By Uzi Eilam
Sussex Academic Press. Paperback 2011. 360 pages. £47.03 / $52.25. Available from Gazelle Book Services firstname.lastname@example.org & Amazon. (Hebrew edition NIS 98 from Steimatzky).
Some years ago I was attending a charity dinner in Jerusalem. A man, short of stature and quietly spoken, had been invited to address the assembled group. A few of the donors, puffed up with their own preferment, carried on with their own conversations, ignoring the gentleman who stood before them. I remember being extremely annoyed at this lack of derech eretz. They had no idea who stood before them. And I, who had already met and heard the speaker on a previous occasion in London, had very little idea either. It was only upon reading his recently published autobiography, Eilam’s Arc, now translated into English, that I could begin to appreciate the breadth and depth of this quiet man’s experience.
Uzi Eilam was born and raised on Kibbutz Tel Yosef, a deeply socialist kibbutz where science and learning were scorned as useless and effete. Despite this, Uzi Eilam fought the kibbutz elders to be allowed to study, and he graduated from the Technion with a B.Sc in Mechanical Engineering and a M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering. Since that time, it is no exaggeration to say that he has led the most incredible life. Through his career path, which had a dizzyingly upward trajectory, he has been closely involved in many of the most crucial decision-making events in the State of Israel’s history. Uzi was a combat paratrooper during the 1950s, serving on Israel’s southern borders alongside Arik Sharon. He was a company commander of paratroopers in the 1956 Sinai campaign, a battalion commander in the paratroop brigade fighting in Jerusalem during the Six D ay War and the commander of a paratroop brigade in the Jordan Valley in 1969 and 1970.
But that is not all. In the 1970s he led the creation of the incredibly farsighted Research and Development Department and was its commander from 1971 to 1975. He was subsequently appointed head of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure. As former US Ambassador to Israel, Ambassador Martin Indyk writes, “Uzi Eilam is the father of Israel’s high-tech revolution in weapons development and has played a critical below- the- radar- role in building Israel’s advanced defense capabilities." As Director General of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission from 1976 to 1985, he served under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres. Indeed, this book is revelatory, for through its pages march the major players, both military and political, who have shaped a strong and defensible Israel. Small sentences here and there elicited a “Wow!” and “I never knew that” from this reader.
This is not a touchy-feely, highly personal autobiography. Nor is it a gossipy read. Details of political machinations amongst the military elite abound, but only when they have a bearing on the issue at hand. Eilam’s Arc, on the other hand, is filled to the brim with the most interesting facts relating to Israel’s security, from the development of the Uzi submachine gun to the implementation of Israel’s space program. Every paragraph could easily have filled a chapter in anyone else’s book and every chapter, an entire book. I know I need to read it again and I will.
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