Herzog, Chaim (‘Vivian’) (1918–97), Israeli soldier, lawyer, businessman, diplomat, and politician, was born 17 September 1918 at 2 Norman Villas, Cliftonville Rd, Belfast, elder of two sons of Isaac Herzog (qv), rabbi, originally of Lomza, Poland, and Sarah Herzog (née Hillman), a rabbi's daughter born in Riga, Latvia. When he was nine months old the family moved to Dublin on his father's becoming chief rabbi of Ireland. Throughout his childhood, regular contact was maintained with members of his paternal extended family resident in Paris, and maternal family members in London. His father, one of the foremost Jewish scholars in the world, widely learned on secular as well as religious subjects, was an ardent Zionist and Irish nationalist. Reared in strict orthodox practice, Herzog attended Hebrew school (heder) daily, and was bar mitzvahed in Adelaide Road synagogue, Dublin. He received secular education in the co-educational kindergarten of Alexandra College, and then at Wesley College. Proficient in cricket, rugby, and boxing, he was Irish youth bantamweight champion. Sent by his parents in 1935 to attend a Talmudic academy ( yeshiva) in Jerusalem, he joined the Haganah, the underground Jewish paramilitary force in Palestine. In 1937 he was joined in Jerusalem by his parents on his father's election as chief rabbi of Palestine. He studied law at London University (1938–41), graduating BL, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn (November 1942). Enlisting in the British army to fight against Naziism, after lengthy training in intelligence methods (1942–4) he was posted in July 1944 to Normandy as an intelligence officer attached to the Guards Armoured Division. He served in the first allied formation to enter Germany, and in an artillery attack outside Bremen suffered permanent inner-ear damage. After the German surrender, he was assigned to identify and interrogate top Nazi officials. As officer-in-charge of intelligence operations in several provinces within the British zone of occupation (1945–7), he facilitated illegal, clandestine transport of Jews from the Russian zone to Palestine.
Demobilised as a lieutenant-colonel, he returned to Palestine and headed a Haganah department that spied on the United Nations special commission supervising the transfer of the Palestinian mandate from Britain to the UN. In the early days of the Arab–Israeli war that followed the declaration of the state of Israel (May 1948), he fought with an armoured brigade in the battle for the strategic Latrun heights. Designated by prime minister David Ben-Gurion to initiate a comprehensive reorganisation and modernisation of intelligence services, as deputy director (1948–9) and director (1949–50) of military intelligence (Aman) he employed the expertise derived from his second-world-war service to lay the foundations of Israel's formidable military intelligence network. As military attaché at the Israeli embassy in Washington (1950–54) he helped forge Israel's vital military relationship with the USA. He served as commander of the Jerusalem district (1954–7), a front-line command along the divided city and adjoining Jordanian border, and of the Southern Command (1957–9). In a second stint as director of military intelligence (1959–62), he introduced new technology, including computerisation, and enhanced intelligence cooperation with France; both initiatives proved of immense value during the 1967 six-days’ war. Exploiting common interests in monitoring Soviet activity in the Middle East, he established covert collaboration with the Iranian secret service SAVAK, and drafted a joint declaration on Israeli–Iranian relations, a major diplomatic breakthrough among non-Arab Islamic ‘peripheral’ states.
On leaving the defence forces (though remaining a major general in the active reserves), Herzog became managing director (1962–72) of GUS–Rassco, a joint British–Israeli industrial development venture associated with Sir Isaac Wolfson of Great Universal Stores, and appeared frequently as a military commentator on Israeli radio and the BBC. His profile within Israel was greatly enhanced by his regular radio broadcasts prior to and during the June 1967 Arab–Israeli war, when his informed, sober analyses and reassuring manner soothed the anxieties of a public alarmed by reports of Egyptian military prowess. Called into active service after the war as military governor of the occupied west bank (1967–8), he ordered the bulldozing of an Arab quarter of east Jerusalem to allow greater space for Jewish worshippers at the Wailing Wall. In 1972 he became senior partner in a law firm, and during the October 1973 Yom Kippur war again offered commentary on both radio and television. As ambassador to the UN (1975–8), he vehemently opposed the 1975 resolution describing Zionism as a form of racism, famously tearing up a draft copy on the floor of the general assembly. In the wake of Israel's 1978 Litani incursion into south Lebanon he agreed to establishment of UNIFIL, a peacekeeping contingent in which Irish troops would participate.
Becoming more actively involved in Israeli internal politics, he directed the Labour Party's public relations and information office in the 1981 general election, and won election to a Knesset seat (1981–3). Despite the governing Likud-led coalition's parliamentary majority, as Labour's 1983 presidential candidate he attracted cross-party support, and was elected by a Knesset vote of 61–57 as the sixth president of Israel (1983–93). After the deadlocked 1984 general election he played a major role in the formation of the ‘national unity’ government involving rotating Labour and Likud premierships. Amid deep internal divisions and stern international condemnation pursuant to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, he warned against extremism on all sides and ostracised certain figures of the Jewish ultra-right, but alienated liberal opinion by pardoning intelligence agents allegedly involved in the deaths of Palestinian prisoners, and by commuting the murder sentences of a Jewish vigilante group. On a 1985 state visit to Ireland he inaugurated the Irish Jewish museum, Walworth Road, Dublin, and in 1987 became the first Israeli head of state to visit Germany. Resolutely defending the ruthless suppression of the first Palestinian intifada against international criticism, he was reelected unopposed to a second five-year term in 1988.
Herzog wrote several books, largely on Jewish and Israeli military history, including The war of atonement (1975), Battles of the Bible (1978), Who stands accused? Israel answers its critics (1978), The Arab–Israeli wars (1982), and Heroes of Israel: profiles of Jewish courage (1989). His memoirs were published in 1996. Dapper and urbane, retaining traces of an Irish accent combined with the air of a British gentleman, Herzog exemplified the northern European Ashkenazi elite that founded and shaped the Israeli state. Acknowledgement of his Irish origins permeated his political career; recordings of John McCormack (qv) would signal his arrival at functions throughout Israel. He married (1947) Aura Ambache, sister-in-law of the Israeli politician and diplomat Abba Eban. From a distinguished Egyptian Jewish family, after an early career in the Jewish Agency's diplomatic corps she was active in cultural and environmental organisations. They had three sons and one daughter.
Herzog's career illustrates the contradictions inherent in attempting to define a moderate, liberal perspective in a political milieu marked by settlement, occupation, and militarism (whether regarded as fundamentally offensive or defensive in character). However posterity may judge his record on these accounts, the depth of his commitment and the versatility of his achievement would seem unquestionable. He died after a long illness on 17 April 1997.