Obituary: Aharon Remez

Joseph Finklestone
Thursday 14 April 1994 23:02

Aharon Remez, air force officer, diplomat, politician, artist; born Tel Aviv 8 May 1919; Israeli Ambassador to Court of St James 1965-70: married (one son, three daughters); died Jerusalem 3 April 1994.

Although he achieved much as Israel's first air force chief, as the controller of large business concerns, a diplomat and an artist, Aharon Remez felt that he had never fulfilled his dreams.

He was the son of David Remez, one of the small group of pioneering founding fathers of the State of Israel, and early showed his own individuality and independent spirit. Like Ezer Weizman, now President of Israel, Remez became an RAF fighter pilot in the Second World War and never lost his admiration for the service. When he was appointed chief of Israel's fledgling air force in 1948, which was thrown immediately into battle against the invading armies and aircraft from Egypt, he used the flair and discipline he learnt in the RAF to good effect.

His dream was to create a powerful Israeli air force on the lines of the RAF, with himself as the independent head with direct access to the Israeli defence ministry and public. A dashing young man of much charm, he won the affection of the 'Father of the State', David Ben-Gurion, who was unique in favouring young 'lions' around him, such as Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, with whom Remez established lasting friendships. So smitten was Ben-Gurion with Remez that he declared his intention of appointing him a deputy defence minister with special responsibilities for the air force, but the nomination was cancelled, probably at the request of the chief of staff, Yigal Yadin. Remez's desire to be independent of Yadin who, he thought, had excessive powers, led to a split between them and ultimately to Remez's resignation in 1951.

As Remez dreamt, the Israeli Air Force became a powerful and highly efficient force, used effectively in the Sinai war of 1956 (part of the Suez crisis) and devastatingly in the Six Day War of 1967, but he had by then to look from afar.

Living up to his reputation for independence, he resigned after only two years as a member of the Knesset for Mapai (the Labour party), complaining that he was not being listened to by the party veterans and that he felt he was wasting his time. He also encountered problems when director of the huge Solel Boneh building company belonging to the Hisdatrut trade union. He left after clashing with the Hisdatrut director, Pinchas Lavon, of the celebrated 'Lavon Affair'.

Still seeking a post commensurate with his skill and ideas, Aharon Remez was administrator of the Weizman Institute of Science at Rehovot and a senior official at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. This led to his appointment in 1965 as Israel's Ambassador to the Court of St James's. Back in the country of his beloved RAF, he enjoyed many facets of life in London. He spoke with almost childish excitement of his first meeting with the Queen when he presented his credentials to her at Buckingham Palace. But he was also a skilful diplomat and was credited with a significant role in the final version (or versions, for there were two, in English and French) of the UN Resolution 242, drawn up after the Six Day War asking for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territory, which meant - deliberately - many different things to different politicians.

After returning to Israel, Remez was appointed chairman of the Ports Authority, a difficult and thankless task which only he, with his mixture of native-born, sabra, toughness and Western flexibility, could have handled with such comparative success. Later he was appointed chairman of the new Airports Authority Council, a somewhat less arduous task. His business studies at Princeton and Harvard earlier in his life stood him in good stead.

Yet no amount of professional work could ever assuage the inner spiritual needs of this complex man. He took up carpentry, progressing to painting and sculpture, using wood and plastics among other materials. He held at least one major one-man exhibition in Israel. In the last days of his life, Remez insisted on continuing his artistic work, saying: 'The hands help me when the soul is getting empty.'

Friends speak of Aharon Remez's unusual and, sometimes, apparently contradictory qualities. Perhaps remembering the odds facing the RAF - and having to deal with Israel's tough dockers and airport porters as well as formidable politicians - Remez once remarked: 'I have studied strategy, business and diplomacy. I learnt this: don't give up even when a project's downfall is forecast right at the beginning.' Even in war and strife he insisted that an Israeli must never forget his inner spiritual needs.

(Photograph omitted)

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