Meir Har-Zion, one of the best-known members of the Unit 101 commando force, died on Friday at the age of 80 in his home at Ahuzat Shoshana in the northern Jordan Valley, where he will be buried on Sunday.
Former chief of staff Moshe Dayan once described him as “the finest of our commando soldiers, the greatest Jewish warrior since Bar-Kochba” Har-Zion was born in Herzliya in 1934 with the family name Horowitz.
During the 1950s, around a dozen Israeli teenagers were killed trying to reach Petra, 40 km. inside Jordan. At the age of 18, Har-Zion and his girlfriend reached Petra at night, after three days of hiking. This made them legendary figures among Israeli youth.
He was among the founders of the IDF’s tank commando unit and was its first commander. Unit 101 was responsible for counter raids against Arab terrorist units in the 1950s.
Har-Zion served as an officer in the unit. He was never promoted beyond captain, although he commanded units usually led by officers with more senior ranks.
During a military strike against Jordanian soldiers and police in September 1955, on the Hebron–Beersheba road, Har-Zion was injured in the neck and arm; the unit’s doctor performed a tracheotomy under fire and saved his life.
The wound made speaking difficult for him for the rest of his life.
After he recovered, Har-Zion helped to found the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal).
Despite being a disabled veteran, he fought in the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars.
In 1967, Har-Zion, a captain in the reserves with one usable hand, fought on both the Golan Heights and Jerusalem fronts, and used hand grenades to kill a Jordanian sniper in the capital’s Old City.
In 1973, he fought on the Golan and rescued wounded soldiers behind enemy lines.
In 2005, he was critical of his former brother in arms Ariel Sharon for the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his sorrow at the death of Har-Zion, saying that he was among Israel’s greatest heroes.
“He was filled with the spirit of love of country and of the nation,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said that Har-Zion helped him train his own soldiers.
President Shimon Peres said on Friday that Har-Zion “was a legend while he was alive and that there was no one braver than he was.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon remembered Har-Zion as someone who was always in front of his fighters.
“He always sought to be on the front line, whether it was leading a force of soldiers or whether it was risking his life to rescue the wounded,” Ya’alon said.
He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.
The funeral will be held at 3 pm on Sunday at Ahuzat Shoshana.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.