Uri Lubrani, soldier, diplomat, prisoner-exchange negotiator, dead at 91

During the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation, Lubrani flew from Tehran to Nairobi to arrange for the refueling of rescue planes that were returning to Israel.

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March 5, 2018 14:31
4 minute read.
URI LUBRANI with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

URI LUBRANI with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Uri Lubrani, a veteran of the War of Independence, illegal-immigration activist, leading diplomat and prisoner- exchange negotiator, died on Monday in Tel Aviv. He was 91.

Lubrani, who had several historic achievements to his credit, was the mastermind of Operation Solomon, a covert military-cum-diplomatic operation on May 24-25,1991, in which 14,325 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted and brought on non-stop flights to Israel. The operation, which included both Israel Air Force and El Al planes, was made possible by a change of government in Ethiopia, and the new government’s agreement to receive $40 million in exchange for giving the nod to this latter-day exodus.

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Avraham Rabinovich subsequently described Lubrani in The Jerusalem Post as “a modern Moses who led his people across the Red Sea to the Promised Land in an operation that took 40 hours instead of 40 years, a pimpernel who navigates murky back channels as easily as he moves down the glittering corridors of power, a savvy negotiator who talks the language of Third-World hard men and suavely mobilizes First-World leaders.”

Lubrani, an only son, was born in Haifa on October 7, 1926. His father, Aaron, was a veterinarian, and his mother, Rose, a homemaker. His grandmother ran a hotel that was frequented by British officials, including Orde Wingate. Haifa was a mixed Jewish-Arab city when Lubrani was growing up, and there was mutual respect between different sectors of the population with Jews recognizing Arab rights. In many respects, it was the most cosmopolitan and provincial town of the Middle East.

After completing his studies at the famed Reali School, Lubrani joined the Hagana in 1944, served in the Palmah, and was active in illegal immigration during the British Mandate period. In 1946, at the age of 20, he commanded a Hagana training camp in France for volunteers from English-speaking countries.

Lubrani returned home accompanied by members of one such group to fight in the War of Independence, in which he served as an intelligence officer in the 7th Armored Brigade and the Yiftach Brigade.

After the war, he studied at London University. He later joined the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East Department, and was quickly promoted to private secretary to then-foreign minister Moshe Sharett.

IT WAS no secret that there was enormous friction between Sharett and Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and Lubrani and Yitzhak Navon, who was then Ben-Gurion’s personal secretary, had to work together to devise peace-keeping methods between the two men. Lubrani was the prime minister’s adviser on Arab affairs from 1957 through 1961, after which he was appointed assistant director general in the Prime Minister’s Office and then political secretary and director of the prime minister’s private office.

During his period as adviser on Arab affairs, Lubrani spent considerable time and energy recruiting members of the Druse community into the Israel Defense Forces and in developing Arab villages.

In 1963, he was appointed ambassador to Uganda.

During that time he survived an air crash with Ugandan leader Idi Amin, who subsequently decided that they were blood brothers. While serving as ambassador to Uganda, Lubrani was also the non-resident ambassador to Burundi and Rwanda.

Lubrani’s next ambassadorial appointments were to Ethiopia and then to Tehran. His messages sent to Jerusalem in diplomatic pouches were so accurate on Persian politics that he foretold of the fall of the Shah six months before it happened.

The information was forwarded to the CIA, which dismissed it as a hallucination.

During the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation, Lubrani flew from Tehran to Nairobi to arrange for the refueling of rescue planes that were returning to Israel.

After leaving government service, Lubrani became the director of Koor Industries, which was then one of the largest state-owned industrial conglomerates. But when Moshe Arens was appointed defense minister, he asked Lubrani to return to government service and take on the position of Israel’s policy coordinator in Lebanon.

He remained there until after Operation Peace for the Galilee as coordinator of the activities of Israeli forces.

In the ensuing period, he also negotiated prisoner exchanges with Hezbollah.

Until 2010, Lubrani continued to serve as a consultant for the Defense Ministry, then for the Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Just three months ago, in December 2017, Lubrani called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime whose nuclear program he said posed a danger for the entire world.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said of Lubrani: “We are taking a painful departure from the man in the shadows, Uri Lubrani, a public emissary of great accomplishments who devoted his life to ensuring the security of the State of Israel. Lubrani was a special adviser to a series of defense ministers and his monumental contribution will remain classified information for years to come. The Defense Ministry joins his family in mourning his passing.”


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