Rafi Eitan, a legendary Mossad spy who led the team that captured Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, has died at the age of 92.
Eitan was one of the founders of Israel’s intelligence community and among its most prominent figures in Israel and abroad.
“Rafi was among the heroes of the intelligence services of the State of Israel on countless missions on behalf of the security of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in tribute.
“His wisdom, wit and commitment to the people of Israel and our state were without peer.”
The 1960 operation to capture Eichmann in Argentina and bring him to trial in Jerusalem was perhaps Mossad’s most memorable mission.
It brought to life the horrors of the Nazi “Final Solution”, of which Eichmann was the architect, creating a blueprint to wipe out the entire Jewish population of Europe.
PM Netanyahu: Rafi Eitan was a personal friend of our family. His wisdom, wit and commitment to the people of Israel and our state were without peer. We mourn his passing."
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) March 23, 2019
Eichmann was convicted in 1961 of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was hanged the following year – the only time Israel has carried out a death sentence.
He had fled Germany after the Second World War and assumed the name Ricardo Klement in Argentina.
Mr Eitan, who headed a seven-man team on the ground, grabbed Eichmann on the way back to his Buenos Aires home, shoved him into a car and spirited him to a safe house.
In the back seat of the car, one agent shoved a gloved hand inside Eichmann’s mouth in case he had a cyanide pill hidden in a tooth, as some former top Nazis were known to have to foil their capture.
Mr Eitan identified Eichmann by searching his body for distinctive scars on his arm and stomach, recalling years later: “And once I felt it I was convinced. This is the man – we got Eichmann.”
Mossad director Yossi Cohen said the majority of Eitan’s exploits still remain unknown to the general public.
“His work and his actions will be etched in gold letters in the annals of the state,” Mr Cohen said in a statement.
“The foundations that Rafi laid in the first years of the state are a significant layer in the activities of the Mossad even today.”
Mr Eitan was also known for being the handler of Pentagon spy Jonathan Pollard, a US intelligence analyst who passed information to Israel in the 1980s.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 and pleaded guilty, in an espionage affair that embarrassedIsrael and severely tarnished its relations with the United States.
Mr Eitan claimed his actions were sanctioned by his superiors, but eventually was forced to resign his post.
He went into business and later in life entered politics and scored an election sensation in 2006 as head of the Pensioners Party, garnering seven seats in the 120-seat parliament and becoming a cabinet minister in Ehud Olmert’s government.