Israel ex-minister and Netanyahu mentor Moshe Arens dies

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defence minister and one-time mentor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died yesterday aged 93, officials said.

Arens, an aeronautics engineer, was also known for having played a key role in Israel’s aerospace and military industries, including by pushing for the development of the Lavi Israeli fighter jet.

Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin eulogised the Lithuanian-born, United States (US)-raised Arens.

“My wife Sara and I shed bitter tears over the passing of our beloved Moshe Arens,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

He recalled Arens’s terms as ambassador to Washington, foreign minister and defence minister, using his nickname Misha, and said he remained clear-headed even in the last stages of his illness.

Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Arens. – AP

“A few weeks ago, I visited Misha at his home,” Netanyahu wrote. “He was as lucid as ever, as sharp as a razor.”

Israeli public radio said Arens was suffering from “a severe sickness,” a common media euphemism for cancer.

Haaretz newspaper said he died in his sleep at his home near Tel Aviv.

The Times of Israel said he was survived by his wife Muriel, four children and nine grandchildren.

“Misha worked his whole life in key positions to ensure Israel’s development and success,” Rivlin said in a statement.

“As a scientist and engineer, as a statesman, as an ambassador and as a manager of the most important industries for Israel’s security.”

Arens, of the right-wing Likud party, personally brought Netanyahu into politics in 1982 – hiring the then US furniture salesman as a diplomatic liaison officer in Israel’s Washington embassy.

Two years later Netanyahu, the son of a historian active in Israeli right-wing politics, became Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Arens later backed the younger man’s bid to lead Likud after the party’s 1992 election loss to the Labour Party.

But after Netanyahu won election as prime minister in May 1996, Arens grew increasingly critical of his protege’s style.