Eleventh Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces; Former minister and Knesset member.
Rafael Eitan, (nicknamed "Raful") was born on Moshav Tel-Adashim located in the Jezreel Valley. His father, Eliyahu Kaminetsky, was one of the founders of the "Shomer" organization and one of its outstanding fighters. In 1944, at age 16, Raful joined the Palmach, and in 1948, with the outbreak of the War of Independence, he joined the Harel Brigade in the role of platoon sergeant and fought in the battles to liberate Jerusalem. In one of those battles at the San Simon Monastery, he was injured. At the end of the war, he served as a First Lieutenant Company Commander, though he had never had any official officer's training. Following the war, Raful returned to Tel-Adashim.
In 1951, Rafael Eitan was drafted into the IDF and became the Operations Officer for the Ninth Brigade. His next role was Commander of the first Paratroop Reserves Company. On October 28, 1955, at the rank of captain, he fought together with his troops in an invasion on the Kuntila Police in the Sinai. This was the first attack of its kind behind enemy lines. Eitan stormed the enemy at the head of his fighters via a steep cliff and destroyed an enemy firing position, allowing his troops to overtake the area. For this action, Rafael Eitan received a special IDF decoration for courage.
In December 1955, Raful was injured during the Kinneret Action against the Syrians. In October 1956, less than a year after his injury, Eitan served as a commander over the paratroopers' Battalion 890 in "Operation Kadesh". The parachuting of the battalion into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai was the only combat drop exercised in the history of the IDF.
In 1964, Eitan was appointed the Paratroop Brigade Commander, and in 1967, during the Six-Day-War, he fought in battles in the Gaza Strip area and suffered a serious head injury. In 1969, at the beginning of the War of Attrition, Eitan was appointed the Head Officer of Paratroops and Foot Soldiers. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, he was the commander of the division that fought on the Syrian front. This division managed to stop the Syrian forces and to conquer an enclave within Syrian territory. Following the war, Rafael Eitan was promoted to the rank of Major-General and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command. Later, he became the Chief of the Operations Branch at the General Headquarters.
In April 1978, the Minster of Defense, Ezer Weizman, appointed Eitan as the eleventh IDF Chief-of-Staff. In this capacity, Raful took measures to raise the disciplinary level of the military, while the IDF expanded its responsibility to help the "weaker" portions of the Israeli population. Under his command, the IDF undertook the "Raful Youth" project for taking care of underprivileged soldiers.
In 1981, while Raful was Chief-of-Staff, his pilot son, Yoram, was killed in an Israel Air Force training accident while flying in the south of Israel.
Following the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon (September 1982) during Operation Peace for the Galilee, the "Kahan" investigative committee produced a report with harsh accusations against the military command (with Eitan at its head) for not doing enough to prevent the massacres. Because Eitan had only a short time to remain as Chief-of-Staff, the Kahan Committee recommended not taking disciplinary measures against him.
In 1983, Eitan retired from the military and began his political career. He established the Tzomet Movement, which was at first ideologically part of the Tehiya Movement, whose members were noted for protesting a withdrawal from the Sinai.
In 1984, Raful was elected to the 11th Knesset as part of the Tehiya-Tzomet parliamentary group. Three years later, the two movements split into separate parties, and in the 1988 elections, Tzomet ran for the Knesset as an independent party, and won two seats. The ideology behind the party involved a commitment to a "Greater Israel," improvement in the educational system, and a sound administration. In 1990, Tzomet joined the government under Yitzhak Shamir, and Rafael Eitan was appointed Agricultural Minister. In September 1991, Tzomet resigned from the government over differences regarding the peace process following the Madrid Conference, and over the Likud's not allowing voting freedom on the bill for direct elections of the Prime Minster.
In the 1992 elections, Tzomet won eight Knesset seats. Eitan chose to keep the party in the opposition during the time of Yitzhak Rabin's government. During this time, the Tzomet parliamentary group began to fall apart and some members left to form new parliamentary groups that supported the Oslo Agreements with the Palestinians.
In 1996, Rafael Eitan announced his candidacy for Prime Minister, but withdrew from the race when the Likud and Tzomet merged into a joint list. Within the Likud-Gesher-Tzomet list, Tzomet won five Knesset seats in the election. In the government formed by Binyamin Netanyahu, Eitan became Deputy Prime Minister, Agricultural Minister, and Minister of the Environment.
In the 1999 elections for the 15th Knesset, the Tzomet party did not pass the qualifying threshold, and Eitan resigned from the political arena. In the last two years of his life, he was responsible for the erection of a breakwater by the new "Yovel" Port of Ashdod. Rafael Eitan passed away November 23, 2004 when he was overtaken by waves during stormy weather at the port.