How Israeli Spy Rafi Eitan Became a Legend

April 8, 2019Justen Charters
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Rafi Eitan died on March 23, 2019, at age 92. He is a legend in Israel’s intelligence community — the type of spy that other espionage agents strive to become. From capturing Nazis to handling a U.S. agent who stole Israeli secrets, Eitan is an important — and fascinating — figure in modern history.

He joined the military as a child.

In 1938, at just 12 years old, Eitan joined the Haganah, an underground resistance unit, which later became the Israeli Defense Forces. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was conducting clandestine operations straight out of high school, helping Jewish refugees escape Nazism in Europe and making a home for them in the then-British Mandate Palestine. He was wounded in combat twice. 

An early undated photo of Rafi Eitan.

He helped capture one of the most evil men in history.

Eitan kept the worst of the worst up at night. When Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann escaped U.S. custody in 1946, Eitan was part of the team that hunted him down. Eichmann — one of the chief architects of the “Final Solution” — was apprehended by Eitan and his team in Argentina.

Living under the false name of Ricardo Klement, Eichmann confessed his true identity during his interrogation. Then Eitan and his team smuggled Eichmann out of Argentina, taking him to Israel to face trial for his crimes.

After Eichmann’s trial concluded, he was sentenced to death. Eitan was in the room with Eichmann before he was hung. “Your time will come to follow me, Jew,” were the Nazi’s last words, according to the New York Times. Eitan replied: “But not today, Adolf, not today.”

The 2018 Hollywood film “Operation Finale” is based on Eitan’s operation to capture Eichmann.

He almost stopped the Iranian Revolution from happening.

As head of Mossad Operations, Eitan made a gallant attempt to stop the Iranian revolution. Had he been successful, the world would be a much different place today. It wasn’t for a lack of trying though: A 2017 article in the Jerusalem Post describes how Eitan traveled to Iran 50 times per year before Khomeini took power.

“Together with Uri Lubrani, who was then the ambassador to Iran, Eitan came up with an idea to establish a special Iranian military force that would work to neutralize Khomeini’s primary supporters in the country,” the article reads. “Together with the Iranians, Israel had marked a close-knit group of Islamists who were igniting public unrest in order to pave the way for Khomeini’s return after 14 years of exile. The thinking was that if these people were stopped, the revolution everyone saw coming would be stopped as well.”

New Minister of Pensioner Affairs Rafi Eitan attends the first weekly cabinet meeting of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s newly sworn in cabinet on May 7, 2006 in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Yoav Lemmer-Pool/Getty Images.

He was Jonathan Pollard’s handler.

Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, stole U.S. military secrets for Israel. When he was approached by federal agents about the classified materials he had in his briefcase, he lied, saying it was for another intelligence organization. When Pollard tried to gain entry to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Eitan made sure he didn’t get in — even though he was Pollard’s handler.

After Pollard was arrested, he confessed to what he was doing. Pollard was found guilty of espionage in 1985 and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Eitan was removed from his position as an intelligence operative because of the Pollard episode, but later entered the world of politics. Upon the spymaster’s death, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “[Eitan] would be honored by the nation.”


Justen Charters
Justen Charters

Justen Charters is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. Justen was previously at Independent-Journal Review (IJ Review) for four years, where his articles were responsible for over 150 million page views, serving in various positions from content specialist to viral content editor. He currently resides in Utah with his wife and daughter.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved