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The Merkava tank is worthy of the praise heaped upon it as a military vehicle purpose-built for Israel's needs, but it is not the most important element of the legacy of Israel Tal, the celebrated IDF general laid to rest yesterday. A tank is a tank, another weapon - essential though it may be - in the military arsenal. It is the epitome of mobile warfare, of the Israel Defense Forces' objective of transferring the battlefield from Israel's narrow borders into enemy territory. In the case of the Merkava, it also reflects the principle that protecting the tank crew is paramount.

Tal's definitive legacy, however, is ideological, cultural and political: Defining what is worth fighting for, killing for and dying for. He was at once the most visible military man in the peace camp, and the most influential man of peace in any military camp.

But Talik, as he was known, was no Gandhi. He played a key role in building up Jewish fighting power, from his World War II service with the British Army's Jewish Brigade, the pre-state Haganah militia and the IDF. In the Infantry Corps, Officers School and Armored Corps in the 1950s, and the combined ground forces from the '60s on, Tal fought, instructed and commanded in all of the campaigns in Israel's first 25 years of existence. As a consultant, he continued to influence technology and policy later still. Not distracted by self-interest, he consistently labored to uphold Israel's security. When he believed an offensive was necessary, he voiced his support loud and clear. The 1967 ground victory in Sinai, one of the most important achievements of the Six-Day War, would not have been achieved without the efforts of the division under his command.

Tal, however, opposed unnecessary conquests, settlements, wars of choice and delusions of expanding the Israeli empire without paying the cost in blood and eternal strife. It was a view not rooted in affection for Arabs in general or Palestinians in particular, but concern for the State of Israel and its people, whether uniformed or not. Tal believed moderate policy would bolster national power, something that can't be measured by military strength alone.

In death, Tal has been the subject of genuine affection and admiration. Those who seek to honor his legacy must act in its true spirit.