Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1120346141

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: KAMINSKY; Rafael Eitan
Date: Sun, 3 Jul 2005 00:15:41 +0100

Rafael Eitan
(Filed: 25/11/2004)
The Daily Telegraph & the

Rafael "Raful" Eitan, who drowned in the Mediterranean on Monday aged 75,
was a leading figure in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), of which he became
Chief of Staff.

Stocky, wiry and determined, with sharp, square features, Eitan knew no
fear, and, as a field commander, always inspired confidence in the men he
led, infusing them with a desire to do their utmost.

Under the supervision of the then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, Eitan
planned and executed the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in June 1982. The
aim was to destroy the bases and infrastructure of the PLO. But on September
16-17 1982, Christian forces massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the
refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and public pressure in Israel forced
Menachem Begin's government to appoint a commission of inquiry into the
tragic events.

In its report, the Kahan Commission ruled that Lieutenant-General Eitan had
been negligent, and had failed to do anything to prevent or limit the
killings. But unlike Sharon, who was forced to resign following the Kahan
Report, Eitan managed to cling to his job, because the commission ruled
that, as he was about to complete his term as Chief of Staff, it would not
pass judgement on his suitability to continue in office.

He was born Rafael Kaminsky at Moshav Tel Adashim, a co-operative farming
village in the Jezre'el Valley in Palestine, on January 11 1929. Aged only
seven, Rafael already knew how to use a gun; and at 17 he joined Palmach,
the elite strike force of Hagana, the Jewish underground militia in
Palestine, then under the British mandate.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Eitan served in the 4th battalion
(called "Ha'portzim") of the Harel Brigade ; in the tough battle of San
Simon, in Jerusalem, he distinguished himself and was severely wounded.

In 1949, after the War of Independence, Eitan left the army and returned to
Tel Adashim, but he rejoined the IDF in January 1954 after a friend
approached him saying: "The Arabs are killing Jews and you are milking
cows." A year later he was given command of a paratroop platoon. This was
the "retaliatory actions period" in which Israeli military units would cross
the border to tackle the enemy on its own land.

On one occasion in 1955, during an operation against the Egyptians at
Kanuila, near Effat, he single-handedly destroyed a well-defended enemy

On October 29 1956, Eitan, by then commander of the 890 Paratroop Battalion,
was parachuted with his 395 men close to the Suez Canal in an action which
provided the pretext for the British and French governments to join the war
and recapture the Canal, nationalised by Nasser on July 26.

During the Six-Day War in 1967, Eitan led his paratroop brigade in Sinai to
the Suez Canal. He was severely wounded when a bullet went through his head,
but he recovered and returned to full service after the war.

When, on December 26 1968, the PLO attacked an El Al aircraft in Athens,
killing one passenger and wounding another, Colonel Eitan led his
paratroopers in a daring operation two days later. It was aimed at putting
pressure on the Lebanese government to stop terrorists, many of whom were
using Lebanon as a base from which to attack Israel and Israeli targets

Four helicopters transported Eitan and his men to the airport at Beirut
where, within 30 minutes, they placed explosives, blowing up 13 Arab
aircraft worth more than $100 million.

On October 6 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a simultaneous attack on Israel.
The Commander of the Northern Front, Yitzhak Hofi, whose headquarters was at
Safed, placed the defence of the northern part of the Golan in the hands of
Eitan who, from his underground command bunker at Nafekh, was closer to the
theatre of war and in a better position to control and direct the battle.
Trapped in the bunker, and surrounded throughout the first night by Syrian
tanks, Eitan directed the battle with cool leadership until the Syrians were
pushed back.

Eitan's next appointment, in April 1974, was head of the Northern Command.
He played a key role in the decision in 1975 to create and train the
soldiers of the South Lebanese Army (SLA) under Major Sa'ad Hadad. In August
1977 Eitan was made Chief of the Operations Branch at General Staff, and
eight months later he was appointed Chief of Staff. A man of few words, at
the ceremony to instal him he limited himself to a 20-second acceptance

Considered more a fighting soldier than a planner, each of Eitan's
promotions had been regarded as his last, and that he was chosen for the top
job was a surprise. But it was felt that, unlike his predecessor, Eitan
would devote all his energies to improving the performance of the IDF while
leaving politics to the politicians.

This, however, was not to be. On May 11 1978, in the traditional
Independence Day interview of the Chief of Staff (given on Israel's 30th
anniversary), Eitan stated that the IDF could not guarantee the security of
the state without retaining full control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip. It was the first time that a Chief of Staff had publicly
pronounced his own views on so controversial an issue, and there was a wave
of public protest, and calls for him to resign. But Eitan had the unswerving
support of the Right-wing Prime Minister Begin, and he survived.

In 1979 the Defence Minister, Ezer Weizmann, resigned and, until the 1981
elections, Eitan took over the defence portfolio in all but name. With
Begin's approval, he virtually dictated a huge increase in the military
budget over the objections of many in the cabinet.

Despite his roots in the Labour movement, Eitan was notorious for his
hawkish views and his hostility to the Arabs, whom he once called "drugged
cockroaches". After his retirement from the IDF, in 1983, Eitan entered
politics, establishing Tsomet (meaning "Junction"), a Right-wing political
party which united with Tehiyah ("Revival") before the 1984 elections. Eitan
was elected to the Knesset. and served as Minister of Agriculture in Yitzhak
Shamir's Likud government in 1990-91.

In the June 1992 elections, on a platform of clean government, secularism
and support for retaining all of Eretz Yisrael (Greater Israel), his party
increased its seats from two to eight.

Before the 1996 elections Eitan joined with Likud in a Right-wing bloc and,
when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected, he appointed Eitan Minister of
Agriculture and the Environment and deputy Prime Minister. Within the
government Eitan was a committed opponent of the Oslo accords.

Eitan was an amateur pilot, carpenter and a farmer who produced cooking oil.
Last year he was appointed logistic co-ordinator for the Ashtrom company,
which was improving the breakwater at the port of Ashdod. In 1985 he
published his autobiography, Raful - A Story of a Soldier.

Raful Eitan was twice married. By his first marriage he had five children; a
son, an air force pilot, was killed in a plane crash.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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