TEL AVIV (Dec. 15)
A tall, slim, ramrod straight 45-year-old Air Force General with a thin mustache and a no-nonsense air of command about him is the “new face” in Israel’s Government that has aroused the greatest interest at home and abroad. Gen. Ezer Weizmann, who was sworn in today as Minister of Transport, is a nephew of Israel’s first President, the late Dr. Chaim Weizmann and a brother-in-law of the Defense Minister, Gen. Moshe Dayan (their wives are sisters). He is a career officer, generally regarded as non-political. But he served with the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi during the pre-Statehood era and he was selected for the Cabinet by the hard-line, nationalist Herut faction headed by the former Irgun commander, Menachem Beigin.
Herut and the Liberal faction comprise Gahal, Israel’s second strongest political party. The naming of Gen. Weizmann to a Cabinet post by the Herut central committee barely 24 hours before the new Government was to be sworn in came as a surprise. Months ago, Herut had failed to persuade Gen. Weizmann to stand for election to the Knesset. His acceptance of a cabinet job was apparently important to the Herut leadership. One appointee, Minister of Development designate Yosef Krammerman, voluntarily stepped aside. Another Herut member, Chaim Landau, who was slated to be Minister of Transport, agreed to take over the Development Ministry so that Gen. Weizmann could have the Transport post.
Gen. Weizmann is the youngest member of the Government and brings to it considerably more than a well known name. He is recognized as a brilliant tactician and is considered to have been the architect of the stunning air blow that, on the morning of June 5, 1967, virtually destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria within a few hours. A World War II RAP fighter pilot, he was always a powerful advocate of air power and preached the lesson that the defense of Tel Aviv was in the air over Cairo.
Gen. Weizmann’s resignation from the military, a little more than a day before his Cabinet appointment, was regarded by many of his fellow officers as a considerable loss to the armed forces. Gen. Dayan himself expressed regret, though he welcomed his brother-in-law to the Government and wished him all success. In a television appearance last night. Gen. Weizmann said he was sorry to leave the armed forces but regarded his new post as only another channel through which to continue serving his country. Some circles observed that Gen. Weizmann who, at the time of his retirement was chief of the operations branch at General Headquarters, had risen as far as he could in the military.
In 1967 he was passed over for appointment as Chief of Staff. With his military background, it was virtually certain that he will be named a member of the ministerial committee on security and defense problems. But the Ministry of Transport, though hardly a “glamor post,” is expected to put Gen. Weizmann’s abilities to a severe test. It is considered one of the toughest jobs in the country. The Minister must deal with the port authorities, dock labor, roads, public transport, the many problems that beset Israel’s railways and merchant marine, the seamen and their union, El Al and the other commercial airlines.
The demilitarization of Gen. Weizmann was carried out swiftly with a minimum of military red tape. Chief of Staff Chaim Bar Lev granted him permission to resign as soon as it was requested. Within hours, the general was out of uniform and embarked on his civilian career with a reserve officer’s identity card. He took with him one momento, a photograph of Israel’s first fighter pilot unit of which he was a member and later commander. He also has at his disposal, as a private plane, a World War II Spitfire painted jet black. It is one of the few specimens of the propellor-driven RAF fighter plane still airborne.