Ezer Weizman

Ezer Weizman

Weizman, Ezer, 1924-2005, Israeli military officer and politician, president of Israel (1993-2000), b. Tel Aviv. A nephew of Chaim Weizmann, he helped found the Israeli air force, serving in it from 1948 to 1966 and rising to the rank of major general and commanding officer. As military chief of operations he was credited with engineering Israel's victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which the air force played a crucial role. He left the military in 1969 to enter politics, serving as minister of transport (1969-70), defense (1977-80), communications (1984-88), and science (1988-92). A Likud party member, the outspoken Weizman became disenchanted with the policies of Menachem Begin and joined the Labor party in the mid-1980s. When he was elected president in 1993, the former hard-liner had by then become a leading spokesman for peace with Israel's Arab neighbors and negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Reelected in 1998, he resigned under pressure in 2000 after he was criticized for (but not charged with) financial misdealings.

See his On Eagles' Wings (tr. 1976) and The Battle for Peace (tr. 1981).

(עזר ויצמן) (June 15, 1924 - April 24, 2005) was the seventh President of Israel, serving a seven-year term from 1993 to 2000. Before the presidency, Weizman was commander of the Israeli Air Force and Minister of Defense.

Biography

Ezer Weizman was born in Tel Aviv on June 15, 1924. His father, Yechiel, was an agronomist. He grew up in Haifa, and attended Reali High School. He married Reuma Schwartz, and they had two children, Shaul and Michal. Shaul was badly injured by a sniper's bullet at the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition. In 1991, he and his wife Rachel were killed in a car accident. Weizman's sister, Yael, died in 2006. Weizman was a nephew of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann. He died of respiratory failure at his home in Caesarea on April 24, 2005, at the age of 80. He is not buried on Mt. Herzl, where Israeli presidents and prime ministers are usually interred, but alongside his son and daughter-in-law in Or Akiva.

Military career

Ezer Weizman was a combat pilot. He received his training in the British Army in which he enlisted in 1942 in order to fight the Nazis. He served as a truck driver in the Western Desert campaigns in Egypt and Libya. In 1943, he joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and attended aviation school in Rhodesia. He served with the RAF in India in early 1944. Weizman ended his service in the RAF as a sergeant pilot.

During 1944–1946, he was a member of the Irgun, also known as Etzel underground in Mandatory Palestine. Between 1946 and 1947, he studied aeronautics in England.

Weizman, hailed as the father of the Israeli Air Force, was a pilot for the Haganah in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. He was the commander of the Negev Air Squadron near Nir-Am. In May 1948, he learned to fly the Avia S-199 at the České Budějovice air base in Czechoslovakia and participated in Israel's first fighter mission, a ground attack on an Egyptian column advancing toward Ad Halom near the Arab town of Isdud south of Tel Aviv. In a famous battle between Israeli and British RAF aircraft on January 7, 1949, he flew one of four Israeli Spitfire fighters that clashed with 14 British Spitfires and Tempests following a reconnaissance flight from Egypt that infringed on Israel's southern border. Three planes were shot down by the IAF.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Weizman joined the Israel Defense Forces and served as the Chief of Operations on the General Staff.

Weizman learned to fly warplanes such as Czech versions of the Messerschmitt and the Supermarine Spitfire.

In 1951 he attended the RAF Command and Staff College in England. Upon his return he became commander of the first Israeli air force unit flying Gloster Meteor jets.

He served as the commander of the Israeli Air Force between 1958 to 1966, and later served as deputy Chief of the General Staff. Major General Weizman earned high credit for his contribution as the Chief of Operations of the IDF in Israel's overwhelming victory over Arab forces during the Six-Day War of June 1967. He directed the early morning surprise air attacks against the Egyptian air bases, which resulted in giving the Israelis almost total air superiority over the Sinai battlefields.

Although he became the IDF's Deputy Chief of Staff in 1966, he retired from military service in 1969 when he understood he would not be appointed as Chief of Staff, the highest military position.

Political career

Upon retiring from the military, Weizman joined the right-wing Gahal party. He served as Minister of Transportation in Levi Eshkol's national unity government until Gahal left the coalition in 1970. Weizman quit Gahal in 1972, but returned in 1976, by which time it had become Likud. In 1977, he became Defense Minister under Menachem Begin. During his term, Israel launched the Litani Operation against the PLO in south Lebanon and developed the IAI Lavi fighter.

