A formidable contingent of Israeli dignitaries and present and former military brass were on hand on Thursday afternoon to pay their last respects as former IDF chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak was laid to rest with full military honors at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Lipkin-Shahak, who also served as a cabinet minister for a time, passed away on Wednesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 68 years old.
Among those who eulogized the former military chief were President Shimon Peres; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was Lipkin-Shahak’s predecessor in the General Staff; and current IDF chief Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
The IDF chief rabbi, Brig.-Gen Rafi Peretz, led the religious service.
First among the eulogizers was Peres.
“You devoted your life, to Israel, to the people, to the military,” the president said. “They were on your mind at every moment, and you never knew fear. You are a great hero of Israel, a country that has always faced battles. You fought and you won, but you never stopped striving for peace. You were a memorable man and served as an extraordinary example to us all.”
Netanyahu praised Lipkin-Shahak as “a man of values, full of courage.”
“He was a hero,” the prime minister said. “He excelled in every walk of his life. He was one of those rare men who left their marks on all of us, especially in the IDF. His humanity shone through, as did his commitment to achieving peace and security for Israel.”
Recounting his final conversation with Lipkin-Shahak, Netanyahu said: “Amnon’s voice was faint, but clear. He spoke only of the state — not of himself, not of his illness, not of the end, which he knew was near — only of Israel.”
The prime minister, with whom Lipkin-Shahak had consistent political differences, said he would “never forget” that final conversation. “I was moved to the depths of my soul.” He said Lipkin-Shahak “was a true hero — and that is how I, and all of us, will remember him.”
Barak compared Lipkin-Shahak’s valor on the battlefield to his bravery in battling his disease.
“Amnon was always composed, in facing our enemies as in facing his illness, to which he eventually succumbed.” said Barak. Three times, Barak recalled, he handed over his IDF position for Lipkin-Shahak to take over, culminating in the job of chief of the General Staff in 1995. “I was always confident — we were in good hands.” He praised Lipkin-Shahak’s wisdom, stability, courage and sense of responsibility. “Amnon, I loved you,” said Barak, “though that was never something we would have said while you were alive. And I will miss you for the rest of my life.”
Barak noted that Lipkin-Shahak believed passionately in the two-state solution. He regarded an accommodation with the Palestinians, while insisting on the utmost security for Israel, as the only way to secure Israel’s future. “That is Amnon’s political legacy.”
Gantz praised Lipkin-Shahak as a “role model” for all young soldiers.
“As young soldiers, we all wished we could be like you,” Gantz said. “More than once, your clear vision and integrity inspired me. Wherever you are now, I hope you’re looking down on us and seeing the generation of soldiers who look up to you.
“Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, on behalf of myself and of IDF soldiers past, present and future, I salute you,” Gantz concluded.
Lipkin-Shahak, a native of Tel Aviv, volunteered for the paratroops in 1962 and excelled throughout his military career. On March 21, 1968, as commander of the Duchifat recon unit, he led his troops toward the Jordanian village of Karameh — a PLO stronghold and home, at the time, to Yasser Arafat. He won the Medal of Courage for that operation. He won a second such medal for his leadership of a mission in Beirut five years later. In both cases, the operations did not proceed as planned, and his calm under fire saved many of his troops’ lives.
In 1995, before succeeding Ehud Barak to become the IDF’s 15th chief of General Staff, Lipkin-Shahak had recovered from a bout of leukemia. He later recalled telling prime minister Yitzhak Rabin about the illness, and leaving the meeting reassured and encouraged by Rabin. “I loved him even more after that,” said Lipkin-Shahak. “Rabin truly loved him too,” Barak said Thursday at the funeral.
Lipkin-Shahak was a widely respected and beloved chief of staff, who later went into politics but failed to achieve his ambition of becoming prime minister.
A year after leaving the army, in 1999, Lipkin-Shahak joined the nascent Center Party along with Yitzhak Mordechai and Dan Meridor. But he lost the party leadership to Mordechai, and the party won only six seats in that year’s elections. In the 15th Knesset, under prime minister Barak, he served as tourism minister. After Mordechai resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, Lipkin-Shahak was also given the transportation portfolio.
In 2001, after Barak failed to win reelection against Ariel Sharon, Lipkin-Shahak resigned from the Knesset.
He was married to journalist and TV personality Tali Lipkin-Shahak — his second wife — and is survived by five children.