What made a 79-year-old suddenly get up and decide to run for the Knesset? "Israel has over 700,000 pensioners, some of the country's finest citizens, many living in dire poverty," explains Rafi Eitan, the master spy who is the head of the Pensioners' Party ("Gil"). "I decided to be their voice."
"I have everything I need. I am pretty well off. But when I was approached by about 30 associations of Israeli pensioners asking me to lead their Knesset list, I decided to jump into the hot water of Israeli politics." He adds: "I feel 20 years old."
Eitan's name became a household world following the Jonathan Pollard spy affair in the United States. Since resigning in 1985 in the wake of that fiasco, Eitan plunged into the business world, heading million-dollar projects in various countries.
"It is inexcusable," he says, that in a country like ours pensioners who spent their best years doing productive work are thrown to the dogs in their old age."
More than 300,000 pensioners are registered with the associations that approached Eitan. Based on a cautious estimate, it would need only about 60,000 votes to put the Gil list in the Knesset.
BECAUSE HE identifies so strongly with Ariel Sharon, Eitan had first turned to the administration of the Kadima Party, but "there was no one to talk to there." He then informed the leaders of Kadima's election campaign that he was planning to run at the head of the Gil list. "You don't have a chance," they told him.
Clearheaded and lucid, Eitan - who has no problem running all over the world like a young man just starting out - laughs. "The moment Kadima gave that answer I decided to run because I've always enjoyed taking on missions others said were impossible."
Indeed, until the Pollard debacle, Eitan's espionage escapades for Israel's intelligence community were legendary; many remain unknown. He became famous as the commander of the squad that captured Adolf Eichmann on Garibaldi Street in Buenos Aires in May 1960 in order to bring him to justice in Jerusalem. The man who actually physically captured Eichmann was Zvi Malchin, who died exactly a year ago.
Eitan and Malchin were among the most talented fighters Isser Harel trained when he established Israel's security services, its Shin Bet and the Mossad, over 50 years ago. They helped him lay the foundations for these organizations' secret operations.
They captured Soviet KGB agents operating in Israel when the state had only about 1-1.5 million Jews. At the same time they exposed the hostile activities of extremist Israeli Arabs acting to subvert the existence of the Jewish state - whose successors now sit in the Knesset and continue, without interference this time, with their subversion and treachery. Later, in Europe, Eitan and Malchin became the Mossad's top team in its intelligence war against the Arab countries. Their operational creativity and skills became the Mossad's secret weapon.
EITAN WAS able to maintain contact with the bureau of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Israel's greatest enemy, up until the Six Day War. After that, Eitan and Malchin identified Yasser Arafat as Israel's greatest Palestinian enemy and proposed that he be assassinated in Europe. But permission for that operation never came, and the bloody results are well known.
Eitan's cold, experienced and analytical brain aided numerous operations after he was appointed prime minister Menachem Begin's adviser on the war on terror in 1979. Most of those now running for the Knesset will never know as much as Eitan has forgotten.
Before he was recruited as an Israeli agent, Jonathan Pollard had been a United States Navy intelligence officer. Our defense minister at the time was Moshe Arens, who was replaced by Yitzhak Rabin after the national unity government was formed in 1984. Shimon Peres was prime minister. Eitan provided them, and only them, with the precious intelligence that came from Pollard - both in regard to the threats of terror against Israel and the weapons of mass destruction being developed in Baghdad and Damascus.
But when Pollard was arrested in 1985 they all disavowed the operation. Eitan agreed to take full responsibility and resigned as head of the Office of Scientific Relations. That enabled Peres to lie to the American administration and say Eitan had been acting on his own in a "rogue operation."
"IF I AM elected to the Knesset," Eitan told me, "I will be able to contribute to the efforts to obtain a pardon for Pollard. I have never abandoned this issue. Pollard has been punished far too much, and it is a great injustice that he continues to languish in jail."
What makes Rafi run? Is it only the suffering of the elderly?
"Yes, first and foremost the distress of hundreds of thousands of pensioners. But with my experience in the war against the Arab threat, I see a huge threat to our state now in the Hamas front the Palestinians have established on our doorstep, supported by the Iranians with their calls to wipe Israel off the map.
"This is a time when every Jew must do his part in standing up to this threat."