Obituary: Maj-Gen Aharon Yariv

Aharon Rabinovich (Aharon Yariv), soldier and politician: born Latvia 1920; married (one son); died Kfar Saba, Israel 8 May 1994.

AHARON YARIV died just at the time when his 'revolutionary' ideas for talking to the 'extremist' Arabs were coming to fruition. When Minister of Information in 1975 in an Israeli government dominated by Mapai, Labour's predecessors, he shocked his colleagues by suggesting that, under certain conditions, Israel should be prepared to have talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat.

His conditions for negotiations were almost identical with those demanded by the present Labour prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, for recognising the PLO - and accepted by Arafat. However, Yariv 20 years ago was reprimanded by the then Foreign Minister, the redoubtable Yigal Allon. Realising that his ministerial post had no independence and merely required him to voice government orthodoxies, Yariv resigned.

Although his three principal conditions were the same as Rabin's, Yariv laid more emphasis on the PLO's renouncing the clause in the Palestinian National Charter calling for the destruction of Israel:

As long as they stand for the covenant, we cannot even start to negotiate; there is no starting point. You have to to have some basis. I am fully prepared to negotiate at any time with Egypt and Syria, although I know we disagree with them, because there is some kind of framework. With the PLO at present there is none.

However, Rabin was to lay more emphasis on Yariv's third condition - the elimination of terrorism. Israel is still awaiting the excision of the offensive clause in the PLO covenant, even after the signing of the historic agreement in Cairo the week before last.

Yet Yariv's lasting fame depends not on his prescience as a politician, though he was both an astute negotiator and an excellent communicator. Israelis, so predominantly concerned with security and of knowing or guessing the evil schemes being concocted by their enemies, will always put him on a special pedestal for being the architect of the Israel Defence Forces' modern intelligence doctrine and apparatus. His cool and meticulous collection of facts about the Arab armies, their strength and their weakness, the characters of the Arab generals and leaders and the use of both technological hearing and photographic devices, allied to dependable agents on the ground, provided the Israeli forces with immense advantages. He recognised that even some apparently trivial facts could be of outstanding use. Thus, the devastating strike by Israel's air force against the Egyptians air fields at the start of the Six Day War in 1967 was made more effective by the knowledge that the Egyptian pilots and anti-aircraft gunners would be absent from their posts at a precise time in the morning - away enjoying their breakfast.

After Israel's great triumph which led to the occupation of the Golan Heights, Sinai, the West Bank and Gaza and, above all, the old city of Jerusalem, Yariv was accused by a journalist of having exaggerated the dangers facing Israel in order to put pressure on the doves in the Cabinet of Levy Eshkol reluctant to give approval for the army's pre-emptive strike. This charge was duly investigated by a judge but Yariv was cleared of all blame.

Israeli ministers and generals saw it was a tragedy for the nation that Yariv retired from his post of Chief of the Intelligence branch of the IDF; a post he held from 1961 to 1972, during which time he won the respect and even admiration of Western military and intelligence officers, before the Yom Kippur war in 1973. He was succeeded by General Eli Ze'ira who, according to the commander of the Intelligence Branch's Data Compilation Unit, consistently dismissed all indications - and they were numerous - of the coming damaging war. 'You should have come to me,' Yariv remarked to the commander. This was not a vainglorious comment. The IDF believed that it would not have been taken so humiliatingly by surprise and suffered so many casualties had Yariv still been in charge of military intelligence.

Emerging from the shadows of intelligence, Yariv became a well-known figure to the Israeli public and media during and after the war. Even hardened, cynical media men were impressed by his handling of a press conference after the first days of disasters on the Suez and Golan fronts. Admitting that ministers had given too optimistic and inaccurate assessments he yet managed to convince the anxious reporters that all was not yet lost, stressing that he was 'cautiously hopeful'. After Israel's dramatic crossing of the Suez Canal and trapping of a whole Egyptian army, Yariv was asked to negotiate on 'Kilometre 101' the disengagement of forces with the Egyptian Chief of Staff, General Mohamed Gamassy.

Intelligence remained Yariv's main preoccupation and he found an ideal vehicle for utilising his gifts by establishing the Jaffe Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Yariv was regarded as Israel's premier civilian strategist, breaking the defence establishment's monopoly over strategic studies and debate in Israel. The centre is now recognised as one of the foremost of its kind in the world.

He was born Aharon Rabinovich in Latvia in 1920 (but became Yariv as all those serving in the Israeli armed forces were required to adopt Hebrew names). Having arrived in Israel as a youngster from Latvia in 1935, he joined the Hagana, the Jewish communal defence force, and, on the outbreak of the Second World War, the British army. He transferred, when the opportunity arose, to the Jewish Brigade.

He was profoundly moved when he helped in the freeing of Jewish concentration camp victims in Europe. He had a successful career in the Israeli army, reaching the rank of major-general, and then became military attache in Washington and Ottawa.

Aharon Yariv owed a great deal to his brother Gutman (Gutka) Rabinovich, general manager of the Israeli evening newspaper Maariv. When their father died at an early age, Rabinovich took over responsibility for the young Aharon. Different political views did not spoil their mutual affection. Gutman Rabinovich, father of the present Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Professor Itamar Rabinovich, was a fervent right-winger. Yariv remained a mildly left-wing dove but one with sharp claws.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine