Moshe Dayan was born in the kibbutz Daganya Alef, then still part of the Ottoman Empire, near Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). His parents were Shemuel and Devorah, and he was the first child born in the newly-established community,
Aged 14 he joined the Haganah at a very early stage. He was arrested by the British ten years later (when the Haganah was outlawed), but released after two years as a part of Haganah's renewed cooperation with the British. In one of the operations against the French mandate of Syria (then under control of the Vichy France government) he lost his left eye and began wearing an eyepatch that would become his trademark.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Dayan occupied various positions of importance, first as the commander over the defensive effort in the Jordan valley; he was then given command over a number of military units on the central front. After the war, Dayan began to rise rapidly through the ranks. In 1955-1958 he was the Chief of Staff of the IDF. In this capacity, he commanded the Israeli forces during the Suez Crisis.
In 1959, a year after he retired from the IDF, Dayan joined MAPAI, the leftist block in Israeli politics, then left by David Ben-Gurion. Until 1964 he served as the minister of agriculture. Levi Eshkol, the following Prime Minister disliked Dayan; however when tensions began to rise in early 1967, Eshkol decided to hand over the position of Minister of Defense (previously also occupied by him, in spite of Eshkol's never serving in the army) to the charismatic Dayan. Although Dayan did not take part in most of the planning before the Six-Day War of June 1967, his apointment contributed to the Israeli success. Following the war, Dayan, whose traits did not include particular modesty, invested PR efforts to take credit for much of the fighting to himself.
After Golda Meir became Prime Minister in 1969, Dayan became the Minister of Defense in her government. He was still in that job when the Yom Kippur War catastrophically began on October 6, 1973. As the most high-ranking official responsible for military planning, and in particular for examining the intelligence apparatus, it is of little doubt that Dayan, who became the symbol of victorious complacency following the Six-Day War, bears a part of responsibility for Israeli leadership's missing the signs for the upcoming war. In the hours preceding the war, Dayan opted for not carrying out a full mobilization or carrying out a preemptive strike against the Egyptians and the Syrians; he assumed that Israel would be able to win easily even if Arabs had attacked and didn't want Israel to appear as the agressor. Following the heavy defeats of the first two days, Dayan's views experienced a radical turn; he was close to announcing "the downfall of the Third Temple" at a news conference, but was luckily forbidden to speak by Meir. He also began to speak openely of using weapons of mass destruction against the Arabs.
To Dayan's credit, he had managed to recover his self-control and direct Israel's fighting during the rest of the war. Although the Agranat Committee Report published after the war did not lay substantial responsibility on the political layer - to which Moshe Dayan belonged, a wave of public protests led to the resignation of both him and Golda Meir.
According to those who knew him, the war deeply depressed Dayan. He left the leftist MAPAI/Labor, his political home for 15 years, for the rightist Likud. In 1977, he became Foreign Minister in the government led by Menachem Begin. As Prime Minister Menachem Begin's foreign minister, he was instrumental in drawing up the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement with Egypt. Dayan withdrew in 1980 (joined by Ezer Weizman who then defected to Labor), because of his disagreement with Begin over whether the Palestinian territories were an Israeli internal matter (the Camp David treaty included provisions for future negotiations with the Palestinians; Begin, who didn't like the idea, did not put Dayan in charge of the negotiation team).
In 1981, Dayan formed a new party, Telem, which advocated unilateral separation from West Bank and Gaza Strip. The party received 2 seats in the Tenth Knesset (elections took place on June 30, 1981) but Dayan died shortly thereafter, in Tel Aviv, from colon cancer. He is buried in Nahalal in the kibbutz where he was raised.
Dayan was undoubtedly a very complicated and controversial individual; his opinions were never strictly black and white. He had few close friends; his mental brilliance and charismatic manner were often combined with cynicism and lack of restraint. Ariel Sharon noted about Dayan:
- He would wake up with a hundred ideas. Of them ninety-five were dangerous; three more were bad; the remaining two, however, were brilliant.
Dayan was also an author and an amateur archaeologist leading to some controversy as his amasing of historical artificats, often with the help of his soldiers broke a number of laws. Upon his death his extensive archeological collection was sold to the state.