Rafi Eitan: Israeli spy who led operation to capture Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann dies aged 92

Man who snatched top Nazi in Argentina hailed as 'brave fighter'

Samuel Osborne
Sunday 24 March 2019 00:56
Rafi Eitan was among the founders of Israel's revered intelligence agencies
Rafi Eitan was among the founders of Israel's revered intelligence agencies

Rafi Eitan, the legendary Israeli spy who led the operation to capture the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, has died aged 92.

Eitan died after being hospitalised in Tel Aviv, Israeli media reported.

“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. “His wisdom, wit and commitment to the people of Israel and our state were without peer.”

Eitan was among the founders of Israel’s revered intelligence agencies.

“We have lost a brave fighter whose contribution to Israel’s security will be taught for generations to come,” president Reuven Rivlin said.

In 1960, Eitan led the Mossad operation to capture Eichmann in Argentina and bring him to trial in Jerusalem.

Known for his role in coordinating the Nazi’s genocide policy, Eichmann had fled Germany after the Second World War and was living under an assumed identity.

Eitan, who led a seven-man team on the ground, snatched Eichmann on the way back to his home in Buenos Aires, bundled him into a car and spirited him away to a safe house.

Eitan identified Eichmann by searching his body for distinctive scars on his arms and stomach. ”And once I felt it I was convinced. This is the man — we got Eichmann,” he recalled years later.

Rafi Eitan stands next to a showcase during an exhibition about Adolf Eichmann’s capture (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

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 on Saturday. “The foundations that Rafi laid in the first years of the state are a significant layer in the activities of the Mossad even today.”

However, Eitan’s reputation took a hit in the 1980s over his handling of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy who sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon.

Pollard pleaded guilty after being arrested in 1985 and was sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment, in a trial that embarrassed Israel and damaged its relations with the US.

Eitan was eventually forced to resign his post over the affair.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

He later entered politics in 2006 as head of the Pensioners Party and served for three years as pensions minister.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in