Photo: Michael Kremer
רפי איתן פטירה נפטר מת 2006
Photo: Michael Kremer
Ronen Bergman

The last of the giants

Opinion: Rafi Eitan was creative, controversial and dedicated to Israel's security; in the early years of the state, he devoted his life to ensuring that Jewish blood would never again be spilled with impunity

The minutes passed and still Clement did not appear. At 8 o'clock, they planned to give up, fearing that this would be the last time they could set up an ambush without arousing suspicion.



But the commander of the operation, Rafi Eitan, trusting his instincts and willing to take a little more risk, ordered them to wait a little longer.


Time passed, and five minutes after 8, another bus stopped and Clement got off. He started walking, one hand in his pocket.


Hunting for Yosef Mengele in South America (Photo: Courtesy of the Archive of Zvi Aharoni)  (Photo: Zvi Aharoni archive)
Hunting for Yosef Mengele in South America (Photo: Courtesy of the Archive of Zvi Aharoni)


Zvi Malchin jumped on Clement, whose real name was Adolf Eichmann, and knocked him into the ditch, with Eitan and another Mossad agent behind him. Clement was overpowered in seconds and thrown into the back of the car. Eitan began searching for signs to prove beyond doubt that he was really the infamous architect of the Holocaust: the scar in the armpit, the incision marks from an appendectomy.


Eitan fumbled and groped until he finally found what he wanted. "It's him, it's him," he said in Hebrew. In the dark Eitan and Malchin shook hands and with glistening eyes for a brief moment hummed "The Partisans Song," written in honor of the Jews who fought back against the Nazis during the Holocaust.


To me this moment demonstrates, perhaps better than any other, the mindset and contribution of the founding generation of Israel's intelligence community, whose last prominent member, Rafi Eitan, passed away Sunday: We are here, Jews who are armed, who work secretly and covertly to make sure that the pledge "Never Again" remains a reality. To prove to the world that Jewish blood will not be spilled with impunity.


Rafi (Rafael) Eitan was one of the most central and the most controversial figures in the history of the Israeli intelligence community.


Rafi Eitan in the pre-state Palmach elite fighting force (Photo: Palmach Museum)
Rafi Eitan in the pre-state Palmach elite fighting force (Photo: Palmach Museum)


His ability, his cunning and his operational creativity put him not only as a long-term senior Mossad and Shin Bet agent, but also at the heart of the most secret operations. The largely unpublished details of these operations are mostly described in his personal writings and in interviews we did together, which I promised would be released only after his death.


Eitan wanted to be head of the Mossad spy agency and did not hide it. When Zvi Zamir was chosen over him in 1968 and tried to impose military discipline in the Mossad, Eitan could not cope, and left. He turned to private businesses and over the years proved that his creative mind was good not just for special missions and assassinations.


Rafi Eitan during his political career in 2006 (Photo: Michael Kramer)
Rafi Eitan during his political career in 2006 (Photo: Michael Kramer)


He had a broad political outlook and tried to put it into effect through his close relationship with Ariel Sharon and through the behind-the-scenes influence on the political game. Later, he reinvented himself through his Pensioners Party, becoming a government minister and deputy prime minister.


Sharon was the one who appointed him to be in charge of LEKEM, the secret Bureau of Scientific Relations at the Ministry of Defense. Eitan once confessed to me that the pain of leaving the Mossad had not receded, and that he wanted to show that he knew best how to ensure the security of the state.


In South Lebanon in 1982 (Photo: David Rubinger) (Photo: David Rubinger)
In South Lebanon in 1982 (Photo: David Rubinger)


That is how Israel came to recruit Jonathan Pollard, in an affair that caused serious damage to Israel-US relations.


The first time he agreed to talk about the affair, Eitan told me: "After the initial examination of the material and receipt of additional material, my professional appetite increased.


The information was of such high quality and so important to the security of the state that I could not resist the temptation, nor put an end to the operation. If war had broken out, the material that Pollard passed on would have greatly strengthened the IDF and significantly affected its results on the battlefield. As with my entire life, I thought I was doing the best thing for the State of Israel."


Eitan took responsibility for the entire debacle and resigned, letting the Americans blame him alone, without placing any responsibility on the political echelons. It was a noble act, a rarity in our locale.


Rafi Eitan was the last of a generation of giants in Israel's secret, covert world.


פרסום ראשון: 03.24.19, 21:58
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