Hawk into Dove

March 29, 1993

TC In 1947, a 23-year-old "Sabra" born in Tel Aviv, nephew of Israel's first president-to-be, took charge of nine Piper Cubs delivering food to beleaguered settlements in the Negev. Upon declaration of the state the next year, he took delivery of German Messerschmitts and British Spitfires from Czechoslovakia. Israel's air force was born.

The young officer, Ezer Weizman, rose to become chief of operations of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces and designed the pre-emptive strikes that crippled the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the first hours of the Six Day War of 1967. He was later the source of the story that the chief of the general staff, Yitzhak Rabin, had suffered a mental collapse just before that war under the pressures of planning it. Mr. Rabin never forgave him.

As a hawk who believed in annexing the West Bank, and who was passed over for chief of staff, General Weizman entered politics, put forward by Menachem Begin to be minister of transport in Prime Minister Golda Meier's national unity government of 1969. He had reached the top of Israeli public affairs in military rather than political life. He drifted almost out of politics, then back in to manage Mr. Begin's Likud coalition to victory in the 1977 election, becoming defense minister.

And so the architect of the first victory in the Sinai became the architect of its permanent evacuation, the key figure along with President Jimmy Carter in hatching the 1978 agreement at Camp David between Mr. Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat. A general himself, President Sadat considered General Weizman his favorite Israeli.

As a military man, General Weizman always knew that wars are meant to lead to peace. He was sufficiently confident in Israel's strength to seek talks with anyone, to make accommodations. He drifted from Likud to Labor. He was forced out of a unity government in 1989, suspected of illegal contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

This is the man who at 68 has been brought back to public life, elected by the Knesset to be president of Israel. Comfortable in hawkish credentials, he is one of Israel's most belligerent doves. The president of Israel is supposed to be above the battle, nonpartisan, symbolic. Don't count on it. How he will get on with Prime Minister Rabin remains questionable. But Ezer Weizman will work for peace. And that's why he was given this job.

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