General (res.) Meir Amit, the former head of the Mossad who is credited with modernizing Israel’s feared intelligence agency, died on Friday due to a serious illness. He was 88 years old.
Amit, who headed the organization from 1963 to 1968, also served as the head of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence branch.
Amit, who was born Meir Slutzki in the town of Tiberias, grew up in a family that identified with the pre-state Labor movement. At a young age, he joined Kibbutz Alonim in the lower Galilee and enlisted in the Haganah. During the War of Independence, he served as an officer and commanded a company of soldiers. Following the war, he decided to leave the kibbutz to pursue a military career. He said he had convinced himself that the army, not just the kibbutz, is vital for the young state.
He commanded infantry and armored corps units before rising through the ranks and becoming a trusted aide to then-chief of staff Moshe Dayan. The relationship between the two men grew closer over the years, and Amit came to be regarded as a protege of one of the country’s most charismatic military heroes.
By the end of the 1950s, he was sent to Columbia University in New York, where he completed a degree in economics. Upon his return, he was appointed head of Military Intelligence.
In 1963, after then-prime minister David Ben Gurion forced Isser Harel to resign the top post at the Mossad, he named Amit to head the organization. Amit was the only figure in Israel’s history to hold the position of Mossad chief and head of military intelligence at the same time. He remained in the IDF for nine months after being tapped to run the Mossad before leaving the military and focusing solely on heading the agency.
During his tenure, he introduced new modes of operation and oversaw the transfer of a special unit which coordinated espionage activity in Arab states from military intelligence to the Mossad. Amit also contributed to the Mossad’s standing as a key intelligence organ whose precise information aided in Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War.
On the eve of the war, he was sent on a secret mission to brief top U.S. administration officials. Upon his return, he reported to the government that, in contrast with the assessments given by then-foreign minister Abba Eban, the administration would not oppose a pre-emptive military strike against the Egyptian army.
Other notable achievements of his term included the theft of a Mig-21 which was flown into Israel by a deserting Iraqi pilot, his efforts to reach a peace agreement with Egypt, the contacts and aid provided to the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq, and the expansion of Mossad’s cooperation with fellow spy agencies