the 1956 Suez Crisis. It was during Dayan's tenure as Chief of Staff that he delivered his famous eulogy of Roi Rutenberg, a young Israeli killed in 1956.
In a 1976 interview by Israeli journalist Rami Tal, Dayan claimed that 80 percent of the cross-border clashes between Israel and Syria in the years before the war were a result of Israeli provocation. He said, "I made a mistake in allowing the [Israeli] conquest of the Golan Heights. As defense minister I should have stopped it because the Syrians were not threatening us at the time.
After Golda Meir became Prime Minister in 1969 following the death of Levi Eshkol, Dayan remained Minister of Defense. He was still in that post when the Yom Kippur War began catastrophically for Israel on 6 October 1973. As the highest-ranking official responsible for military planning, Dayan may bear part of the responsibility for the Israeli leadership having missed the signs for the upcoming war. In the hours preceding the war, Dayan chose not to order a full mobilization or a preemptive strike against the Egyptians and the Syrians. He assumed that Israel would be able to win easily even if the Arabs attacked and, more importantly, did not want Israel to appear as the aggressor, as it would have undoubtedly cost it the invaluable support of the United States (who would later mount a massive airlift to rearm Israel, a major turning point of the war).
Following the heavy defeats of the first two days, Dayan's views changed radically; he was close to announcing "the downfall of the "Third Temple" at a news conference, but was forbidden to speak by Meir. Moshe Dayan further backed from high level political role, and turned publicly as symbol for Israel independence and hope for Third Temple to be rebuilt.
Dayan suggested options at the beginning of the war, including a plan to withdraw to the Mitleh mountains in Sinai and a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights in order to carry the battle over the Jordan, abandoning the core strategic principles of Israeli war doctrine, which says that war must be taken into enemy territory as soon as possible. The Chief of Staff, David Elazar, objected to these plans and was proved correct. Israel broke through the Egyptian lines on the Sinai front, crossed the Suez canal, and encircled the 3rd Egyptian Army. Israel also counterattacked on the Syrian front, successfully repelling the Jordanian and Iraqi expeditionary forces and shelling the outskirts of Damascus, ending the war on favorable terms.
Dayan combined a kibbutznik's secular identity and pragmatism with a deep love and appreciation for the Jewish people and the land of Israel --but not a religious identification. In one recollection, having seen rabbis flocking on the Temple Mount shortly after Jerusalem was captured in 1967, he asked "what is this? Vatican?" Dayan later ordered the Israeli flag removed from the Dome of the Rock, and gave administrative control of the Temple Mount over to the Waqf, a Muslim council. Dayan believed that the Temple Mount was more important to Judaism as a historical than a holy site.
Dayan was also an author and an amateur archaeologist, the latter hobby leading to some controversy as his amassing of historical artifacts, often with the help of his soldiers, broke a number of laws. Moshe Dayan's habit of pilfering newly discovered archaeological sites, before arrival of the Antiquities Authority and State-authorized archaeologists, once almost cost him his life and left him with a slight permanent impairment. Shortly after the Six-Day War Dayan heard of a new archaeological find near Holon, due south of Tel Aviv. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, he entered the dig alone, and started to look for artifacts, when suddenly the entire dig caved in upon him, burying him alive. Only a hand remained visible. Shortly thereafter, a group of playing kids passed and saw a human hand protruding from the caved-in hole in the ground. They managed to dig him out alive, but due to possible oxygen deficiency in his brain, he remained with a speech impairment during the rest of his life, as well as with a partially paralyzed hand. Upon his death, his extensive archaeological collection was sold to the state.
His daughter, Yael Dayan is a novelist. She followed him into politics and has been a member of several Israeli leftist parties over the years. She has served in the Knesset and on the Tel Aviv City Council.
His son, Assi Dayan, is an actor and a movie director.