Shabtai Shavit, who as director general of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency in the 1990s, helped broker a peace deal with Jordan, oversaw the assassinations of Islamic terrorists and dealt with the global fallout of the collapse of the Soviet Union, died Tuesday while vacationing in Italy. He was 84 years old.
His death was announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. No cause has been identified.
David Barnea, the current director of the Mossad, described Mr. Shavit as “a pillar of the world of operations, intelligence, security and strategy of the State of Israel”.
While the Mossad has been credited and criticized for numerous clandestine operations – including targeted killings of terrorists, which Mr Shavit has defended – he and the agency have been widely praised for their role in brokering a treaty with Israel and Jordan. in 1994, ending a state of war between the two countries that had existed since 1948, when Israel was created.
The treaty – the first between Israel and an Arab country since that with Egypt in 1979 – provided for the establishment of diplomatic relations and the assurance that neither Israel nor Jordan would allow any other country to use its territory as a base for military strikes.
“In the cases of Egypt and Jordan, the intelligence services identified their willingness to negotiate peace,” Shavit wrote in his memoirs, and served “as an active participant in the negotiations until the signing of the peace treaty in the case of Jordan”. .”
The next day he signed the declaration of peace with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a White House ceremony attended by President Bill Clinton in July 1994, King Hussein of Jordan, on a flight from Washington, called Shavit at his home. “The King wished to thank me personally for my role in bringing about peace,” Shavit wrote. THE peace treaty was signed in October.
But if Mr. Shavit was a peacemaker, he was even more of a spymaster accused of ordering deadly retaliation for terrorist attacks and organizing preemptive strikes.
During Mr. Shavit’s tenure, Atef Bseisoa top intelligence aide to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was fatally shot outside a hotel in Paris in 1992, an assassination Mr. Arafat accused the Mossad of orchestrating. Israeli officials have denied any involvement. And Fathi Shiqaqithe leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, was killed in Malta in 1995 in what was widely believed to be a Mossad operation.
Also during Mr. Shavit’s tenure, the Mossad was caught off guard by attacks on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and a Jewish community center in 1994, which left dozens dead. An internal Mossad investigation later concluded that the attacks were carried out by a covert Hezbollah unit, The New York Times reported last year, and were widely seen as retaliation for Israeli strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attacks demonstrated the global reach of the militant group at a time when Israel saw its mandate as the protection of Jews even beyond its borders.
Mr. Shavit worked for the Mossad for 32 years, including seven years as a director under three prime ministers. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir chose him to lead the agency in 1989, and he was its director when the Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
He was the first head of the Mossad – officially known as the Institute of Intelligence and Special Operations – to come of age after the country was founded. And he was the last Mossad director whose name remained secret during his tenure, until secrecy was subsumed by a public commitment to transparency.
In recent months, Mr. Shavit has vigorously opposed Mr. Netanyahu’s plan. efforts to brake the power of the nation’s judiciary. He was also in favor of a negotiated two-state solution to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
“Why do we live here?” he said in a meeting with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in 2018. “So that our grandchildren continue to wage war? What is this madness in which territory, land, is more important than human life?
Shabtai Shavit was born on July 17, 1939 in Nesher, a coastal suburb of Haifa. His father was a school principal. Her mother taught kindergarten. As a child, he learned Arabic partly from Arabs who arrived from a nearby village to pick olives in his family’s garden, he wrote in his memoirs.
After graduating from the private Reali Hebrew School in Haifa, he served in the navy and then in an elite Israeli army special forces unit. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard.
Recruited into the Mossad in 1964, he served in the division responsible for recruiting and managing foreign agents.
When Israeli intelligence agencies accused of breaches which led to a surprise attack by Arab forces during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Shavit helped coordinate the then Mossad director’s response to a government investigation.
He told the Haaretz newspaper in 2013 that “during the failure of 1973, the Mossad was the only entity in the intelligence community that did what was expected of it and beyond.”
Mr. Shavit was posted abroad for some time, notably in Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution. He would later say in interviews that as director of the Mossad his priority was to prepare for the case where Iran would develop nuclear weapons.
He served as military governor of Israel’s Southern Regional Command from 1978 to 1979. From 1980 to 1985, he led the Caesarea Division, a highly classified unit reportedly tasked with rescuing Israeli hostages and responding to their capture. He was the deputy director of the Mossad Nahum Admoni from 1986 to 1989.
After retiring from the Mossad in 1996, Mr. Shavit became managing director of Maccabi Health Care Services, one of the largest health care organizations in the country. He has also worked for gas and security companies; advised the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament; and chaired an organization that provided scholarships to veterans.
He was the founding president of the International Counterterrorism Institute at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, and worked with the New York City Fire Department to establish a readiness task force to terrorism.
Mr Shavit was one of several high-profile Israeli officials who successfully pressured the Clinton administration to pardon Mark Rich, the US oil trader who fled to Switzerland after being charged with widespread tax evasion, illegal dealings with Iran and other crimes. Mr. Shavit had praised Mr. Rich for allowing Mossad agents to use his offices around the world and for funding the airlift of Jews from Ethiopia, Yemen and other countries.
Among his survivors are his wife, Yael, who worked with him as a secret agent early in his career, as well as his children and grandchildren.
In his memoirs, “Head of the Mossad: In Search of a Safe and Secure Israel” (2020), M. Shavit wrote: “The world during the Cold War was infinitely more stable than the world we live in today. Fear of global annihilation following an interpower nuclear event spawned global stability that lasted until 1990. The Soviet Union collapsed, but the United States failed to enjoy the decade during which they were the only sheriff in town to establish a new government. world order. »
He said he was particularly concerned about the rise of international terrorism, saying that the Islamic State “has taken terrorism to an extreme level that human history has not seen since the Huns invaded the West from the Asian steppes.
Despite his vocal criticism of Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Shavit described himself as taciturn.
As befits a man engaged in espionage, his reputation for terseness was so legendary that when he accepted his appointment as Director General, Prime Minister Shamir turned to the person next to him and said, “I never thought Shabtai could speak! »
“As the saying goes,” Mr. Shavit recalls, “I never regretted the things I didn’t say.”
Ronen Bergman contributed reporting.