Yitzhak Pundak makes history by becoming the oldest major general in Israeli history.
Most Israelis’ personal dealings with the IDF end at age 45, when any mandatory reserve duty is suspended. This is not the case for Yitzhak Pundak, who was recently awarded the rank of Major General at the age of 100. This leaves IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz as the only officer to outrank Pundak in the Israeli army.
Maj. Gen. Pundak is well-deserving of the honor. He commanded the southern front during Israel’s War of Independence, immediately after which he commanded the Nahal Brigade. In 1953, he was appointed to command the Armored Corps. One year later, then-Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan promised to promote Pundak to the rank of major general if he served in the position for another year, as was accepted practice at the time. Five months later, Dayan informed him that the promotion was opposed by Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon and would not come to pass. In his memoirs, Dayan explained that Lavon had decided to freeze all such promotions to major general, with the exception of the promotion of Yitzhak Rabin.
Pundak left active military service and took a number of positions in the civilian sector, including a position at the Labor Ministry. He also served at various times as the head of the Arad municipal council and in the Foreign Service. Dayan asked Pundak to return to active service as governor of the Gaza Strip and Northern Sinai region in 1971. Pundak acceded to the request, with the rank of brigadier general. Pundak retired from active service before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Nearly 60 years later, Pundak sat beside Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, where he received the long-awaited rank. He was the first person in Israeli history to be raised to the rank of Major General after retirement. During the ceremony, Gantz told him, “Yitzhak, your tremendous contribution has been with us over the years. I feel that this is a unique, unprecedented event, and an expression of thanks to you and your work. I’m glad that it was in my hands to do the right thing and give you the rank of Major General. This is an exciting moment for you, for your family and for the IDF.”
Yaalon said, “When the Chief of Staff came to ask about giving Yitzhak the rank of Major General it was an emotional moment, because this is the history they taught us about. We understood that we had an opportunity to right a historic wrong. Since he came to Israel, Yitzhak was in the Hagana, and then spent his whole life in public service – both in the IDF, representing the state of Israel abroad, establishing the city of Arad and being active in the Arad region,” he added. “You, Major General Yitzhak Pundak, deserve this rank, and I am happy that the Chief of Staff and I had the opportunity to do this historic justice,” he concluded.
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By Rachel Avraham