Obituaries
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    Yitzhak Hofi, 87; Israeli general had key role in Entebbe raid

    General Hofi laid the groundwork for Israel’s peace with Egypt.
    Associated Press/File 1972
    General Hofi laid the groundwork for Israel’s peace with Egypt.

    WASHINGTON — Yitzhak Hofi — an Israeli Army general who, as his country’s top spymaster, helped coordinate the daring commando raid to free Israeli hostages in Uganda, and took steps toward normalizing relations with Egypt before the Camp David peace talks — died Sept. 15 in Ramat Gan, Israel.

    The government announced his death, at 87, but did not cite a cause.

    General Hofi was regarded as one of the most effective leaders of the Mossad, the espionage agency he led from 1974 to 1982 that was known for its derring-do in counterterrorism, covert operations, and helping Jewish immigration to Israel.

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    As part of Israel’s founding generation, General Hofi served in the Palmach, the underground paramilitary force of pre-independence Israel. After Israel became a nation in 1948, he was among the Palmach fighters who helped build the Israeli Defense Forces.

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    Over the next quarter-century, General Hofi rose through the ranks and distinguished himself as commander of the northern front against Syria during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The next year, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed General Hofi head of the Mossad, though he had no background in intelligence work.

    He presided over a momentous period in the history of Israel and the agency. Under his direction, the Mossad worked to kill Nazis and terrorists and looked for openings for peace with Arab countries.

    The 1976 rescue of hijacked airline passengers in Uganda was the source of jubilation and pride among Israelis and enduring personal pain for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yonatan Netanyahu, the unit commander and the future prime minister’s older brother, was killed in the raid.

    The Air France plane, en route from Athens to Paris, was hijacked by Palestinian and German radicals. In Uganda, where the government of Idi Amin seemed to welcome the international drama, the hijackers divided the more than 250 passengers and crew into two groups. Virtually everyone was freed except for 106 Israelis and Jews and the non-Jewish captain who were held as hostages, a separation that haunted a nation founded after the genocide of the Holocaust.

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    According to accounts in the Israeli press, General Hofi oversaw the preliminary work that made the rescue mission possible. It required a pilot willing to circle the airport and wheedle facts from controllers while surreptitiously taking photos to be used in plotting the Israeli assault. It also involved making contacts within Kenyan intelligence circles so Israeli commandos could refuel in Nairobi on the return flight.

    When the commandos stormed the terminal at the Entebbe airport, three hostages, the hijackers, Yonatan Netanyahu, and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed; a hostage who had been taken to a hospital before the raid was killed later by Ugandan troops. But the other hostages made it home safely. The episode was the subject of many books and films.

    General Hofi’s most enduring legacy is less well known outside Israel. He laid the groundwork for Israel’s peace with Egypt, a peace that, while sometimes lacking warmth, endures. In 1977, General Hofi met secretly more than 20 times in Morocco with Egyptian officials, paving the way for what eventually became the historic visit to Jerusalem by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Two years later, in 1979, Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel signed a peace treaty at Camp David.

    General Hofi privately argued against Israel’s 1981 strike again Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. But during his tenure, according to authors Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, the Mossad waged a covert campaign to sabotage Iraq’s nuclear ambitions by killing scientists and damaging equipment before it reached Iraq.

    While General Hofi was director, the Mossad assassinated a number of Palestinian terrorists. Among them was Ali Salameh, the chief of operations for Black September, the group responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

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    Yitzhak Hofi was born in Tel Aviv in what was then the British mandate in Palestine.

    After he left the Mossad, where his identity was a state secret, General Hofi resumed a more public life and led the Israel Electric Corp.

    ‘‘When I became head of the Mossad, people thought I had emigrated,’’ he told Israeli Radio years later when he spoke out unsuccessfully in opposition to a policy change making the Mossad head’s name public. ‘‘I traveled to all sorts of places to approve various operations. It is very important the Mossad chief not be linked to a place where something later happens.’’