Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Begin, Menachem (1913–1992)

Commander of the pre-1948 Zionist militia Etzel, Israeli prime minister, Nobel Peace Price recipient. Born in Brest-Litovsk, Poland, on 16 August 1913, Menachem Begin attended Warsaw University, where he received a law degree in 1935. An ardent Zionist, he became active in the Revisionist Zionist Movement of Jabotinski, in both Eastern Europe and then Palestine. Begin was involved in the East European

resistance effort against the German occupation and helped various Zionist groups infiltrate British-controlled Palestine. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, he joined the Polish Army, was posted to the Middle East, and wound up in Palestine. He assumed command of Etzel in 1943, directing operations against the British occupation of Palestine.

During the battles that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948, Begin's militancy resulted in conflict with mainstream Zionists headed by David Ben-Gurion. Begin and his partisans established the Herut Party in 1948 to foster the Revisionist Zionist program for a Greater Israel that included territories east of the Jordan River. Herut was later broadened to include other political sentiments opposed to Ben-Gurion's Labour Zionism. The Herut Party was renamed the Likud Party in 1973.

Part of a National Unity government in the mid-1960s, the Likud Party won a majority of seats in the Knesset (parliament) elections of 1977 and formed a government with Begin as prime minister the same year. As prime minister, Begin actively promoted immigration to Israel, particularly from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and sought to move the Israeli economy away from the centralized, command-style policies of the Labour Party. Begin's six-year tenure as prime minister was marked by a number of important events. In addition to his economic restructuring agenda, he pursued a vigorous foreign policy.

Begin's foreign policy achievements began in 1977 when he participated in the groundbreaking Camp David peace talks with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, sponsored by President Jimmy Carter. The talks led ultimately to the 1978 Camp David Accords, followed by a formal Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, signed in 1979, that ended thirty years of war between the two nations. Begin and Sadat shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward the Camp David Accords.

Despite his peace overtures, Begin did not hesitate to exercise Israeli military force when he believed it necessary for national security. In 1981, he ordered an air attack against an Iraqi nuclear power plant near Osirak that destroyed the facility. He also ordered the Israeli military to retaliate against Palestinian terrorist attacks. The latter effort included sending Israeli forces into Lebanon in 1977 and 1982. The death of his wife Aliza and his own declining health prompted Begin to retire in September 1983 to his home in Yafeh Nof, near Jerusalem. He died in Tel Aviv on 9 March 1992.

Daniel E. Spector


Further Reading
Quandt, William B. Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1986.; Silver, Eric. Begin: The Haunted Prophet. New York: Random House, 1984.
 

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