Former defense and foreign minister Moshe Arens dies at 93

Moshe Arens  photo: Haim Zach, GPO

Arens was one of the clearest and most statesmanlike advocates on the right side of the political spectrum.

Moshe Arens, 93, who was minister of defense and minister of foreign affairs in Likud governments between 1983 and his retirement in 2003, died today. Since his retirement, Arens wrote op-eds published in "Haaretz." The last of these, about Simha Rotem, the last surviving fighter from the Warsaw ghetto, appeared a week ago.

Arens was one of the clearest and most statesmanlike advocates on the right side of the political spectrum. For many years, he was the political patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Arens brought into the public eye after hearing him speak in the US. Arens pressed for the appointment of Netanyahu as Israeli ambassador to the US after Netanyahu was ambassador to the UN. Arens supported Netanyahu in the internal elections for head of the Likud after Yitzhak Shamir left politics.

Many in the Likud regarded Arens as a symbol of Jewish pride as advocated by Beitar, the pre-state movement headed by Zeev Jabotinsky. Arens was born in Lithuania in 1925, grew up in the US, and never lost his American accent. He was the Beitar representative in the US, and immigrated to Israel in 1949, after serving in the Etzel, one of the pre-state Jewish underground organizations. His technological military training in the US army enabled Arens to obtain a position at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in teaching aeronautical engineering and at Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1), where he was appointed deputy director general in 1962.

Arens was first elected to the Knesset in 1973. He chaired the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was one of the opponents of the peace agreement with Egypt, and later also opposed the Oslo Accords. He was appointed Israel ambassador to the US in 1982, but returned to Israel within a year after being appointed minister of defense at a difficult time, after the First Lebanon War and the publication of the recommendations of the Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps (Sabra and Shatilla) in Beirut. Arens was the first Israeli minister of defense who was not a career IDF officer.

In his columns in "Haaretz" in recent years, Arens criticized the treatment of Arabs in Israel, spoke out against criticism of the Supreme Court, still maintained that the Oslo Accords had harmed Israel, and always retained a very statesmanlike attitude, while being critical of the current leadership. He believed that the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People should not have been passed by the Knesset, because not enough public support for it had been mobilized.

"There was no greater patriot than him. I loved you as a son loves his father"

Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum mourned Arens. Netanyahu said, "My wife, Sara, and I are terribly saddened by the passing of a close friend, Moshe Arens. Moshe, my teacher and mentor, was a loyal student of Zev Jabotinsky. It was through that that he met my father, who was at his wedding with his wife Muriel. Since then, a deep connection was formed between our families. I saw Moshe do amazing work time and again to fortify the position of the State of Israel - as our ambassador in Washington, as Foreign Minister, as chairman of the foreign affairs and security committee, and as Defense Minister. In recent years, he dedicated himself to documenting the full story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where people from Beitar played a central role.

"A few weeks ago I visited Moshe in his home, and he was as lucid as ever - sharp as a razor - magnificent in his splendor and nobility. An exemplary figure, there was no greater patriot than he. Moshe Arens's contribution to our people and our country will be remembered forever. Rest in peace, Misha. I loved you as a son loves a father."

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett wrote that Arens was "a Zionist beacon, a groundbreaking defense minister…who spent his entire life working to strengthen Israel’s security, in the sciences, in aeronautics, as defense minister, as diplomat, as author and historian. May his memory be blessed."

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said, "Israel has lost one of the people who loved it most. For decades, and until his last day, Arens was dedicated to one idea with all his soul and all his might: the revival of the people of Israel in our land. His contribution to Israel’s security and its international stature is priceless and will be his eternal monument. As a Likud member, he was a teacher and a moral exemplar for me. My consolations to his family. May his memory be blessed."

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay praised Arens as “exemplary, honest, wise, a man who knew how to make difficult decisions. In an era when the rule of law is under assault, his absence will be sorely felt. My consolations to his family.”

Arens was closely associated with Netanyahu, after introducing Netanyahu to public life in the early 1990s. In his columns in "Haaretz" on defense and government policy in recent years, criticized the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People passed by the Knesset this year, writing, "Israeli politicians would do well to spend their efforts fixing a fundamental defect in the Israeli educational system, which has not succeeded in giving Jewish children the ability to speak fluently in Arabic and turn the Arabic language into what the founding fathers intended it to be: an official language of the state, together with Hebrew."

Arens, a professor at Technion, won the Israel Defense Prize and the Public Diplomacy Prize. He leaves a wife, Muriel, and four children.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 7, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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Moshe Arens  photo: Haim Zach, GPO
Moshe Arens photo: Haim Zach, GPO
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