November 16, 1924
Haim Bar-Lev, an Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, is born in Vienna, Austria. His family moves to Yugoslavia before settling in Palestine in 1939.
He studies at the Mikveh Israel agricultural school and intends to become a veterinary surgeon, but instead he is drawn to service in the Haganah’s elite Palmach force, led by Yigal Allon. Bar-Lev rises to command the Palmach during the War of Independence. His strategy against the Egyptian military and ability to anticipate the battlefield moves of his enemies wins Bar-Lev praise. He leads the rapid conquest of the Sinai during the 1956 war against Egypt and afterward is put in command of Israeli armored forces.
At the start of the June 1967 war, he is named deputy chief of staff under his former Palmach comrade, Yitzhak Rabin, whom he succeeds as chief of staff in 1968. Facing the problem of holding the Sinai against Soviet-supplied Egyptian forces after the war, Bar-Lev oversees the construction of the defensive line on the eastern side of the Suez Canal. Running 93 miles, the Bar-Lev Line includes an angled sand wall 60 to 80 feet tall atop a concrete supporting wall, with 22 forts and 35 fortified strong points. The line is designed to repel an armored assault for at least 24 hours.
Israel suffers continual casualties along the line from artillery bombardments during the War of Attrition, and Egypt uses explosives and water cannons to breach the line in two hours at the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
By that time Bar-Lev has retired from the IDF and is part of the government as the minister of trade and industry. Prime Minister Golda Meir calls him back to military service, however, and he leads the Southern Command in the Sinai, where he is instrumental in driving the Egyptians back across the canal and stabilizing the area.
From 1977 to 1984, Bar-Lev is the general secretary of the Labor Party. He retires from the Knesset in 1992, then serves as Israel’s ambassador to Russia until his death May 7, 1994.