Former top Mossad spy Rafi Eitan, who led the team that captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and was the personal handler of Jonathan Pollard, died on Saturday at the age of 92.
Eitan, who served in the Shin Bet and the Mossad, began foreign spy work for Israel in the 1950s and is considered a founder of the Israeli intelligence community.
He was born in Kibbutz Ein Harod in 1926 to Zionist immigrants from Russia who came to Palestine in 1923 and grew up in Ramat Hasharon. At the age of 12, he joined the Haganah underground militia, quickly transferring to the Palmach and was injured in the War of Independence in 1948.
Eitan was the head of the eight-person team that captured fugitive Nazi mastermind Adolph Eichmann in May 1960 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The world-famous Eichmann trial took place in 1961; he was executed by hanging the next year.
He is rumored to have stolen uranium from Belgium for use in an Israeli reactor, helped capture Israeli-Soviet spy Yisrael Bar and stolen designs of the French Mirage aircraft for use by Israeli military industries.
In 2014, Eitan apologized on a personal level for his role in the Pollard affair.
Eitan recruited U.S. naval intelligence officer Pollard to glean information for Israel from 1984-85, which is believed to include intelligence that enabled Israel to neutralize existential threats. Attempting to evade capture by American law enforcement, Pollard raced to the Israeli Embassy in Washington to get asylum, but Eitan personally ordered entrance barred to Pollard, resulting in his capture and three decades of imprisonment in the United States.
Under the terms of his parole, Pollard is subject to very strict regulations and not allowed to travel to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Eitan “one of the heroes of the State of Israel’s intelligence service in countless acts for Israel’s security” for whom “there was no match for his wisdom, wit and endless commitment to the people of Israel and our country.”
President Reuven Rivlin said he was a “born fighter who stuck to his mission and to what he knew to be right,” adding “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.”
In 2006, Eitan returned to public life and headed the Pensioner’s party, which won seven seats in the Knesset. In the 2009 elections, the party failed to cross the electoral threshold, and Eitan lost his seat.
In his spare time, Eitan was an avid sculptor, having produced more than 100 pieces of art.