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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: 4 / 8)

Former Prime Minister of Israel

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  Ehud Barak

Your military career is virtually a history of Israel's struggle to survive: the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the rescue of the Sabena airliner, the hostage rescue at Entebbe. Some of these were extraordinary acts of courage. Did you think about that at the time?

Ehud Barak Interview Photo
Ehud Barak: Some of it was luck, and some was the result of hyperactivity. We were young people. We looked for action. The tiny dimensions of the Israeli military organization, and of the country, enables you to at least try to be where the action really is, if you are active enough. I remember, for example...

In the Six Day War, I commanded a small reconnaissance unit, and it took us just four days to reach the Canal and immediately I asked myself, okay, nothing is going to happen here anymore so we jumped a few hundred miles to the other side. Maybe something will happen in the Golan Heights, and it happened that we came at the last hours of preparation for climbing on the Golan Heights, so we joined the Golan Heights battle as well, beginning at the northern edge and ending at Quneitra . But, you know, I'm smiling kind of recalling it now, but I should admit the first battles were quite a devastating -- kind of revealing -- experience.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

My first real battle experience was in the Six Days War. A few operations before then, but on a small scale. And the real experience, the memories of tough, demanding psychological environment where most people are tending to lose their sense of direction and cohesion of action. The vehicles exploding around you, people killed, the bitter, sweet smell of human burned bodies all around, the feeling of being not in full control.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

You are not in full control but at the same time you have what I call the advantage of being a commander.

I always used to tell young officers -- since I entered battle as an officer, I never experienced it as a soldier -- I told them, "You are lucky to become officers in operations since officers have to care about what happens with their unit. They have a commitment to lead. So you will be always under the burden of identifying what happens, deciding what should be done, issuing orders, and looking around at someone following them -- that something happens and then it changes the situation. And the other side also is acting and everything is flowing around you and you have to continuously keep it running. What is your situation? What is happening? What should be done about it? How to spread the orders and how to watch they are fulfilled?"

[ Key to Success ] Vision

And under battle, under exercises, it's unbelievably -- the simplest operations become unbelievably tough. It's like burden on all the people. People become paralyzed. Some of them that were so kind of easy going and kind of hyper before battle become totally paralyzed. They don't hear well. They tend -- everyone tends to stay behind cover. To move a unit to assault is infinitely complicated. You know, it's -- first of all, personally you are paralyzed by the shooting. You are confident that once you raise your head over you will get a bullet at your head. It's only the eyes of your own soldiers that you know that they know that you are committed to lead them. They expect you to do something. You cannot avoid it. You cannot leave there and leave them kind of paralyzed.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

They will sink into it. They need this commitment that has been shaped into you, during the training, to do something. All of the group knows what you have committed yourself to do. It wakes you up and moves you to lead the assault.

I believe something Tito said -- the late dictator of Yugoslavia who was head of a great partisan movement during the war.

Tito said that a good military unit is a social cell where shame -- the fear of being kind of shamed by the rest of the group -- is stronger than the fear of death. And there is something true about it, that works among youngsters well-trained and somehow understanding that they are serving a cause which is somehow more important than their own. No one really bothers you in battle with this kind of overstructure of ideology and devotion and so on. And we know, unfortunately, from world experience, that you can lead people to highly devoted and professional military activities under terrible kind of regimes with terrible ideologies. But somehow, with youngsters, it works. If they have got young leaders and they are trained together, they create this kind of self-reliance of the unit, so that they are not dependent on what happens in other parts of the battlefield, but they rely upon each other. It works, and they can reach kind of activities that are against, may I say, the individual instincts of anyone in the group.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

I felt it in that initial event, going into the desert in the dark to find a certain spot, and later on in long range desert navigation exercises.

I really felt that somehow when many others lose their sense of directions, or the skyline, or the contours of all the hills around look the same, that I feel that I know where to go. And something similar happened to me many times during the height of a battle. I feel that somehow I can look at it not just out of my own body as an individual that cares about himself, but I can look at it from the outside in a certain -- in a way to -- during the battle at certain aspects it was less kind of hurting you from your stomach than before. When before you are idle, when you have nothing to do but to contemplate what could happen, you become more kind of irritated than once it begins. You have a role. You have something to do. It is dependent upon you. You have to keep yourself detached a little bit looking at all the pictures, giving orders, otherwise your people will be lost and your unit will be lost, and you will lose. And somehow this kind of feeling that I can see -- I can see what happens, I do not lose sight of what happens all around, what should be done, and I do not get panicked -- is what kind of encourages me to keep doing it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

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