November 23, 1926
Rafi Eitan, whose intelligence career ranges from the high of capturing Adolf Eichmann in Argentina to the low of handling U.S. Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard as a spy, is born on a kibbutz in Ein Harod.
He joins the Haganah at age 12 and enlists in the elite Palmach after graduating from high school. He assists secret operations that bring Jews from Europe to Mandatory Palestine to escape the Nazis.
After Israel is established, Eitan begins his career in intelligence. He works for a long time for the Mossad, Israel’s secret service, then becomes the chief of operations of Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency. In the Mossad, he leads the team that in May 1960 captures Adolf Eichmann, who is living in Argentina under the name Ricardo Klement, and brings him to Israel to be tried for war crimes. Eichmann, the SS leader who planned the mass murder of Europe’s Jews in death camps, is convicted and executed in Israel’s only use of the death penalty.
Eitan retires from government service in 1972 but is brought back as an adviser by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978 and becomes the head of Lekem, the Defense Ministry’s Bureau for Scientific Relations, in 1981. At Lekem, he runs Pollard as a spy for Israel in 1984 and 1985. When Pollard is exposed, he is denied asylum at the Israeli Embassy, is arrested by the FBI and is convicted of espionage. Amid the scandal, Lekem is disbanded, and Eitan never returns to the United States.
From 1987 to 1993, Eitan oversees the government-owned Israel Chemicals. In 2006 he is elected to the Knesset as the leader of Gil, a party focused on retirees’ rights, but Gil fails to win any seats in the 2009 election.
Eitan dies in Tel Aviv in March 2019 at age 92.