JERUSALEM (AP) — Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former Israeli military chief who later became a Cabinet minister, died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 68.
Revered in Israel as the ultimate "officer and gentlemen," Lipkin-Shahak was a daring commando, admired general and moderate peace negotiator.
Even while still serving in uniform, he was tasked with talking to Israel's bitterest enemies and later in life became a staunch supporter of peace with Syria and the Palestinians.
Lipkin-Shahak began his military service in the paratrooper brigade and was twice decorated with Israel's Medal of Courage for his conduct in special operations.
One of those operations was the famed 1973 raid on Beirut, in which Israeli commandos — dressed as civilians, with some disguised as women — rowed in from the Mediterranean Sea to a beach in the Lebanese capital. The group then went on to attack and kill top leaders of Black September, the Palestinian group that was behind the massacre of 11 members of the Israeli delegation to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Lipkin-Shahak later rose through the ranks, commanding elite infantry units and holding several top key positions — including five years as head of military intelligence.
As deputy military chief of staff, he was involved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Later, he succeeded Ehud Barak to become Israel's 15th military chief between the years 1995-1998. In that capacity, he negotiated with his Syrian counterpart in failed peace talks between the countries. He also oversaw the partial implementation of the Oslo peace accords, which included a military withdrawal from several areas in the West Bank and Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep sorrow over the passing of Lipkin-Shahak, calling him "a hero of Israel who dedicated most of the years to the defense of the state of Israel."
"His heroism was evident in the brave way he conducted himself throughout his illness. Not for a moment did he ever lose his dignity," Netanyahu said in a special statement.
Similar words of appreciation poured in from across the Israeli political spectrum.
President Shimon Peres called him a "carrier of the torch of peace, a rare man and a wise Jew."
Lipkin-Shahak retired from the military in 1998 and quickly entered politics, establishing the short-lived Center Party. He served as tourism minister and then transportation minister under Barak.
After politics he went into business and joined several dovish organizations that aimed to promote regional peace.
Lipkin-Shahak was a leading member of a group that urged Israel to adopt a peace proposal along the lines of President Barak Obama's concept of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — with agreed swaps of territory that would allow Israel to keep some of its main West Bank settlements while compensating the Palestinians with land. Past Israeli governments have accepted such plans, but they have not produced a peace accord and Lipkin-Shahak's efforts also did not come to fruition.
He called on reopening peace talks with Syria and also endorsed J Street, the liberal American Jewish pro-peace lobby group.
Lipkin-Shahak is survived by his wife Tali, a well-known Israeli journalist, and five children. ARON HELLER,Associated Press
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