Wise and Courageous, Late ex-IDF Chief Leaves Lasting Legacy

As a soldier and civilian, elbowing was never Dan Shomron's forte, making him easy prey for intrigues.

With Dan Shomron's passing Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces has lost all its commanders from the 1940s to the 1980s. His death makes Defense Minister Ehud Barak - who succeeded Shomron in 1991 - Israel's most senior former army commander.

In fact, Dan Shomron's real surname was Shimron. He became Shomron only because that's how everyone mispronounced his last name. He was born in 1937, came of age in the young State of Israel, and later reorganized the IDF.

He was born at Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov near Lake Kinneret. When the kibbutzim split into the Poale Zion-affiliated HaMeuhad ("united") category versus Labor's Ichud ("union"), his parents opted for the latter.

They did so after 14-year-old Dan returned from school one day to report that the teacher said "someone should kill" Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, for his decision to side with the Americans rather than the Soviets.

During his 35 years of army service - first as a combat soldier during mandatory service, then in the reserves after leaving the army, then as a commissioned officer after reenlisting - he participated in most of Israel's large military campaigns.

In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Shomron was a young paratrooper. In the 1967 Six-Day War, he led the first jeep detachment to reach the Suez Canal. During the War of Attrition in the 1970s, he was commander of Paratroopers Battalion 890 and head of the army's operations branch.

Then, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he led regular tank brigade 401 into battle, from the first defensive battles east of the Suez Canal, to the encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army west of it. In the 1982 Lebanon war, he commanded the Western Regiment, which was intended to press north all the way to Tripoli, though it was never ordered to do so.

In 1987, he insisted that the plan to build an Israeli fighter jet, the Lavi, be dropped in favor of more funds for the ground forces. A year later, he shocked the politicians by saying that the intifada could not be solved through military means alone.

The IDF has seen famous officers who made their name by extracting a heavy body count from the enemy - and, in the process, from their own troops as well. Shomron, by contrast, always tried and most of the time succeeded in keeping IDF casualties to a minimum. He did so through wisdom and courage.

His advance down Sinai's Northern Route in June 1967 is an example of that thoughtful approach. So was his performance during the 1976 Entebbe Operation - the heroic extraction of Israeli passengers from a commercial airliner hijacked to Uganda. That operation gave him fame and made his colleagues and commanders envious of him.

He commanded the operation and was among its few architects. But within days of his triumphant return, he would see a media-oriented drive to dwarf his contribution and glorify that of Yonatan Netanyahu, who commanded one of the detachments at Entebbe and was the IDF's only fatality.

Both as a soldier and civilian, in politics and in business, elbowing was never his forte, making him easy prey for intrigues.

Among the IDF's 19 chiefs of staff, Dan Shomron deserves a spot in the front row.