Palmach members were involved in sabotage operations against Nazi Germany, especially in the Balkans, and were trained to undermine a potential Nazi occupation of Palestine. The training proved just as valuable when the Palmach turned against the British Mandate in the lead-up to 1948 the War of Independence--as well as against renegade Jewish militant and terrorist underground forces like the Irgun (it was the Palmach that captured the Irgun weapon ship Altalena during the War of Independence).
The Plamach's purpose was more than military. It had deep-seated ideological and cultural components that went a long way to define Israel's socialist, egalitarian and patriotic identity as well as the value placed on leadership and selflessness.
The Palmach was the training ground for several notable Israeli leaders who went on to command the Israeli military, or Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). They include:
- Moshe Dayan (1953-57)
- Yitzhak Rabin (1963-1967), who was also twice Israel's prime minister (1974-77 and 1992-95)
- Haim Bar-Lev (1968-72)
- David Elazar (1972-75)
- Mordechai Gur (1975-78)