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Meir Amit

Biography

Biography of Meir Amit

Meir Amit was born Meir Slutzki on March 17, 1921 in Tiberias. His family moved to Jerusalem and then to Ramat Gan, where his parents were politically active. In 1939, Amit joined Kibbutz Alonim in the lower Galilee.  He joined the Haganah in 1936, and the Jewish Palestine police ("Notrim" - monitors) in 1940 and served with them until 1945. He underwent several training course for non-commissioned officers.
During the Israel War of Independence, Amit fought in the Battle of Mishmar Ha'emek and in the valley of Jezreel, and was wounded in the battle of Jenin.  In Operation Hiram. Amit was deputy commander of Battalion 15 of the Golani brigade, and later was promoted to commander of the armored battalion, Battalion 19 of the Golani. This battalion participated in Operation Horev and Operation Uvda and were among the first Golani troops to reach Eilat.   At the end of the war, Amit remained in the military and in 1951 he was appointed commander of the Golani Brigade, and served in that capacity in the battle of Tel Mutilla. In 1952 he was appointed commander of the IDF education command. He went abroad for studies in England, and in 1954 became head of the IDF staff operations branch (AGAM), and was viewed as a protege of Moshe Dayan, In 1955 he became head of the Southern Command and in 1956 was reappointed to be head of AGAM, responsible for the planning and execution of the Sinai Campaign, He was head of the Central Command from 1958-1959. He was severely wounded in a parachute jump and hospitalized for over a year. Thereupon he went abroad to study in Columbia University, and on his return in 1961 was appointed head of IDF Military Intelligence (AMAN).

Meir Amit came to the Mossad as a general with years of experience, the first AMAN director with those credentials, following a series of series of directors who had been forced to leave under a cloud. As head of AMAN, Amit and Shimon Peres had a difference of opinion with Isser Harel, prestigious head of Mossad over the importance of Gamal Nasser's missile program. Amit and Peres won. Harel resigned and Amit was appointed head of the Mossad. For several months he was head of both the Mossad and AMAN, the only person to ever hold both positions.  Amit's unique contributions to Israeli intelligence operations were made possible by his understanding of the need for coordination and cooperation between various services, normally jealous of their "territories," and the need to tailor intelligence gathering to serve the requirements of the military and government agencies, rather than simply producing presitigious "coups." ref 

As Director of the Mossad, Meir Amit was responsible for many high profile operations. In 1966, in Operation Yahalom, Amit engineered the defection of a Maronite Iraqi pilot, Munir Radfah, who flew the then new Mig-21 from Iraq and landed at an Israeli air base.  The Mig 21 was among the most modern of the U.S.S.R.'s fighter aircraft at the time.  Amit shared the plane with the CIA, helping to cement the alliance between the two intelligence agencies. Amit cemented an alliance with the Iraqi Kurdish rebels and visited Iraq under cover several times.

Meir Amit was a master of HUMINT - human intelligence. Beginning in 1965, Israeli spy Eli Cohen managed to penetrate the highest levels of the Syrian government. Though he was later detected and executed. Cohen managed to provide Israel with the entire Syrian defense deployment in the Golan Heights, a crucial factor in the swift victory over Syria in the Six day war.  Much of Amit's work however was far more quiet, but just as important.  Amit had also implanted a network of informants that permeated the entire Egyptian military, providing key details for Israel's pre-emptive strike on Egyptian air bases and subsequent ground offensive. In the lead up to the Six day war, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban had unsuccessfully petitioned the United States to allow a pre-emptive strike if it would not take some action on its own. Moshe Dayan sent Amit to the United States. Amit spoke with CIA Director Richard Helms and Defense Secretary McNamara, and was able to obtain at least an "amber light" for an Israeli attack, evidently by making it clear to the Americans that Israel was determined to proceed.

After his retirement from Mossad, Amit entered business and politics. From 1966 to 1977 he was CEO of the Histadrut's COOR industries, then the largest industrial concern in Israel.  He joined the Dash party in the ninth Knesset and was a member of the Knesset and transportation and communications minister in the government of Menachem Begin until September 1978. When the Dash party split, he joined Shinui. In 1980 he joined the Labor Party. From 1982, he was on the board of directors of various hi-tech and industrial  concerns including Space Communications which created the Amos communications satellite, Yakhin-Tekel and Zim. He was also on the board of Tel Aviv University's Jaffe center, and the council for economic development. He was head of the Israeli Center for Management and president of the Center for Intelligence Heritage.

In 2003, Meir Amit was awarded the Israel prize for his unique contributions to society and the state. For all his activity on behalf of Israel, Amit was distinguished by a relatively quiet career with none of the usual visual trappings of political infighting and power struggles. 

In a 2006 interview, Amit assessed the current problem of Islamic terrorism. He said that he views the conflict as "World War III," a concerted attempt to impose Islamic beliefs throughout the world.ref  He called for the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel.ref In a 2008 interview, Amit advocated military action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The comments from Amit were significant since until then, he had refused to support an attack against Iran.ref

Amit was not a reclusive intelligence mole. He was extremely popular. Each year, on Independence day, he held an open house attended by hundreds of visitors. He insisted on continuing the custom to the last, even in 2009, when he could no longer walk. ref

Upon news of his death on July 17, 2009, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated: ref

Generations of Israelis, entire generations of children, owe Meir Amit a debt of gratitude for his immense contribution - a large part which remains secret - in building the strength and deterrence of Israel...He was a natural leader, whom people trusted, and at the same time he was a visionary for the state.

Amit's autobiography, A Life in Israel's Intelligence Service: An Autobiography, was published by Vallentine Mitchell in English, in August, 2009.  

 

Ami Isseroff

August, 26, 2009

 

Copyright

Copyright 2009. The text of this biography is the copyright intellectual property of the author.  Adaptations are the copyright property of Zionism and Israel information Center and the author.  Please do not copy this biography to your Web site. You may not use these materials without written permission from the author.

 

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