Raful, Ex-Chief of Staff, Drowns in Ashdod Port

The popular and outspoken former IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, known as Raful, drowned this morning at the Ashdod port. He was 75.

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, | updated: 10:09

Raful arrived at the Ashdod seaside early this morning, as he did every day, to oversee the continued construction of the new HaYovel Port. He drove up to the site, and while standing on the breakwater, was either overtaken by a large wave or slipped into the sea for other reasons. Only after an hour or more did his car attract attention, and a search began. A helicopter helped in the search efforts, and his body was found close to 8 AM. Resuscitation efforts by Magen David Adom teams failed to revive him.
Israeli officers. 1955. Raful - front, first from right. Ariel Sharon and Moshe Dayan - back, 2nd & 3rd from left

Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit has ordered the establishment of a committee of inquiry to investigate the precise circumstances of Eitan's death.

Eitan had three daughters, two sons who passed away - one in an Israel Air Force training accident - and ten grandchildren.

Raful's 37 years in the pre-State Palmach and then the IDF culminated with his service as the IDF's 11th Chief of Staff, from 1978 to 1983. He later started the right-wing Tzomet Party, and served in the Knesset for four terms, from 1984 until 1996. He also served as Agriculture Minister and Minister of the Environment. Born in the Jezre'el Valley moshav of Tel Adashim, Raful was also a farmer and a carpenter.

Possibly his most famous project as Chief of Staff was the "Raful Youth." In this framework, he helped youth-at-risk from underprivileged neighborhoods, placing them in disciplined units and encouraging them to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and crime in which many of them had been mired. He described them as people who had "seen only bad - but at their core, they're good. They just need someone to peel away the shell and uncover it. In the end, they will become something, for their own benefit, and for the benefit of everyone."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a statement today, "Raful's story is the story of this land. Since he was a youth, Raful [showed] unending willingness, courage and dedication on behalf of the State-in-formation... He took a central part in all the wars and in the fight against terrorism, while leaving a glorious legacy of comradery-in-arms in Israel. He understood the centrality of the IDF in Israeli society, and as Chief of Staff, initiated the magnificent educational enterprise in which an extra chance was given to thousands of youths to join Israeli society. These 'Raful Youths' are today proud and active citizens of Israel..."

"Courageous, a leader, a real commander – everything you wanted in an IDF fighter," said former President Ezer Weizman today. "What was typical of Raful is that even after he left politics, he went back to work. We were all surprised that he went to work at a port in Ashdod. But this was Raful."