The first native-born prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin exemplifies his generation. He was brought up in the Labor tradition, graduated from a prestigious high school, then joined the Palmach, an elite fighting force in the prestate underground army. Like many of his contemporaries, he served in the War of Independence, an experience that shaped his life. Shy, outspoken, and not always long on patience, Rabin was not a natural leader, but he had a strong sense of purpose. Despite his awkward manner and many differences with other political leaders, notably Shimon Peres, he left his mark on Israeli history.
Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and president of Tel Aviv University, served as Rabin’s chief negotiator to Syria. From his firsthand knowledge of Rabin’s policies and close working relationship with him, he has written a sympathetic and highly informative biography that tracks Rabin’s career from chief of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) to his not entirely successful first tenure as prime minister — he did plan and execute the Entebbe rescue — to his return to the prime ministership after fifteen years — a rare event in politics — as a more experienced and skilled leader.
The horrific and bloody battle on the road to Jerusalem in 1948 in which Rabin lost half his men was a key point in Rabin’s career. It burned itself into his memory as both a military and political failure. Believing that the leadership had not prepared the troops for war, Rabin, as he moved up in the military chain of command, determined that Israel’s security would never again be compromised. He developed Israel into a dominant regional power, culminating in the stunning success of the Six-Day War. This victory and Rabin’s record as a highly effective defense minister gave him authority with the public as a leader who ensured Israel’s security.
As an insider during Rabin’s second tenure as prime minister, Rabinovich is able to convey the tension and sense of immediacy in this complex and difficult period. A military hawk, Rabin was also a political dove, determined to pursue the peace process; above all he was a realist who believed Israel could not exist without resolving the issue of the West Bank. Paths to peace agreements had been opened, and in a compelling account Rabinovich gives a firsthand report of the events that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Equally compelling is Rabinovich’s account of the anger and hardening of positions leading up to Rabin’s assassination. Israeli security failed to take seriously the increasingly vicious threats against Rabin and incitement of the right wing, believing that a Jew would never kill a Jew, and Rabin himself chose to maintain his public appearances. His assassination in 1995 at a large and enthusiastic peace rally in central Tel Aviv threw the country into a state of deep shock and mourning. Rabin’s funeral was an emotional outpouring attended by world leaders, an acknowledgment of his stature and place in Israeli history.
Rabinovich, a prominent historian, brings both his deep knowledge of the Middle East and his insider’s experience to this close-up picture of the years in which Israel grew into a full-fledged nation and Yitzhak Rabin’s part in that development. Well-organized and highly readable, Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman is of definite interest to any follower of Israel’s history.
Read an interview with Itamar Rabinovich here.