'Moishe Vehetsi' - a methodical and patient leader who rose to the top

Lt.-Gen. Moshe Levy - or "Moishe Vehetsi," as we all called him - joined the paratroopers after finishing the officers' course and rose through a wide array of posts. He began his service in the Paratroopers as a platoon commander, but soon he was appointed operations officer in Battalion 890, and he jumped in the beginning of Kadesh War in 1956, near the Mitla Pass. His rise was not meteoric, but patient and methodical, and it brought him all the way to the top. Appointed deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade in 1968, he was the best choice to team up with Col. Yehuda Reshef, the brigade commander, and to cope with the situation we had in the "Valley," the Bekaa. A bitter fight was being waged against PLO infiltrators, and our mission in the Central Command was to block them. We knew Yasser Arafat intended to build up his terrorist capability in the West Bank by sending in gunmen and weaponry from Jordan. It was a life-and-death struggle, and officers who led the chases after the infiltrators often paid the ultimate price - among them Lt.-Col. Zvi Ofer, Maj. Hanan Samson, Maj. Yossi Kaplan and Lt.-Col. Moshe Stempel. In one of the best-known such chases, Jordan Valley Commander Arik Regev and his operations officer, Gadi Manela, were killed. This plunged the brigade into crisis. It was clear that new tactics had to be developed for a new type of warfare. The new approach included building strongholds along the Jordan River, enabling a safe means of moving from one position to another. "Moishe Vehetsi" was the right man in this challenging transition period. First as a deputy to Reshef, and then as the brigade commander, Levy improved the brigade's fighting capabilities and was a major contributor to restoring and then maintaining high morale in this unique paratroopers brigade. Crucial to this were his immense reserves of patience, a willingness to listen and endless good humor. Levy was also a fine strategic thinker who proved well able to master the big picture as well as the details for the long-lasting war between the Jordan Valley Brigade and the enemy. When I joined Levy as his deputy in 1969, I found an organization that worked like a Swiss watch. He never tired of visiting the posts and listening to his soldiers. He took part in all the operations the Brigade initiated. His last "chase" was particularly complicated. We did not succeed in getting to the infiltrators on day one, a Friday, even though we were ready in ambush positions in the suspected area. Now it was Moshe's turn for a weekend's leave at home. But next morning, there was a bloody encounter with the enemy group, and we lost two soldiers. We resumed the chase, and I telephoned Moshe at home. Uncharacteristically he did not want to come over, and he reluctantly arrived toward early afternoon. Some inner voice had plainly told him not to come. About an hour later, we spotted the infiltrators in a valley below us, and a fierce firefight ensued. One of the enemy gunmen climbed the facing slope and opened fire at us. My radio operator and the operations officer of the Haruv battalion were wounded; so was Moshe, badly. Thus ended his tenure as a brigade commander. Moshe Levy made a critical contribution to transforming the Jordan Valley from a valley of death to a front on which the IDF fought successfully and effectively. The then-OC Central Command Rehavam "Gandhi" Ze'evi, himself deeply involved in the wars of the Bekaa, appreciated Levy's role. It was no wonder, therefore, that Ze'evi was prepared to wait for eight long months without a deputy until the chief of General Staff nominated Levy for the post. The writer, who fought with Moshe Levy in the Jordan Valley Brigade, is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.