Israeli political leaders and heads of the country’s intelligence services mourned the passing on Saturday of legendary spy Rafi Eitan. He was 92.
In a statement Saturday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Eitan “was among the heroes of the intelligence services of the State of Israel on countless missions on behalf of the security of Israel. He took part in the capture and bringing to justice in Israel and Jerusalem of the infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann.”
“Over the years he took part in public life, was an Israeli government minister and worked to return Jewish property that was taken during the Holocaust. He was a personal friend of our family. His wisdom, wit and commitment to the people of Israel and our state were without peer. We mourn his passing,” Netanyahu added.
Eitan led the famous 1960 intelligence operation that captured Nazi war criminal and Holocaust organizer Eichmann in Argentina and took him back to Israel for prosecution. A former Shin Bet and Mossad officer, and the handler in the 1980s of famed American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, in later years Eitan entered politics, becoming the chairman of the defunct Gil Pensioners party and pensioner affairs minister from 2006 to 2009.
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen issued a statement expressing “deep sorrow” on Eitan’s passing, calling him one of the key pillars of Israel’s intelligence community and the Mossad particularly.
“We will forever recognize his contributions to the security of the State of Israel, from his early days as a fighter in the Palmach [pre-state elite fighting force of the Haganah],” the Mossad said in a statement.
“Rafi was a fighter and a commander of the first order, unique and brave, who led countless daring operations and complex initiatives for the Mossad, among them the operation to capture Nazi criminal Eichmann… The great majority of his operations cannot be publicized but they contributed greatly to the security of the State of Israel.”
“The people of Israel owe him much,” Cohen said.
Nadav Argaman, chief of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, wrote in a statement that “Rafi was among the founders of the operations branch of the [service], he led and participated in dozens of ground-breaking operations which will remain secret for years to come.”
“We mourn his passing and are proud to continue on his path,” the Shin Bet added.
President Reuven Rivlin, too, issued a statement, calling Eitan “a brave fighter, whose contributions to the security of the State of Israel 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. 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,” Rivlin said.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Eitan’s commitment and contributions to the founding of Israel, its security and particularly, the operation that led to the capture of Nazi criminal Eichmann will forever be remembered by the Israeli people. May his memory be a blessing.”
Eitan was born on Kibbutz Ein Harod in British-ruled Palestine in November 1926 to a family of immigrants from Russia.
He was nicknamed “Rafi the Stinker” after he fell into a sewer during a military operation prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948.
After his service in the elite Palmach arm of the paramilitary Haganah organization, the forerunner of the Israeli army, he joined Mossad in the 1950s.
AFP contributed to this report.