Rafi Eitan, one of the lead Mossad spies involved in capturing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, died on Saturday. He was 92.
Eitan was one of the founders of the Israeli intelligence community, serving both in the homeland security agency, the Shin Bet, and with the Mossad, carrying out foreign spying, for decades starting in the 1950s.
He eventually rose to the senior ranks of the Mossad, including heading its European division, and the Defense Ministry, and later in life led the Pensioners of Israel political party, serving as pensioners affairs minister from 2006-2009.
Eitan was the intelligence officer who operated Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard in the mid-1980s.
The former top spy was born in Ein Harod in 1926 to immigrant parents from Russia, and grew up in Ramat Hasharon.
He joined the pre-state Palmah underground, and was injured in the 1948 War of Independence.
Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, who started to serve in the Mossad in the 1960s, told The Jerusalem Post that Eitan was one of “the founding fathers of intelligence and operations for the State of Israel... He was an out-of-the-box thinker, highly skilled and helped train the next generation” of Mossad agents.
“He was involved in many operations. Some were known, some were not.”
Referring briefly to Eitan’s role in convincing Jonathan Pollard to spy in the US for Israel, he said “there is no insurance in intelligence” to cover operations with negative impacts, but that all agents have mistakes and that “there is no doubt that his contributions were priceless” compared to any errors.
In 2014 on the television program Uvda, Eitan himself said he did not regret his actions from a national interest perspective, but apologized on a personal level for his role in the Pollard affair.
His interview included that he personally ordered preventing Pollard from entering the Israeli Embassy in Washington, which might have allowed him to avoid three decades in US prison.
Pollard gave Israel large amounts of intelligence from 1984-1985 in his capacity as a US naval intelligence officer, and was sent to prison from 1985-2015.
Sharing a personal story about Eitan, Shavit said that even when he was in the Mossad, he already used a hearing aid due to impaired hearing.
Shavit said Eitan was very focused during serious meetings and made sure to use his hearing aid not to miss anything.
However, when a meeting might descend into “gossip” or less serious matters, Shavit said Eitan would show his impatience by turning off his hearing aid and tuning out – which Shavit saw him do during a Mossad meeting in Europe.
“Rafi was one of the heroes of the State of Israel’s intelligence service in countless acts for Israel’s security,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening. “There was no match for his wisdom, wit and endless commitment to the people of Israel and our country.”
Current Mossad Director Yossi Cohen expressed great sorrow on Eitan’s death.
“[He] was one of the founding pillars of the intelligence community and the Mossad in particular,” he said. “His actions will be enshrined on the gold list of the history of the state.”
Cohen called Eitan daring and creative, noting that the vast majority of his operations still cannot even be shared with the public.
He added that “the fundamentals that Rafi laid in the early years of the state are a significant part of the Mossad’s operations even today.”
President Reuven Rivlin said Israel has lost a brave fighter whose contribution to the nation’s security will be taught for generations to come.
“Rafi was a born fighter who stuck to his mission and to what he knew to be right,” he said. “Our heads are bowed today in his memory, and we part from him in sorrow and thanks, and with deep appreciation for his contribution to the people and the country.”
The Shin Bet said Eitan helped establish the agency’s operations unit and credited him with dozens of “revolutionary operations.”
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein said Eitan’s commitment and contribution to the revival of Israel, its security and the operation to capture Eichmann in particular will be remembered forever in the history of the Jewish people.
Besides his famous role in capturing Eichmann, and the Pollard affair detouring his career for some time, Eitan was credited with possibly stealing uranium from Belgium to bring to Israel.
According to Yossi Melman, writing in the Post’s sister publication Maariv, he also helped catch the Israeli-Soviet spy Yisrael Bar and stole designs of the French Mirage aircraft.
Even after concluding his career at the Mossad and various spates in the private sector, he worked on Israel’s behalf to acquire intelligence about other countries’ nuclear weapons program.
Returning to public life years after the Pollard affair sidelined him, his Pensioner’s party won seven seats in the Knesset in 2006, and he served as Pensioners Minister in the government of Ehud Olmert.
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