Obituary: Brig-Gen Uzi Narkiss

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The Independent Online
Uzi Narkiss, soldier and administrator: born Jerusalem 6 January 1925; head, operations division, General Headquarters, Sinai Campaign 1956; military attache, France 1959-62; Commander, National Defence College 1963-65; Commanding General, Central Command 1965-68; staff, Jewish Agency 1968-88; married Esther Hacohen (one son, two daughters); died Jerusalem 17 December 1997.

A celebrated photograph of the 1967 Six Day War shows General Uzi Narkiss marching triumphantly in the newly captured Old City of Jerusalem with the Minister of Defence, Moshe Dayan, and the Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin. Narkiss proudly described himself as the "general of the troops that liberated Jerusalem".

Yet there is a double irony to his claim. It is doubtful that either Dayan or Rabin would have chosen Narkiss to command the Jerusalem front had the general staff foreseen King Hussein's involvement with Abdel Nasser in the war. Even after the clashes with the Egyptians, Israel's prime minister, Levi Eshkol, pleaded with the king not to open fire. It was hoped that the central front would remain quiet while the Israelis dealt with the Egyptians and, later, the Syrians. Narkiss, a seasoned and sensible soldier, would have been ideal for such a post.

Even as a conqueror of Jerusalem, Narkiss failed to fire the imagination of the Israeli public. Most of the glory and publicity was lavished on one of his subordinates, Motta Gur, who led the paratroopers into the Old City and to the Western Wall, the Jewish people's holiest shrine. Gur went on to become Chief of Staff and a senior minister. Narkiss left the army after the war and devoted the rest of his life to the absorption of immigrants and providing information about Israel's problems and achievements.

Yet Narkiss never complained. Stocky and small of stature, he was of the new breed of soldiers produced by the native Sabra population. From the age of 16, when he left the Jerusalem Gymnasia High School to join the first company of the elite Palmach brigade led by Yigal Allon, to start a 27-year career in the army, Narkiss was a devoted, and even ideal, soldier - quiet, obedient, efficient, responsible. He was rewarded by being sent for further study in Paris.

As battalion commander in the 1948 War of Independence, Narkiss attempted to come to the relief of the besieged Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. He broke through Zion Gate but was ordered to pull out. He also commanded the Etzion bloc of Jewish settlements near Jerusalem, for three months, before they fell to the Jordanians.

So his triumph on 7 June 1967 in Jerusalem had for him both personal and national significance. Earlier that morning he received Motta Gur's famous radio transmission: "The Temple Mount is in our hands." He immediately went to the Temple Mount to share the moment with the paratroopers who captured it. "There was never such a thing as this for the one who stands here now," Narkiss said. "There are no words on my lips. We all pay tribute to history."

In his last years he devoted himself to maintaining the soldiers' memorial on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem,where many of his comrades, as well as many brave Jordanians, fell.