Former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Levy Dead at 71

The first Jewish soldier to start his career in the IDF and make his way from raw recruit to the top spot in the IDF passed away Tuesday at age 71.

Hana Levi Julian ,

IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Levy z'l
IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Levy z'l
(Photo: IDF)

Former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Levy died early Tuesday at the Emek Medical Center in Afula at the age of 71, ten days after suffering a stroke. He is survived by his wife and five children.

The tall soft-spoken “Moshe v’Hetzi” (“Moshe-and-a-Half” in Hebrew) as he was affectionately called by Israel’s founding father David Ben Gurion was born in Tel Aviv, the son of Iraqi immigrants.

He was the first Chief of Staff to have begun his military career in the Israel Defense Forces. Previous chiefs, and indeed most military professionals at the time, had begun in various defense groups that were operating prior to the birth of the Jewish State.

Drafted in 1954, the tall recruit served in two elite units, first in the Golani Brigades and then as a paratrooper. He parachuted in, as an officer, to the pivotal battle at the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Peninsula, during the 1956 war over the Suez Canal.

Levy continued to make his way through the ranks, achieving one command position after another, until he eventually was appointed by then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens to succeed Rafael Eitan as Israel’s 12th IDF Chief of Staff in 1983.

He served as the army’s top commander  for only one four-year term before leaving the IDF to return home to Kibbutz Beit Alfa in the Beit Shean Valley. 

It was during Levy’s reign as Chief of Staff that Israel’s “security buffer zone” was created in southern Lebanon in 1985 and the Nahal and Givati Brigades were born.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert eulogized Levy in a statement to the media, expressing his “profound sorrow” over the former Chief of Staff’s passing.

"Moshe Levy was a great fighter who served the State for many years and used all his energy and capabilities to further establish the strength of the IDF," Olmert said. "He led the IDF at a complex time and knew how to inspire others with his spirit and leadership."

"Even in recent years, he did not avoid public business and served as Chairman of the Board of Directors the Trans-Israel Highway Company. In this capacity, he used his experience and abilities to improve Israel's highways and establish better and safer roads. On behalf of the entire Government, I send condolences to Moshe Levy's family. I am honored that I was fortunate enough to work with him in recent years."