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calendar   Thursday - July 23, 2009

Major-General Meir Amit … between 1963 and 1968, head of Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence

He served his country, and I bet there wasn’t a politically correct bone in his body.

RIP Major Amit

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Major-General Meir Amit, who died on July 17 aged 88, was a leading figure in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and, between 1963 and 1968, head of Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service.

22 Jul 2009

In one operation that helped define Mossad’s enduring reputation for brilliance and daring, and which provided crucial intelligence a year before the Six Day War, he orchestrated the defection of an Iraqi pilot, complete with his MiG-21 fighter.

The operation began in mid-1963, shortly after Amit became head of Mossad, when he was approached by the head of Israel’s Air Force, Ezer Weizman, who said simply: “If you bring me a MiG-21, you will have done a good day’s work.”

The aircraft was the most advanced and formidable of Russian fighters, and was in front-line service with three of Israel’s neighbours and enemies: Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Weizman wanted a MiG-21 in order to assess its technology, flight and combat performance.

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Determined to get one, Amit took personal charge of Mossad’s “Operation Focus”, aimed at persuading an Arab pilot to defect with his plane. He settled on an Iraqi deputy commander of a MiG-21 squadron, Munir Redfa, whose Maronite Christian family was living in Baghdad.

When Redfa agreed to meet Mossad agents, Amit flew to Italy and, through a peephole in a hotel in Rome, observed his officers persuading the pilot to fly out his MiG-21 in return for half-a-million pounds and a guarantee that his wife, child, parents, grandparents and extended family would all first be smuggled out of Iraq.

The operation came to fruition three years after it had begun. On August 16 1966 Redfa took off from an airbase near Mosul, in northern Iraq, on a training mission. Once airborne, he headed for Turkey, then over the Mediterranean to rendezvous with Israeli fighters which escorted him south; by the time the Iraqi pilot landed on his last drops of fuel at a military base in Israel, his extended family had already been smuggled out of Iraq and the promised money was in his bank account.

Amit was born Meir Slutzky on March 17 1921 at Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in northern Palestine, and attended the agricultural school at Kibbutz Givat Ha’shlosha and the Balfour Reali secondary school in Tel Aviv. At 15 Meir joined Hagana, the clandestine military organisation of the Jewish community in Palestine, then under the British Mandate. He served as a noter, a mobile settlement policeman, having taken the Hebrew name Amit.

During the 1947-49 War of Independence, Amit fought as deputy and battalion commander against the Syrians, Iraqis and Egyptians. In the fierce battle against the Jordanians at Jenin, in the north of what is now the West Bank, he was seriously wounded while leading a charge against a heavily fortified enemy position.

But Amit soon returned to full service and in March 1949, during the last phase of the war, he led his battalion, with other forces, in “Operation Uvda” to occupy the southern town of Eilat.

On May 2 1951 Syrian forces took positions in Tel Mutilla, in the demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria, and Amit was ordered to dislodge them. Leading his Golani infantry brigade – he had become its commander in 1950 – Amit pressed the attack for four consecutive days, compelling the Syrians to withdraw. But with 40 of his soldiers killed in action and many others wounded, he faced serious criticism from senior officers and was called to defend his actions.

Amit was cross-examined by Moshe Dayan, a rising star in the Israeli army soon to become Chief of Staff, who rejected the criticisms out of hand. Far from being a failure, Dayan suggested, the action had been a success and Amit’s force had shown the kind of spirit that other Israeli units needed: courage and perseverance in the most difficult circumstances.

After training at the Staff College, Camberley, Amit was appointed head of Operations Branch in1956, a post which effectively made him second-in-command to Dayan. During the Suez crisis of the same year, as Dayan spent much of his time on the battlefield flitting between command posts, Amit was left at HQ to run the war. The IDF’s success was, in many ways, Amit’s own and in 1958 he was rewarded by Dayan, yet again, with control of Israel’s Southern Command.

That year, however, Amit’s career, and life, almost came to abrupt end. In a routine airborne training he was critically wounded when his parachute only partially opened. Amit’s survival was in doubt for days, and he was forced to spend 18 months recovering in hospital.

His active service seemed to be over, and in 1959 he enrolled at Columbia University, New York, to take an MBA. Back in Israel he was made Director of Military intelligence.

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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 07/23/2009 at 04:12 AM   
Filed Under: • OBITITUARIES •  
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