Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens Passes Away at Age 93

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Moshe Arens, an English-speaking US-educated aeronautical engineer who rose to become Israel’s three-time defense minister and became one of Likud’s veteran members, died on Monday in his sleep at his home in Savyon, near Tel Aviv. He was 93.

Arens was a member of the Knesset between 1973 and 1992 and again from 1999 until 2003. He served as Minister of Defense three times and once as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Arens also served as the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and was a professor at the Technion in Haifa.

Arens was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, to a Jewish family. His father was an industrialist and his mother was a dentist. When he was a year old, his family moved to Riga, Latvia. where he attended elementary school. In 1939, Arens and his family immigrated to the United States, where his father had business interests. The family settled in New York City, where Arens attended George Washington High School.

As a youth, Arens was a leader in the Betar youth movement. During World War II, Arens served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a technical sergeant. Following the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948, Arens immigrated to the new State of Israel and joined the Irgun, despite the opposition of his father. He was sent to North Africa (mostly Morocco and Algeria) and Europe to help local Jewish communities establish self-defense groups. In March 1949, he returned to Israel, and became a founding member of the Herut party, which had grown out of the Irgun. He worked as an engineer for an American company that designed water systems for Tel Aviv.

In 1951, he returned to the United States, and studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology where he was a student of Qian Xuesen, then worked for a time in the aircraft industry.

While living in the United States, Arens married Muriel F. Eisenberg from New York City, and she moved to Israel with him. The couple had four children, two boys and two girls; Yigal, Aliza, Raanan, and Rut.

In 1957, Arens became professor of aeronautics at the Technion, serving in this position until 1962. After retiring from the government, he devoted himself to researching and commemorating the story of the Jewish Military Union (ŻZW), which fought alongside the better known Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Arens is the author of a number of articles on the revolt as well as a book, Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto, which appeared in Hebrew, Polish and English.

Arens was chairman of the International Board of Governors of Ariel University Center of Samaria.

From 1962 until 1971, Arens served as Deputy Director General at Israel Aircraft Industries, where he oversaw major development projects, including the Kfir fighter jet project.

After the Yom Kippur War, Arens entered politics and was elected to the Knesset as a member of Likud in the 1973 elections. After being re-elected in 1977, he became chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He voted against the Camp David Accords and the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty. In 1980, Prime Minister Menachem Begin offered Arens the post of Minister of Defense, but he turned it down due to his disagreement over the terms of the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty. Arens did not oppose peace with Egypt, but was opposed to certain aspects of the treaty, and thus did not want to have to oversee Israel’s evacuation from the Sinai.

He was re-elected again in 1981, but resigned from the Knesset on 19 January 1982 when appointed ambassador to the United States. At this point, he brought his young protégé, Benjamin Netanyahu, then 32, to work for him in Washington. He returned to Israel in February 1983 after being appointed Minister of Defense, replacing Ariel Sharon, who had been forced out of office following the Kahan Commission’s report on the Sabra and Shatila massacre. He was re-elected in 1984, but was only appointed Minister without Portfolio. After another re-election in 1988 he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs (with Netanyahu his deputy), and in 1990 returned to the Defense portfolio.

After Likud lost the 1992 elections, Arens retired from politics. He returned in 1999, however, to challenge Binyamin Netanyahu for the Likud leadership. Although he won only 18% of the vote, Netanyahu appointed him Minister of Defense, replacing Yitzhak Mordechai, who had left Likud to establish the Centre Party. Although Arens returned to the Knesset after the 1999 elections, Likud lost the elections and he left the cabinet. He lost his seat for the final time in 2003.

{Matzav.com Israel News Bureau}

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