Legendary Israeli Intelligence Officer Dies at Age 87

Involved in rescue of hijacked air passengers, behind hunt for men responsible for murder of 11 Israeli athletes

• September 22, 2014 2:55 pm


JERUSALEM—The man who led Israel’s hunt for the men behind the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mike Harari, died in Tel Aviv yesterday at age 87.

Harari was a legendary operations officer who was also involved in the rescue of hijacked air passengers at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976 and numerous other actions, most of them still secret.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon praised Harari’s "creativity" and courage in a eulogy today.

At age 80, Harari was called out of retirement by then-Mossad head Meir Dagan and asked to take on a special assignment. The Times of Israel reported today that the mission was connected to Israel’s attempts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Harari was not sent into hostile territory but spent months abroad "searching for a creative solution to a problem that couldn’t be solved." In the end, according to the paper’s source, he came up with a solution "that left younger Mossad officers slack-jawed."

Born in Tel Aviv, Harari helped smuggle Jewish Holocaust survivors out of Europe by ship after World War II to what would become the Jewish state. He joined the Mossad in 1954 and was eventually appointed head of the organization’s special operations branch. He established within it a unit known as Kidon (spear), which specialized in targeted assassinations.

Following the Munich massacre, Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered the Mossad to track down the members of the Palestinian Black September movement, who were behind the massacre. It was Harari who coordinated this effort, which extended across Europe and the Middle East over several years. In 1973, half a dozen of his operatives flew into Beirut with foreign passports and spent a week reconnoitering targets and arranging logistics. They were waiting on a dark beach when Israeli commando teams landed in rubber boats and then drove them to the vicinity of their targets.

Harari led the fight against Palestinian terror groups for a decade. In a fatal mistake, he misidentified a Moroccan waiter living in Lilienhammer, Norway, as a Black September official being sought. The waiter was killed and several members of the Mossad hit team were arrested. Harari managed to escape but the incident is believed to have blocked his way to higher positions in the Mossad.

In 1976, when Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France airliner with 248 passengers—almost half of them Israelis or non-Israeli Jews—the Israeli government decided on a rescue operation even though the Enteppe Airport in Uganda was more than 2,000 miles away. Harari arranged for a light plane with one of his agents to fly over the airport where the hostages were being held. The photographs brought back by the agent played a key role in the government’s decision to attempt the operation.

Published under: Israel