Raanan Gissin, media-savvy senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, dies aged 74

During the First Intifada, the former PM’s spokesman forever changed how Israel interfaced with the international press, foreseeing the major role it would play in future wars

Raanan Gissin updates the Associated Press on the condition of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2006. (YouTube screenshot/ used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Raanan Gissin updates the Associated Press on the condition of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2006. (YouTube screenshot/ used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Raanan Gissin, senior adviser to the late prime minister Ariel Sharon and IDF deputy spokesman, died at the age of 74 on June 26, due to an unspecified illness.

With eloquent English and a keen political mind, Gissin had a knack for conveying the Israeli line to foreign media. He was a familiar face to the American media during Sharon’s premiership, often appearing on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC representing the state of Israel.

Gissin was born and raised on Kibbutz HaSolelim in Galilee and belonged to one of the founding families of Rishon LeZion, the oldest Zionist settlement from the days of the First Aliyah.

During his time in the IDF, Gissin served in the Nahal Brigade, then transferred to the Air Force where he served as an officer in the air defense command. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Hebrew University and studied for his doctorate in political science and public administration at Syracuse University in New York.

Upon returning to Israel in 1979, Gissin served a second stint in the IDF. He managed foreign communications in the IDF Spokespersons’ Unit prior to being promoted to deputy spokesperson under Nachman Shai, where he managed media relations during the Gulf War and First Intifada.

“He was serving in the unit before I joined, and he was quite a veteran, I would say,” Shai told The Times of Israel. “We figured out that the foreign media, and especially foreign television, would play a major role in any future war, much more than we imagined or prepared for previously.”

Raanan Gissin during his time as IDF Deputy Spokesperson, escorting US officials on a tour of the Galilee, West Bank and Golan Heights in 1993. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Shai stressed the importance of international media coverage to Israeli war efforts, noting that it was one of the main focuses of the Spokesperson’s Unit during his time there. He recalled oftentimes deferring to Gissin when it came to interacting with international news outlets.

Gissin’s professional relationship with Ariel Sharon began in 1996 when he worked as the former prime minister’s spokesman during his time as National Infrastructure Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government.

When Sharon ascended to the premiership in 2001, Gissin became his close confidant and one of his most senior advisers, managing his correspondence to the foreign media and handling the public image of the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

After leaving the Prime Minister’s Office, Gissin continued to engage with international news outlets and spoke extensively about the general Israeli viewpoint and Ariel Sharon’s record in politics.

He was the best person to address the foreign media,” Shai said. “I don’t know what happened more quickly [during the Gulf War], the missiles from Iraq or Raanan on the TV, he was immediately there helping them to figure out what was going on, representing the State of Israel.”

The Government Press Office published a statement on the spokesman’s passing earlier this week: “Gissin was spirited and sharp with his statements. He trained diplomats, young leaders and senior managers and passed onto them a great deal of the vast knowledge and experience that he gained.”

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