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Ezer Weizman

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Biography of Ezer Weizman

Ezer Weizman  (Hebrew: עזר ויצמן‎) (June 15, 1924 - April 24, 2005) was the seventh President of Israel, from 1993 to 2000. Weizman was a founder of the Israel Air Force,  commander of the Israeli Air Force and Minister of Defense. Ezer Weizman was a nephew of Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel and long time leader of the Zionist movement.

Weizman's  military career began when he joined the British Army in 1942, during World War II, serving as a truck driver in Egypt.

Ezer Weizman

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In 1943, he joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF). He was sent to aviation school in Rhodesia. He served with the RAF in India in 1944. Weizman completed his RAF service  as a sergeant pilot.

From 1944 to 1946, he was a member of the Irgun underground in Mandatory Palestine. Thereafter, he joined the rival Haganah Air Service, and from1946 to 1947, he was sent to study aeronautics in England.

Ezer Weizman was instrumental in founding the Israeli Air Force along with others, though he was not really "the father" of the Israel air force as is sometimes stated. He was a pilot for the Haganah in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. He was the commander of the Negev Air Squadron near Nir-Am. In May 1948, he was one of a few pilots selected to learn to fly the Avia S-199 (Czech version of the Messerschmitt 210) at České Budějovice air base in Czechoslovakia. Though these planes were notoriously unstable and had a tendency to shoot themselves down, Weizman  had good luck. with them. He participated in two famous missions. As the Egyptian army was advancing on Tel Aviv, the IAF flew its first combat mission -  a ground attack on an Egyptian column advancing toward the bridge now known as Ad Halom between present day Ashkelon and Ashdod. The Israelis sent four planes on the mission. Only Weizman came back unscathed. In a second famous battle between Israeli and British RAF aircraft on January 7, 1949, he flew one of four Israeli Spitfire fighters that clashed with 14 British Spitfires and Tempests. The planes had been sent to warn Israel out of Sinai, and attacked the Israeli aircraft. Three planes were shot down by the IAF.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Weizman joined the IDF and served as the Chief of Operations on the General Staff.

In 1951 Weizman  was sent to study at the RAF Command and Staff College in England. After completing this course, he became commander of the first Israeli air force unit flying Gloster Meteor jets.

He served as the commander of the Israeli Air Force from 1958 to 1966, and was then promoted to deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF. Major General Weizman made a very significant contribution as the Chief of Operations of the IDF in Israel's overwhelming victory over Arab forces during the 1967 Six day war.

Ezer Weizman  retired from the military in 1969 when he was passed over for promotion to Chief of Staf of the IDF. Weizman was known as a daring pilot, a brilliant strategist and a maverick, as well as an outspoken and colorful personality. His remarks about women and other sensitize subjects often got him into trouble.

 

After leaving military service, Weizman joined the Gahal (Gachal) Party. He became Minister of Transport for Gahal in Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's second national unity government. Gahal left the government a year later, and Ezer  Weizman became Chairman of the Herut party Executive Committee for 1971-72. Gahal and Herut morphed into the Likud. In 1977 Ezer Weizman ran the Likud's victorious election campaign for the Ninth Knesset. Weizman became Minister of defence and served in that post until 1980.

Unexpectedly, Weizman, known as a right-wing war hawk, became a firm advocate and architect of the peace with Egypt.  His personal charm, frankness and willingness to compromise fostered close personal relations and trust with Egyptian leaders. When the government of Menachem Begin would not compromise sufficiently, Weizman quit and went into private business. Jimmy Carter has written that Weizman was active in supporting Carter's unsuccessful campaign for reelection in 1980.

In 1984 Ezer Weizman founded the dovish Yahad party, which got three seats in the elections to the Eleventh Knesset. Weizman served as Minister without Portfolio and as a member of the inner (security) cabinet in the unity government. In 1985 he was appointed Coordinator of Arab Affairs. Subsequently he joined the Labor Party

In the 1988 elections, Ezer Weizman ran Labor's campaign and became Minister of Science and Development in the next national unity government. In February 1992, Weizman resigned from the Knesset because of lack of progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Weizman was elected President and inaugurated on May 13,1993.

Weizman's presidency was marked by his faithful visits to families of fallen soldiers and terror victims, and his constant advocacy of peace and meetings with Arab leaders, including Naif Hawatmeh. He was also famous for his opposition to female combat pilots.

Ezer Weizman was re-elected to a second term in May 1998. However, at the end of 1999, newspapers published allegations that during political campaigns Weizman had accepted large sums of money from businessmen before becoming president, without reporting the contributions. At the time, the presidency was still untainted by scandal. It was decided not to prosecute him on the excuse that the statute of limitations had expired, but he was forced to resign due to public pressure or perhaps as part of an informal plea bargain. Moshe Katsav, elected following Weizman, resigned after revelations of sexual misconduct.

Ami Isseroff

See also: Presidents of Israel

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Ezer Weizman