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Issar Harel, Israeli Spymaster Behind Eichmann Capture, Dies at 91

February 20, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Issar Harel, the Israeli master spy responsible for the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, died this week at 91.

Harel, one of the founders of Israel’s intelligence community, led the Shin Bet domestic security service for 15 years and the Mossad foreign intelligence agency for 11 years.

Between 1952 and 1963, he simultaneously headed both agencies, and was considered responsible for establishing their worldwide reputations.

Among the most significant achievements during this period was the 1961 kidnapping of Eichmann in Buenos Aires, an operation Harel later recounted in his book, “The House on Garibaldi Street.”

Harel once recalled in a television interview how he informed then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion of the successful outcome of the operation: “I brought you a present — Eichmann is here.”

Fiercely devoted to his work, Harel was recalled as someone who wielded unprecedented influence and power during the period he headed Israel’s security agencies.

During the 1950s, he also combated efforts by Soviet bloc countries to recruit agents in Israel. As a result of his efforts, several such agents were identified.

He established an office to bring Jews to Israel from countries where such immigration was illegal. The office oversaw the mass immigration of Moroccan Jews during the 1950s, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Harel also developed the Mossad’s ties with overseas intelligence services

Harel left the Mossad in 1963 after a dispute with Ben-Gurion over how to deal with German scientists who were developing missiles for Egypt. Harel believed their work posed a threat to Israel and every effort should be made to stop them, including assassination.

Ben-Gurion adopted the assessment of the head of military intelligence that the situation did not pose a great risk to Israel.

Harel served briefly as Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s intelligence adviser in 1965. He also served a term in the Knesset in 1969.

Following that, he devoted himself mainly to writing books.

Harel was born in 1912 in Russia and immigrated to Palestine in 1931.

In 1939, he joined the Haganah, the pre-state precursor to the Israel Defense Force. Five years later, he was transferred to its intelligence section, which served as the foundation for the intelligence agencies established by Israel in 1948.

At the end of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Harel was appointed head of the General Security Services, known by its Hebrew acronym, Shin Bet.

Those who knew Harel described him as being totally committed to his work and possessing leadership skills that earned the trust of his superiors and subordinates alike.

“He was a pioneer,” said former Israeli President Yitzhak Navon, who added that Harel’s superiors “trusted him with their eyes closed.”

“He had extraordinary senses for the issue he dealt with,” Harel’s biographer, professor Michael Bar-Zohar, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv.

“He knew to suspect the right person, and usually his instincts were right on target.”

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