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If you like Ehud Barak's story, you might also like:
William McRaven,
George Mitchell,
Shimon Peres,
David Petraeus,
Colin Powell,
Norman Schwarzkopf
and Elie Wiesel

Ehud Barak can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ehud Barak in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Global Conflicts

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Jewish Virtual Library

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Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
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Ehud Barak Interview (page: 3 / 8)

Former Prime Minister of Israel

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  Ehud Barak

So you went from the kibbutz to the army?

Ehud Barak: I joined the army at the age of 17 and a half, which was quite unusual. My mother finally agreed that I go before I was of age. I still looked like a child, like a youngster of 15 years old. At boot camp I could not even jump over the wall in the obstacles. Decades later I saw a movie with Goldie Hawn -- Private Benjamin -- how she jumped, and it reminded me of myself. I couldn't jump over the wall. I was physically kind of immature. You're carrying all the ammunition, all the equipment, it created a very tough, physically demanding experience for me. But then, during these six months of boot camp came a defining moment for me.

It was early in 1960, some night, Israeli intelligence got a hint from the CIA that two Egyptian divisions are already deployed deep into the Sinai desert very close to the Israeli border. No one knew about it, of course, and it created an immediate emergency for the whole army. Israel had a very small regular standing army and it had to deploy immediately along the border to avoid a surprise attack, which is a kind of trauma that accompanies Israel defense kind of thinking all along.

We were youngsters in the boot camp and...

There was in the unit an emergency need to spread convoys of ammunition to maybe a dozen different points along the border, some of them 50 miles away from the boot camp. And as a result of the need to prepare at the same time all the units, there was a shortage of officers or NCOs that could lead an ammunition convoy to some desert place. The boot camp trainees were asked whether someone of us know how to read a map and can lead convoy a dark night to a certain position 50 miles from here. No one responded, and it seemed to be a kind of real emergency and I thought I can. So I raised my hand and I said simply, "I can do it." I had some experience in reading a map from summer camps and summer treks where I made the point of always knowing exactly where I was. So I get acquainted to looking at the map and it seemed to me that I understand it. I can read it. I still to this day remember the eyes of the battalion commander when he released me into the darkness kind of contemplating what will happen. If I cross the border with the convoy or something else, who will be responsible? But in a way he didn't have an alternative at the moment and he sent me.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

I had my own moments of doubts of course, but finally I did it. We reached the point. I learned my own lesson from it, but this experience led me to the leading commando unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, kind of equivalent of the Delta Forces here, long before the Delta Forces were established, or the British Special Air Service, after whom we adopted their slogan, "Who Dares, Wins."

Not in terms of your military career, but as an individual, how important was that moment in your life?

Ehud Barak: I believe that I already came from my childhood with the kind of feeling somehow that the fact that I'm slightly different doesn't mean that I'm worse. Or somehow -- it doesn't create -- should not kind of deter me from trying to do things. It's just a matter of fact. I cannot throw the ball through the basket so I cannot become a basketball player. But it somehow did not deter me. Somehow I came out of childhood with kind of a self-confident -- or not self-confidence in things that I cannot do, but kind of calibrated assessment of what I can do, and with a basic sense of direction of what I can do, a sense of judgment.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Maybe I felt supported by the warmth that I absorbed. When I think about it in retrospect, it was the most imprinting kind of warmth, the kind of adult care -- but not over-care -- that gradually nurtures self-confidence in a youngster. So in a way I owe it to my parents, who are now 91 and 87 respectively. Maybe without being aware of it, they gave me my basic self-confidence.

This was a defining movement in retrospect, kind of a juncture of luck. I would not be able to experience what I experienced later on without this moment, but at the moment it was an expression of seriousness. I felt in the air that something very serious was happening. I could see the stress in the eyes of our commanders when they looked among the youngsters who had just joined the army for someone who can read the map and take such a convoy.

This was not an order. You volunteered.

Ehud Barak: Yes, I volunteered.

I've volunteered many times but it seemed to me that I tried to ask myself whether I can do it. I thought, "Yeah, I think I can do it. Yeah, it might not be easy but I can do it." And at the moment that I answered I didn't realize how complicated it could be in the dark. You can see nothing. It's a plain. There is not even roads and you have to use -- to try to assess the direction -- the compass, and there is no settlement and so on, and you should count the mileage before you cross the border into Egypt! Maybe there is nothing on the border that will tell you that you are crossing the border. But it somehow reassured me. But I don't remember it as something dramatic personally. And it happened to me once and again all my life after.

Events that became major achievements, I was always kind of feeling that I can judge myself in a calibrated way without drifting into too much enthusiasm.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 14:42 EDT
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