Another of the fast-dwindling number of Israel’s “old guard” passed away today. Moshe Arens was 93-years-old when he died at his home on Savyon in central Israel.
Arens was born in 1925 in Lithuania, but his family moved to the United States when he was 14, just prior to the outbreak of World War II.
He served in the US Army Corps of Engineers during the war, after which he immigrated to pre-state Israel and joined the Irgun paramilitary group headed by future Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Just after the State of Israel’s establishment, Arens helped found the Herut political party, the precursor to today’s Likud.
From 1951 to 1957, Arens was back in the US to study aeronautical engineering at MIT and Caltech. Upon returning to Israel, he used that newfound knowledge to educate a fresh generation of Israeli engineers at the Technion in Haifa. Arens was just 36-years-old when he was made a professor at Israel’s most prestigious technical college.
A year later, in 1962, Arens was appointed deputy head of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), where he was heavily involved in the Jewish state’s indigenous fighter-jet project, the Kfir. For his efforts during these years, Arens was awarded the Israel Defense Prize in 1971, the same year he left IAI.
Two years later, in 1973, Arens entered the Knesset for the first time as a member of Herut. For the next 19 years, he would serve as one of Israel’s top politicians, holding the positions of Ambassador to the US, Minister of Defense (three times) and Minister of Foreign Affairs. During his stints as Minister of Defense, Arens oversaw numerous reforms and changes to the IDF and Israel’s defense policies.
Arens was also credited with giving Benjamin Netanyahu his first big “break” in politics when he made the current prime minister an envoy at the Washington embassy in 1982, and then backed Netanyahu’s bid to become Israel’s ambassador to the UN in 1984. Upon hearing of Arens’ passing, Netanyahu on Monday mourned the loss of “my teacher and master,” adding, “I loved you as a son loves a father.”
Arens was also eulogized by all the senior figures to the left of the political spectrum, who, despite disagreeing with him bitterly over issues such as a Palestinian state, nevertheless held great respect for the man.
“Moshe Arens was an example of a clean and sincere leader and public servant, who always spoke his mind and contributed immensely to Israel’s security and standing among the world’s nations,” said former Labor Party leader and current head of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog.
Current Labor leader Avi Gabbay added that Arens was “exemplary, honest, wise, a man who knew how to make difficult decisions.”
Arens was seen by many as the epitome of right-wing conservative Zionism, unencumbered as he was by controversy and scandal, and wholly dedicated both to peace and the fulfillment of the Zionist vision.