JERUSALEM—The bodyguard who failed to prevent the shots that killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, speaking publicly for the first time, said this week that the assassination would haunt him until his dying day.
"If I had only looked left two or three seconds earlier," he said in an interview on Israel’s Channel Two marking the 20th anniversary of the killing.
A.H. was part of a four-man detail from Israel’s Shin Bet security service assigned to protect Rabin as he left a major rally in Tel Aviv at which he spoke in support of the peace process with the Palestinians. The man, a former army combat officer, had joined the Shin Bet’s VIP protection unit six months before.
A large crowd was waiting in the street as Rabin approached the open door of his car.
"I remember asking myself, ‘What if someone in the crowd pulls out a gun. How will I react?"
Suddenly a shot rang out. A.H., who was at the left rear of the detail, was closest to the sound. He had been looking to the right as he scanned the crowd. Turning toward the gunshot to his left, he saw a hand extended forward a few yards from him and the flare of another shot issuing from a pistol.
He leaped at the gunman—a Jewish right-wing extremist named Yigal Amir—and knocked the gun out of his hand. He wrestled him to the ground. Amir fought back and A.H. pulled his own gun and put it to Amir’s head. "I thought about it; an assassin had fired at the prime minister. But in that moment I decided not to shoot. He was neutralized. He had no gun in his hand."
There would be criticism at the time that he had not fired immediately upon seeing Amir’s outstretched hand instead of leaping at him. In the interview, A.H. said his reaction was exactly what he had been trained to do in an incident at that range. "It was the correct action. If I had pulled out my gun and fired, it would have been slower."
After Amir had been taken into custody, there was a sense of overwhelming failure. "After something like that, it’s hours of self-flagellation. If only I had looked the other way."
Rabin’s death was a severe setback to the peace process, which would deteriorate in the coming years.
In the interview, A.H. was seen only in profile in a darkened room. He spoke emotionally, often pausing. He was motivated to talk about the traumatic event, he said, because of a desire "to close the circle" after 20 years. He recalled that his son, then seven, came home one day from school where he had been told that Rabin was murdered because his bodyguards failed. "You have to explain to your son that the bodyguards indeed failed but it was someone else who murdered him."
A.H. left the Shin Bet a few months after the assassination. Walking to his current job in Tel Aviv he passes near the site of the assassination every morning. Among the plaques there is one with the outlines of the assassination scene, the figures in it identified by numbers. "Number one," said A.H., "is Yitzhak Rabin. Number 10 is Yigal Amir. I’m number 4."
Even without that blunt reminder, the memory of the assassination is with him always. "It will follow me to the end of my life. I believe that on my last day, that’s what I will be thinking about."
Published under: Israel