Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak was "a true hero," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at his funeral on Thursday afternoon.
Lipkin-Shahak, who passed away on Wednesday, was buried at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul in Tel Aviv.
'"It is no secret we had a difference of opinions," Netanyahu said, "but I always appreciated his deep commitment to the state's security."
The prime minister lauded Israel's 15th chief of staff as a man who was "brave of heart," heroic, and a patriotic Zionist. "His name preceded him," Netanyahu said, noting that Lipkin-Shahak excelled in every walk of his life.
Addressing Lipkin-Shahak's family and wife Tallie, the prime minister -- who lost his brother in Operation Entebbe and also recently lost his father -- sympathized that there is no greater pain than the loss of a loved one.
"But further than this private pain, there is also the pain of the nation," Netanyahu said, stressing that a heavy sense of mourning descended upon the country following news of Lipkin-Shahak's death.
Leading figures from across the political spectrum closed ranks on Wednesday in paying tribute to Lipkin-Shahak, who died at age 68 at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem after a prolonged battle with leukemia.
Lipkin-Shahak also served as tourism minister from 1999 to 2001, and transportation minister from 2000 to 2001.
He was diagnosed with the illness while still in the army and took the unusual and courageous step of making his condition public before becoming chief of staff in 1995.
Former comrades in arms, who after retiring from the IDF entered the political arena, were unanimous in praising Lipkin-Shahak as a great military commander, a level-headed strategist and a man of remarkable integrity.
Lipkin-Shahak served as a company commander during the 1967 Six Day War.
In the following year he took part in raids on PLO bases in Jordan, for which he was awarded the Medal of Valor.
He rose through the ranks, going on to become head of the elite Duchifat Paratroop Battalion before being appointed to command Paratroop Battalion 50.
In 1973, Lipkin-Shahak won the Medal of Valor again for leading part of a commando force in a raid against PLO targets in Beirut, which resulted in the killing of around 100 PLO terrorists, including three senior commanders.
In the Yom Kippur War the following October, Lipkin- Shahak fought on the southern front in Sinai as a deputy brigade commander in the paratroops. In 1983 he became OC Central Command, and three years later he was appointed head of Military Intelligence, serving in the post until 1991.
He became deputy chief of staff in 1991, serving under Ehud Barak. He replaced Barak as chief of staff in 1995 before retiring from the military in 1998.
President Shimon Peres, who had a very close relationship with Lipkin-Shahak, received a phone call from him on Sunday. Lipkin- Shahak, who knew he was dying, was calling several people to make his last farewells.
Peres told him that he didn’t engage in goodbyes of this nature on the phone, and promptly ordered his driver to take him to Hadassah University Medical Center, where he had an emotional final conversation with the man who had been a cool-headed commander in war and who as a civilian fought valiantly and tirelessly for peace.
Lipkin-Shahak was among the architects of the private Geneva Peace Initiative with the Palestinians.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Peres wrote: “Since last Sunday, when I came to say goodbye to Amnon, my dear friend, at the hospital, I’ve been unable to rest. Amnon was a true hero who carried the torch of peace, a rare and exceptionally wise man. His students and soldiers saw him as a role model like no other.
Speaking at the funeral on Thursday, Peres said Lipkin-Shahak "fought and won," but never ceased searching for peace. "You were and you remain a great fighter for Israel."
Lipkin-Shahak, a sixth-generation Sabra, was born in Tel Aviv on March 18, 1944.
He is survived by his wife, journalist Tallie Lipkin-Shahak, who was Israel’s first female military correspondent, working at the time for the now defunct Davar. He also leaves five children and several grandchildren.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.