Rafi Eitan, 1926–2019
The legendary Israeli spy who captured Eichmann
He was born Rafael Hantman on a kibbutz in British-occupied Palestine to “Zionist immigrants from Minsk,” said The Times (U.K.). At age 12 he joined the Haganah, the forerunner of Israel’s army, and was soon recruited to its elite branch. As the Jews fought to allow more immigrants, Eitan once crawled through sewers to blow up a British radar installation, earning himself the nickname “Stinky Rafi.” Twice wounded in the 1948 war of independence, Eitan struggled to run in combat and was “assigned to an intelligence unit,” said The New York Times. Soon he was in charge of coordinating operations between Shin Bet and Mossad, Israel’s FBI and CIA.
In that role he oversaw not only Eichmann’s capture but also some of Israel’s most famous intelligence operations and many more that “remain top secret,” said The Guardian (U.K.). He worked with spies who assassinated Palestinian commandos behind the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and posed as an Israeli government scientist on a visit to a Pittsburgh-area nuclear plant shortly before 200 pounds of enriched uranium went missing. His “career in the shadows ended badly” after he ordered the recruitment of Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. naval intelligence analyst who stole more than 1,000 secret documents for Israel. Eitan’s reputation for ferociously defending his country, however, lived on. “In principle, when there is a war on terror you conduct it without principles,” he said. “You simply fight it.” ■