Eitan, Raphael

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EITAN, RAPHAEL ("Raful "; 1929–2004), Israeli soldier, 11th chief of staff of the idf. Eitan was born in Israel and began his military career as an officer in the *Palmaḥ and was wounded in the battle for Jerusalem during the War of Independence.

In the 1956 Sinai Campaign he was one of the first to parachute into the Mitla Pass, and took a prominent part in the campaign in Sinai during the Six-Day War. He commanded the Israeli commando force which raided Beirut airport in 1968 and was later appointed chief infantry and paratroop officer. During the Yom Kippur War his unit played a key role in stemming the Syrian attack and advanced to within 25 miles of Damascus.

In 1978 he was appointed chief of staff in succession to Lt.-General Mordecai ("Motta") *Gur, taking up his appointment in April. During his service as chief of staff he initiated the "Raful Youth" project, a special program for youth from underprivileged backgrounds. In his position as chief of staff he commanded the Israeli forces in the 1982 Lebanon War. In 1983 he was criticized by the *Kahan Commission – established to investigate the causes of the killing by Phalangist forces of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in west Beirut – for failure to try to prevent the massacre, but was not dismissed since his term as chief of staff was by then nearly over.

In 1983 Eitan formed the Tzomet political party, which united with the ultra-right-wing Teḥiyah party before the elections for the Eleventh Knesset in 1984. He was elected to the Eleventh on the joint slate and to the Twelfth Knesset in 1988 with Tzomet running independently, having split with Teḥiyah. Tzomet contested the 1992 elections on a hawkish, anti-religious platform and won eight seats, making it the fourth largest party in the Knesset; it remained in the opposition rather than join Yitzhak Rabin's Labor-led coalition. He was elected again to the Knesset in the 1996 elections, running on the combined *Likud-Gesher-Tzomet ticket, and was appointed minister of agriculture and environment and deputy prime minister in the *Netanyahu government. His influence on government policy was minimal, and as a result he lost public support. In 1998 he announced his candidacy for prime minister, but withdrew later on. In the 1999 elections, Tzomet failed to win any seats and as a consequence Eitan retired from political and public life. He drowned in November 2004 when he was swept off a breakwater in Ashdod port on a stormy day.

[Fern Lee Seckbach /

Rohan Saxena and

Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]