Leading figures from across the political spectrum closed ranks on Wednesday in
paying tribute to Israel’s 15th chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon
Lipkin-Shahak, who died at age 68 at Hadassah University Medical Center in
Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem after a prolonged battle with
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
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
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.
among the architects of the private Geneva Peace Initiative with the
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.
“They trusted every word he said, and
people queued at his door seeking his wisdom, honesty and courage. His
contribution to the security of Israel is unparalleled. He received two medals
awarded for his courage, his wisdom and his leadership. Amnon was a model man
throughout his life, standing tall and acting justly. I loved him
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was also among the people
contacted by Lipkin-Shahak on Sunday, spoke to him on the phone and later told
his aides that it was one of the most difficult conversations he had ever
People who were in Netanyahu’s office at the time said that
the prime minister had tears in his eyes, knowing that it was the last time he
would ever speak to Lipkin-Shahak, who was chief of staff during Netanyahu’s
first stint as prime minister.
On learning of Lipkin-Shahak’s death,
Netanyahu expressed deep sorrow: “Amnon was an Israeli hero who dedicated his
best years to the security of the State of Israel. He displayed his considerable
heroism also in his brave conduct during his illness.
He never lost his
nobility of spirit even for a moment. On behalf of the citizens of Israel I send
our condolences to his wife, Tallie, and the rest of his family.”
Lipkin-Shahak’s immediate predecessor as chief of staff, described him as a
model of bravery, leadership and commitment in attaining goals on the
battlefield and in the diplomatic arena.
“He was one of the security
pillars of Israel over the last two generations,” Barak said, adding that
Lipkin-Shahak had been both a unique person and a friend.
IDF Chief of
Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, together with other senior commanders, sent
their condolences to the family.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office noted that as
chief of staff, Lipkin-Shahak placed an emphasis on building up the military’s
combat capabilities and systemic preparations, bettering ongoing security,
nurturing the combat soldier as a human being, and raising the motivation of
reservists and conscripts.
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon –
who, like Lipkin-Shahak, served as a paratrooper, headed Military Intelligence
and was later chief of staff – said Lipkin- Shahak was a noble human being and
was a neighbor as well as a friend. Ya’alon would often stop by to see him, and
neither allowed the disagreements stemming from their political differences to
intrude on their friendship.
National Union MK Uri Ariel, who came to
know Lipkin- Shahak well when the latter was head of Central Command and Ariel
was secretary- general of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria
and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Amana Settlement Movement, said he saluted a
man who for the major part of his life fought for Israel’s
Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, who served under Lipkin-Shahak,
succeeded him as chief of staff and subsequently became defense minister, called
him an extraordinary human being, a man of outstanding integrity and a true
friend who was that rare combination of military daring and thoughtful
Interviewed on Israel Radio, former OC Central Command
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Mitzna, who is now one of the stalwarts of the Tzipi
Livni Party, spoke with great sadness in his voice. He spoke of the friend and
comrade he had known since they were both teenagers at the military academy that
was an adjunct to Haifa’s Reali School, and of the soldier with exceptional
leadership qualities who later, while fighting for his life, continued to
dedicate himself to the state and the nation.
Labor chairwoman Shelly
Yacimovich described Lipkin- Shahak as an officer and a gentleman who both in
and out of uniform had been committed to the security of the state, and who,
after shedding his uniform, fought to preserve the moral image of the
MK Arieh Eldad, a brigadier-general in the reserves and
co-founder of the Strong Israel Party, recalled that Lipkin-Shahak had been his
commander in Lebanon and the first to impress him as an officer who thinks
before he criticizes.
He also demonstrated great courage in the field,
Naftali Bennett, head of Bayit Yehudi, called Lipkin- Shahak
“an Israeli hero, a serious man of values to whom Israel owes a great deal for
his contributions to the state that he continued to make to the last
Lipkin-Shahak was a staunch advocate of the Geneva Initiative
for peace with the Palestinians and was one of its first
Others of those identified with the initiative issued a
statement of mourning underscoring that Lipkin- Shahak had worked tirelessly in
recent years to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of a
sense of Zionist mission that had characterized his actions throughout his
Lipkin-Shahak, a sixth-generation Sabra, was born in Tel Aviv on
March 18, 1944.
After graduating from the military academy in Haifa in
1962 he joined the IDF Paratroop Brigade. He studied in Israel at the IDF Staff
and Command College and the National Defense College, and at the Marine Command
and Staff College in the US.
In addition, he studied general history at
Tel Aviv University, graduating with a BA.
He became a brigade commander
in the paratroops, then took a reorientation course and joined the Armored
Corps, where he served as a commander of both regular and reserve
While still deputy chief of staff he was appointed by
then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to head the Israeli military team in
negotiating the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement with the Palestinians.
his appointment as chief of staff, Rabin sent him to Washington for a summit
meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Hikmat al- Shihabi, to begin
negotiations for security arrangements in preparation for a hoped-for peace
process with Syria.
After his retirement from the IDF, Lipkin-Shahak was
awarded the American Legion of Merit.
In 1999, he threw his hat into the
political ring and together with Dan Meridor and Roni Milo established the
Center Party, which was soon headed by Yitzhak Mordechai. He thus won a seat in
the 15th Knesset.
Barak, who was then prime minister, appointed Lipkin-
Shahak tourism minister and then transportation minister.
from the Knesset after Barak was defeated by Ariel Sharon in the 2001
Lipkin-Shahak associated himself with J Street, the leftwing
American Jewish lobby.
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
His funeral will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday at the
military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul in Tel Aviv. The funeral will be conducted
with full military honors. Eight IDF major-generals will be
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report. •