JERUSALEM (AP) — Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a veteran Israeli politician who held several top government posts and often served as a bridge to the Arab world, died Sunday. He was 80.
Israeli media reported that he died at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital after a long illness.
Ben Eliezer, known affectionately by his original Arabic first name, “Fuad,” was born in Basra, Iraq, in 1936 and moved to Israel in 1950.
He joined the Israeli military in 1954 and served as a commander in the Mideast wars that followed. He retired in 1984 with the rank of brigadier general and entered politics.
Ben Eliezer was a prominent member of the dovish Labor party and served in senior ministerial positions including defense, trade and communications. He held the defense post at a particularly difficult time, at the height of the second Palestinian intifadah, or uprising, in 2001 and 2002.
A native Arabic speaker, Ben Eliezer was on friendly terms with deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and other Arab leaders and helped bridge gaps between Israel and the Arab world.
In Israel, he was known for his friendly demeanor, good relations with politicians across the spectrum and a reputation as a backroom negotiator. Last year, he was indicted for allegedly misusing funds.
Former President Shimon Peres, a longtime partner in the Labor Party, was among many Israeli leaders who expressed their sorrow over Ben Eliezer’s passing. Peres eulogized him in a statement. “I will remember Fuad as a brave soldier and officer in the Israeli Defense forces and as a warm person who loved people, whose heart was planted deeply in the land of the country and in the fate of its people.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Ben-Eliezer for decades of service to the country and his “special character.”