Meir Har-Tzion with founders of Unit 101
Meir Har-Tzion with founders of Unit 101Government Press Office

Meir Har-Tzion, the first commander of the legendary special forces Unit 101, passed away Friday morning at the age of 80.

Har-Tzion received the IDF Medal of Bravery for his bravery in the 1955 Kinerret Operation, and was among the founders of the paratroop commandos.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a close friend of Har-Tzion, founded Unit 101 along with General Moshe Dayan. The unit defended Israel from cross-border raids by Arab militias known as fedayeen starting in 1951, just after the founding of the state.

Eulogizing Har-Tzion, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) called the fighter "one of the greatest legends of heroism of Israel . Through the heroism that surrounded his life and his courageous actions, he became a symbol and a role model, which the long run of years have not dulled their power."

"Unit 101, which he (Har-Tzion) established, is linked to his name no less than that of Ariel Sharon, and the eye-catching settlements overlooking the Beit She'an Valley and the Jordan Valley will stand to his credit in Israel's history," remarked Rivlin.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also eulogized the legendary warrior, saying "the IDF, all of its commanders and soldiers, lost a brave and noble fighters. A humble man, who knew the paths of the land he loved, fought for and guarded."

"The spirit of initiative and firmness that molded his path is the compass for every fighter in the IDF, and in that spirit Meir will be remembered in the history of our days."

Sharon in the past wrote in praise of the commander, noting "in a short amount of time, Meir became the bravest fighter in Unit 101 and the paratroopers, an excellent scout and perhaps the best ever known by the IDF."

Among Har-Tzion's acts of valor stands out a mission in December 1953, in which he led the unit in a 42 kilometer (26 mile) incursion to Hevron, where they attacked Jordanian soldiers and killed their commander. The attack is considered one of the most daring missions of the unit.

After his sister was killed along with a friend by bedouins while travelling from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi in 1955, Har-Tzion and three of his friends attacked the bedouin village where the murderers came from, killing five and capturing one. The prisoner was returned with a message: "tell all of your tribe we killed five for the two young Jews."