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Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, who helped forge peace with Jordan, dies at 84

Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit has died at the age of 84, the spy agency announced Tuesday.

Shavit died while on a private vacation in Italy, the announcement said. No cause of death was given.

Shavit was the seventh director of the vaunted intelligence agency, which he ran from 1989 to 1996 in a tenure that included the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians; a peace deal with Jordan; the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; the deadly bombings of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires and the AMIA Jewish center in attacks blamed on the Hezbollah terror group; and the targeted killings of numerous terror operatives overseas, among other events.

Current Mossad chief David Barnea lauded Shavit in a statement as “a pillar of the world of operations, intelligence, security and strategy of the State of Israel.”

Numerous political leaders also mourned his passing, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and others who served in senior defense positions praising his skill and knowledge.

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“One of the best of Israel’s sons,” Gallant said of Shavit.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, said Israel owed Shavit “a great debt that will not be known to the world.”

Shabtai Shavit. (YouTube screenshot)

Born in pre-state Israel, Shavit served in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and later earned a degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before joining the spy agency in 1964. He rose through the ranks from an officer in Tzomet — Mossad’s human intelligence-gathering wing, where he worked in Iran — to the head of the Caesarea special operations unit.

After a stint as deputy head of the organization, he became its chief in 1989.

“During his tenure as head of the Mossad, Shavit worked to expand and strengthen the secret relations between the Mossad and organizations and countries in the regional and global arena, chief among them his contribution to the establishment of the peace agreement signed between Israel and Jordan,” the agency’s statement said.

In recent years, Shavit emerged as a staunch critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling The Times of Israel in a 2020 interview that the premier’s decision-making appeared linked to his ongoing trial on corruption charges.

“I’m saying something terrible. I’m saying our prime minister is not statesmanlike. He is not making decisions as a statesman. But I’m sorry. I really think so,” Shavit said.

He also broke with Netanyahu on how to respond to Iran’s nuclear program, saying Israel cannot practically prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons but can deter it from using them.