Over time, Weizman's views became more dovish. After the visit to Jerusalem of Egypt's president Anwar Sadat in 1977, Weizman developed a close friendship with him. These relations were a crucial factor in the talks that culminated in the 1978 Camp David accords, followed by a peace treaty with Egypt the following year.

In May 1980, Weizman quit the government. He considered establishing a new party with Moshe Dayan, which led to his ousting from Likud. For the next four years, he put politics on hold and entered the business world.

In 1984, he established a new party, Yachad, which won 3 seats in the 1984 elections. The party joined a national unity government in which Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir served as prime ministers in rotation. In October 1986, Yachad merged with the Alignment, after Mapam and Yossi Sarid left. Between 1984 and 1990, Weizman was Minister for Arab Affairs and then Minister of Science and Technology. In 1992, the Alignment became the Israeli Labour Party.

Presidency

Ezer Weizman was inaugurated on May 13, 1993. During his days in office, Israel went through a trying period, as Hezbollah and Hamas carried out terrorist attacks in cities around the country. Weizman faithfully visited the families of soldiers killed in the line of duty and families whose loved ones were killed or injured in terrorist attacks. He was a frequent visitor to hospitals, to cheer up the wounded. He was famous for his informal manner, and his outspokenness on controversial topics.

For the most part, the Israeli presidency is a ceremonial job. Presidents are expected to represent the entire nation and remain politically neutral. Weizman, unlike his predecessors, often flouted these conventions. In 1996, in an attempt to promote the peace process, Weizman invited Yasser Arafat for a private visit to his home in Caesarea. In 1999, he met with the terrorist leader Nayef Hawatmeh, declaring "I am even prepared to meet with the devil if it helps [to bring peace]." He openly supported withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, drawing criticism from the right wing parties.

At the end of 1999, newspapers published allegations that Weizman had accepted large sums of money from businessmen before becoming president, without reporting this to the proper authorities. Although a decision was reached not to prosecute him, since the statute of limitations had expired, he was forced to resign due to public pressure. Weizman's resignation took effect on July 13, 2000.

Bibliography

  • On Eagles' Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force (1975)
  • The Battle for Peace (1981)
  • Ruth, Sof (2002) (Hebrew)

Quotes

From Weizman

Weizman's witticisms, informal manner of speech and quick tongue frequently sparked public controversy:

  • "Honey, you'd be better off staying home and darning socks" (in a phone conversation with Alice Miller, a soldier who successfully petitioned the High Court to force the Israeli Air Force to open its pilots' course to women in 1994)
  • "I like a man to be a man, and a woman to be a woman" (on the subject of homosexuality)
  • "Now you'll be able to aim better" (visiting a wounded soldier who had lost an eye)
  • "I've been married to my wife, Reuma, for 45 years, but I never thought of smacking her around or anything like that" (during a visit in 1997 to a shelter for battered women)

From others

  • "We ate a little, we drank a little" (Weizman's eulogy at the funeral of Israel's assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin)
  • "He was a formidable fellow and I was glad that he was Pakistani and not Egyptian" (Israel Air Force chief and ex-President Ezer Weizmen writing about Pakistani Airforce Chief chief Nur Khan during the Six Day War in his autobiography, On Eagles' Wings)
  • "One personal benefit to me from the long days of negotiation was a lifetime friendship with Ezer Weizman..." ... "I found Ezer eager to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, and he was a person with whom I could discuss very sensitive issues with frankness and confidence." ... "...Weizman...had been an early member of Begin's Irgun team of Zionist militants, a noted hero of the Six-Day War as director of the early morning strikes that had decimated the Arab air forces, and a founder of the conservative Likud political party. He had been a leading "hawk" all his life, but was converted during the weeks of negotiation into a strong proponent of reconciliation with the Arabs." (former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, in Palestine Peace Not Apartheid ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-8502-5, chapter 3.) In a footnote, he continues:

"...Weizman came to America during my re-election campaign in 1980 and visited several cities, publicly urging Jewish leaders to support my candidacy. Although strongly criticized for this unprecedented (and perhaps illegal) foreign involvement, he was undeterred"

References

External links

Further reading

  • Weizman, Ezer, On Eagles' Wings: The Personal Story of the Leading Commander of the Israeli Air Force. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1976 ISBN 0-02-625790-4
  • Generals of Israel, ed. Moshe Ben Shaul, Hadar Publishing, Tel-Aviv, 1968

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