(JTA) — David Kimche, the Israeli spy who played a key role in Israel’s 1980s entanglements with Iran and Lebanon, has died.
Kimche died Monday at home in Israel of brain cancer, Israeli media reported. He was 82.
Kimche, born in Britain, fought in Israel’s Independence War, and joined the fledgling Mossad overseas spy agency by 1953 after reporting for a short period for the Jerusalem Post.
By the time Kimche retired as Mossad deputy director in 1979 to join the Begin administration as the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director, he had been involved in some of the Mossad’s greatest triumphs and worst failures.
He was associated with the Lavon fiasco, when Israel used Egyptian Jews to spy on the Nasser regime. But he also helped direct Israel’s spectacular revenge on the Palestinian terrorists who plotted the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, targeting each one for assassination.
"The aim was not so much revenge but mainly to make them frightened," the London Jewish Chronicle quoted him as saying. "We wanted to make them look over their shoulders and feel that we are upon them. And therefore we tried not to do things by just shooting a guy in the street — that’s easy."
As Foreign Ministry director general, he promoted peace with Egypt and other Arab countries. Kimche pressed for installing a sympathetic government in Lebanon, an outlook that helped bring about Israel’s ill-fated 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Kimche also was Israel’s point man in the complex Iran-Contra scandal, when the Reagan administration authorized Israel’s sale of arms to Iran in exchange for Iranian intervention on behalf of American hostages held in Lebanon. Some of the funds were diverted to illegal U.S. support for the Contras, right-wing militias in Central America.
In recent years, Kimche, who retained his soft-spoken British demeanor in Israel’s rough-and-tumble intelligence arena, headed the Israel Council on Foreign Affairs and counseled direct contact with Hamas, the terrorist group controlling the Gaza Strip.
"Dave’s personality combined elegance, patriotism and sophistication," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "He loved people and exemplified how to fulfill a public mission."