Legendary Israeli General Avigdor 'Yanush' Ben-Gal Dead at 80

Ben-Gal, credited with playing a key role in Israel's victory over Syria in 1973, was 'one of the few who, by virtue of their actions, shaped the IDF, the armored corps and our combat doctrine,' Defense Minister Ya'alon says.

Avigdor 'Yanush' Ben Gal in 2013
Ilan Ron

Avigdor "Yanush" Ben-Gal, one of Israel's most respected generals and the man credited with playing a key role in Israel's victory over Syria during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, died on Saturday at the age of 80.

Ben-Gal was born in Lodz, Poland in 1936. He fled with his parents to the Soviet Union when World War II broke out in 1939, but his parents subsequently disappeared.

Ben-Gal and his sister, Ilana, made their way to Israel via Iran as part of the "Tehran Children" aliyah. He later met up with his father, who had survived the war.

Avigdor 'Yanush' Ben Gal, right, in the field in 1978.
IDF Spokesman

The future general grew up on Kibbutz Givat Brenner. But kibbutz life didn't suit him and he fled to Tel Aviv, where he was taken in by a foster family.

Joining the Israel Defense Forces in 1956, just before the Sinai Campaign, Ben-Gal was soon climbing through the ranks of the Armored Corps.

He served as operations officer of the 7th Brigade during the Six Day War and commanded a battalion near the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition.

When war broke out in 1973, he commanded the 7th Brigade on the Golan Heights. The brigade's performance in holding back the Syrian tanks until reinforcements could join the battle has gone down in Israeli military history.

Ben-Gal thought that Israel had won a clear victory in 1973 and was outraged that the nation didn't see it as such. He laid the blame for what became known as the "Yom Kippur Failure" at the door of Maj Gen. Eli Zorea, the head of Military Intelligence, who he later said had been unwilling to accept any opinion that did not conform with his own world view.

Avigdor 'Yanush' Ben-Gal in 1981. Photo by IDF Spokesperson's Unit

After the war, Ben-Gal served as a divisional commander, deputy head of operations at GHQ, OC Northern Command during the Litani Operation and corps commander during the First Lebanon War.

He was in command during the battle of Sultan Ya'acov, in which 20 IDF soldiers were killed and from which three are still missing, an incident which he believed resulted in his not being appointed chief of staff.

"Most of the commanders thought I deserved to be chief of staff," he said later. "The army lost a good chief of staff."

Ben-Gal left the army in 1985, serving in a variety of positions in his later years, including that of Chairman of the Israel Aircraft Industries. He leaves behind him seven children and grandchildren from three marriages.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Saturday described Ben-Gal as "one of the few who, by virtue of their actions, shaped the IDF, the armored corps and our combat doctrine."

"Throughout the trajectory of his military service, even when he achieved the rank of general, Yanush was at the heart of military operations. He was always on the spot when critical decisions were being made, often under fire."

"Avigdor Ben-Gal was one of our national heroes," President Reuben Rivlin said on Saturday. "He was an exceptional tank commander, with a sense of humor; a commander who left his mark on the security of Israel."

"Yanush, the fighter and the man, who defended with his own body – along with his fighters from the 7th Brigade – against the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War. The people of Israel owe him an indelible debt."