Tributes after Rafi Eitan, the Mossad spymaster who captured Adolf Eichmann, dies aged 92

The former intelligence officer was described as having conducted 'countless missions on behalf of the security of Israel'


Tributes have been paid to Rafi Eitan, the former Mossad agent and leader of the team which captured Adolf Eichmann, who died at the weekend aged 92.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who made Mr Eitan a minister and his funeral on Sunday in Netanya, called him “a smart, cunning and sharp person, who remained capable until his last day”, and praised him as one of “the most intelligent, competent, responsible and creative ministers in the government.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Mr Eitan as having conducted “countless missions on behalf of the security of Israel.

“His wisdom, wit and commitment to the people of Israel and our state were without peer.”

Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, described how the country had “lost a brave fighter, whose contribution to Israel’s security will be taught for generations to come.”

A soldier in the Palmach, the elite unit of the Jewish Haganah, prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, Rafi Eitan went on to serve both in Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, and in the Mossad.

In 1960, after Israeli intelligence identified Adolf Eichmann, one of the men who masterminded the Holocaust, as being alive and well in Argentina, a team was despatched to South America to abduct the Nazi and bring him to Israel for trial.

Mr Eitan led the operation, and would later stand behind the gallows as Eichmann was executed.

Later he would reveal the choice he had made: at the same time as the Eichmann operation was underway, information had been received that another notorious Nazi, Josef Mengele, was also living in Argentina.

The Israeli intelligence officer refused to kidnap Mengele in case it jeopardised the operation to capture Eichmann.

Mengele managed to flee in the wake of Eichmann’s capture, and died a free man.

“When we snatched Eichmann off the street, next to his home, we held him down on our knees on the back seat,” he later recalled in the JC.

“Tzvi Aharoni ordered him in German to be quiet if he valued his life, and Eichmann whispered: ‘Jawohl.’

“He understood German! At that moment, we realised that we had the right man.”

Other operations in which Eitan would reportedly play a major role included Operation Apollo, where hundreds of pounds of enriched uranium disappeared from a US facility, allegedly being diverted to Israel, and the Israeli attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.

His intelligence career ended, however, after the US discovery in 1985 of the espionage activities of Jonathan Pollard, an American Naval Intelligence analyst who had been recruited by Eitan the previous year. The discovery damaged the relationship between the two countries and would led to Eitan resigning from his post.

He subsequently served as chair of the state-owned Israel Chemicals Corporation, before entering politics in 2006 as a representative of Gil, the pensioner’s party. The party won seven seats and Eitan served as Minister of Pensioner Affairs in a coalition government led by Mr Olmert

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