Moshe Dayan and Benjamin Netanyahu — Arrogant and Memorable

By Aaron Baron

Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Dayan. Photos: Marco Grob/Time, IDF

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have undoubtedly been two of Israel’s most influential figures since the nation’s birth in 1948. Despite serving Israel during different eras, Netanyahu and Dayan share many similarities in their rises and falls from grace, leadership styles, and arrogance.

Rise in Popularity

Both Netanyahu and Dayan first came into the public’s eye after significant victories for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Dayan became highly respected after he served as a commander in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. His popularity soared even further after leading the IDF to stunning military victories during the Sinai Campaign (1956) and the Six-Day War (1967) as Minister of Defense. Like Dayan, Netanyahu served for years in an elite army unit, but he was first catapulted into the public sphere after making speeches regarding his brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, who was killed during Operation Entebbe, a mission to free Israeli and Jewish hostages from an airport in Uganda. Following his brother’s death, Netanyahu appeared on local Boston television stations to discuss Israel. By the time he was 35, Netanyahu was appointed as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, thus beginning a lengthy political career that would see him eventually emerge as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and one of the nation’s most controversial leaders to date.

Leadership Styles

Both leaders took a very straightforward approach to dealing with the problems that Israel faced during their respective careers. Throughout his military campaign, Dayan was fearless and relentless in his approach. Even during Israel’s bloodiest battles, Dayan told his military to never retreat without accomplishing a mission unless the causality rate exceeds 50%. In the battle against international terrorism, Netanyahu took a similar approach to Dayan’s military tactics. Netanyahu is a firm believer that handling global threats cannot be a one-nation job and that it must be tackled directly: “The only way to deal with terrorism is to turn around, squarely face it, confront it, and defeat it.”

Netanyahu consistently draws enthusiastic support from hundreds of thousands of voters. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP

Icons of Arrogance

At their peaks, both Netanyahu and Dayan were icons among their supporters. Before Dayan’s downfall, he held a “King David-like” position in society. He was forgiven for his numerous problematic actions — most notably cheating on his wife and mistress. Netanyahu is similarly referred to as “King Bibi,” and is still adored by millions of Israelis even after numerous corruption scandals and infidelity. Netanyahu gained popularity in unchartered territories for Israeli politicians. Despite being a secular Jew, Netanyahu formed a strong alliance with Israel’s ultra-orthodox parties who threw their unequivocal support behind him. In fact, a popular slogan amongst Haredi voters was that “Bibi is good for the Jews.”

Netanyahu and Dayan’s greatest flaws lie in their unparalleled arrogance. For the majority of Dayan’s career, he was beloved by Israeli journalists. Israel’s Sabra generation sang Dayan’s praises in the media for his impressive military feats. With these victories, Dayan made Israelis feel indestructible and confident in their abilities to dominate neighboring states. Dayan, however, failed to recognize the seriousness of the military threat Syria and Egypt posed when they demanded their land back in the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights. Dayan’s cockiness cost thousands of lives in the Yom Kippur War (1973), and his image in the media and public was irreversibly damaged.

In 1996, Netanyahu achieved one of his greatest triumphs to date when he was first elected as Israel’s prime minister. For years, Netanyahu had clashed with the Israeli media during his attempt to build up his image. He first emerged as a villain in Israeli media after Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish law student — Netanyahu’s rhetoric against Rabin’s Oslo Accords was perceived as a motivating factor of the assassination. Despite the strength of Israel’s left wing, its media, and U.S. President Bill Clinton’s campaign against him in the 1996 Israeli general election, Netanyahu was victorious and on top of the world.

Fall from Grace

Polarizing leaders never remain in power forever. After the Yom Kippur War, Israeli society saw Dayan in a far less heroic light, criticizing the “myth of the Sabra” that saw Israel as a fearless and an indestructible entity. Earlier this year, Netanyahu was dethroned as prime minister after losing the 2021 Israeli general election to current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. During Israel’s four elections over the past two years, politics have squarely been divided into “pro- and anti-Bibi camps.” This time around, Netanyahu failed to form a stable government, as several right-wing parties refused to form a coalition government with Likud because of Netanyahu’s corruption charges and problematic policies. Despite both their downfalls, Dayan and Netanyahu are still beloved by their supporters who have remained loyal to their leaders.



The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Israel Journal at NYU

The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.