Moshe Dayan described him as “the best soldier in the IDF”, generations of Israeli special forces strove to emulate his deeds and some of the army’s core values were laid down by him.
Meir Har Zion died on his farm last Shabbat at the age of 80. He was a symbol of the wild, early days of the state, when he was one of the fighters in the legendary Unit 101, the small band founded by Ariel Sharon to carry out cross-border “reprisal” attacks.
He went on to lead the Paratroopers Corps reconnaissance unit and was one of the founders of Sayeret Matkal, the elite commandos who included among their number Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the early 1950s, the IDF was badly organised and demoralised by its failures in blocking incursions over the young state’s borders. Unit 101 and the Paratroopers, and Har Zion as their most fabled warrior and officer, were key in establishing a deterrence.
They also founded the ethos that an officer’s position is at the head of his men, that navigation skills are key, that an IDF force must never retreat before completing a mission and under no circumstances are wounded comrades to be left on the battlefield.
These values were instilled in daring raids but Har Zion and Sharon were also involved in a number of controversial attacks. Har Zion personally carried out a private massacre of five Bedouin in revenge for his sister’s murder by a Bedouin. This action was disowned by the IDF High Command and the government but he was never charged.