Israel Tal
Israel Tal Photo by IDF Spokesman's Office
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Major General Israel Tal (res.), one of the Israel Defense Force's most prominent commanders and military theorists, died Wednesday, after suffering from a prolonged illness.

Tal, who was a week shy of his 86th birthday, is known as the "father" of Israel's main battle tank, the Merkava, and served as the commander of the IDF's Armored Corps during Israel's "War over the Water" in the 1960s, as well as the commander of the armored division which broke through the northern Sinai in the Six Day War.

The former Major General eventually reached the portion of deputy IDF chief of staff and the commander of Israel's southern front against Egypt in the final stages of the Yom Kippur War.

In one famous incident Tal, as commander of the southern front, refused an order by then IDF chief of staff David Elazar and defense minster Moshe Dayan to engage Egyptian forces after the war had ended, insisting on receiving authorization from then prime minister Golda Meir and the Supreme Court.

While Tal eventually won the argument, the incident virtually eliminated Tal's chances of being nominated chief of staff after Elazar stepped down in the wake of the report by the Agarnat commission, which investigated the conduct of Israeli political and military officials during the war.

Upon his release, Tal was nominated deputy minister of defense under Shimon Peres, and remained in that position even after returning to active duty during Ezer Weizman's stint as defense minister.

During this period Tal, following Weizman's request, prepared plans for central ground forces command, an offer which was intercepted by two chiefs of staff, Mordechai Gur and Rafael Eitan, fearing Tal would be named chief of staff following the command's establishment.

Later, defense minister Moshe Arena erected a downsized version of Tal's command, which was later restructured as the GOC Army Headquarters.

In 1999 Tal suffered from a stroke, following an argument over the Yom Kippur War with Maj. General Doron Almog. Following a rehabilitation process the former top IDF officer partially regained his health, only to fall ill again a few months ago.

Tal left a wife, daughter, son, and grandchildren. His military funeral is expected to take place on Sunday.

Peres: Tal was a master of warfare, yet believed in peace

President Shimon Peres said in response to Tal's passing on Wednesday that regardless "of which rank he bore on his shoulders he was, and will remain, a man above others. In his eyes, moral considerations were equally important to technological advances."

"The tank he designed, was meant to be the best in the world, and it seems that it so regarded," Peres added, saying that Tal, above anyone else, was able to articulate a "strategy that distinguished between the need to save the country and to fortify it."

The president added that the former IDF officer knew that "there wasn't an alternative to victory, but he also believed that the alternative to war is the sought-after peace, which was at hand."

"He was Israel's inexhaustible dew ['Tal,' in Hebrew]. May his memory be blessed," Peres said.