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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: 5 / 8)

Former Prime Minister of Israel

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  Ehud Barak

What's it like to make a decision under those circumstances? Is it instinct? Imagination? Is it a cold, hard calculation?

Ehud Barak: In battlefield situation it's a combination of responses that have been imprinted upon us. We commanders imprint them upon ourselves, but the soldiers feel it too, certain automatic responses that make everyone feel better. And then it's a swift decision. Some things happen in a split second and are not the result of huge analytical work.

On the battlefield itself, no one will move if you are not moving. I used to tell my company commanders "If I, the battalion commander, will not go to a fire position, open fire and then give commands, no one will move. And if you company commanders will not be the first one to climb to fire position, every other tank crew will find some excuse not to climb, and we have to do it the first time." You don't have time. You somehow -- I believe that many good commanders in the field just somehow can make their overall judgment very quickly. I can compare it to something in which I'm very weak but I watch it. The way that tennis players are responding. They're not calculating. If you were to write the Newtonian equations of the moving of the tennis ball, what you should have done, or not to mention the Schrödinger equations of it, you will never end it. You've got to do what should be done and you don't assess whether you should do it this way or this way, just do what should be done.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

It's only on the higher level, when you command a division or a corps, that you have enough time to contemplate. But then you face the other end of the spectrum; you think you have control, but if you are honest with yourself you know that you don't have full control. It is really decided by the fighting spirit and the performance and the determination of the young company commanders, and at most, the battalion commanders in the direct line of fire.

What are you thinking when you put on a pair of overalls to make an assault on terrorists?

Ehud Barak: First of all, I had a lot of experiences where I had to change dress.

I still remember an operation where we had some of our pilots taken by the Egyptians during the war of attrition. They intercepted some of those with SAM missiles and we decided that the only way to convince the Egyptians to release them is by taking some Egyptian pilots and bring them to Israel and then suggest that we will kind of exchange them. And the only way that we found was to stop at a road leading to an Egyptian Air Force (base), back deep in the Nile Valley, by appearing as an Egyptian military police to move them from the road and to take over some pilots. I initiated such a raid and I was one of the two policemen with the motorcycles, fully dressed as an Egyptian MP with someone who talked Baladic -- kind of a street Egyptian -- much better than I could, in a much more convincing way, and we really made it. And we established a kind of check post on the road to an Egyptian Air Force base and we began to take vehicles at midnight. There was not a lot of transportation. We ended up with 40 people in some six or eight trucks and vehicles, and not a single man in uniform.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Ehud Barak Interview Photo
They were all Egyptian civilians. One had a small pistol. Years later, when I was already prime minister, I told (Egyptian President) Mubarak this story . He joked -- he was himself a commander of the Egyptian Air Force -- and he told me that Egyptian pilots are more disciplined, they are not out in the streets after midnight. They're asleep at the air force base. But he was furious even in retrospect by the kind of chutzpah that we had, to take Egyptian uniforms and motorcycles and so on.

I looked at the dressing in (airplane mechanic) overalls as just a means to heighten the surprise. We were trying to storm a jet, a Sabena airliner with some 107 hostages in it. They were being held by a group of terrorists -- two gunmen and two females with hand grenades, some ammunition, some pistols and some explosives. We realized that unless we can surprise them, so they're defending themselves a split second after they realize we're attacking them, they will have enough time to connect and activate the explosive or to throw some hand grenades at the passengers and explode the whole thing.

First I thought of taking it over at night. I used to do almost everything at night. You can come closer. But there were a lot of hesitations in the upper echelon. Moshe Dayan and the chief of staff, and even Golda Meier in the Jerusalem office all hesitated. "Maybe we can negotiate with them. Maybe they will weaken and give up." So we found ourselves having to do it in the day time. In the day time you cannot come close.

One of the generals said, "Why don't we go closer to the airplane, kind of disguise ourselves or cover ourselves as mechanics while preparing it for taking off?" And we brought -- we even took some hundred young soldiers and some adults, gave them prison kind of suits to represent the Arab relieved terrorists that are coming from the prison, so they will see that everything is okay. And we took ourselves in a kind of trolley that small car that are working in airports. We created a train and we went there with overalls and nothing but small pistols underneath and some ladders to climb it. And we trained ourselves for about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, how to storm the airplane, and how to open the emergency door from the outside, and how to climb from the nose wheel gear into the cockpit directly. And we went to do it and I felt -- what really worried me is the possibility that we will do everything okay but in the few seconds since the beginning of the assault and the actual facing of these terrorists, they can explode the whole thing together with us, and there was no solution for it. We just had to do it in an effective way.

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