Moshe Arens, former defense minister, foreign minister and designer of the all-Israeli Lavi fighter jet, passed away at his home in Savyon aged 93 on Sunday, Jan. 6. Born in Lithuania, Arens was 14 when his family moved to New York. In WWII, he enlisted in the US army. A member of the Revisionist movement’s Beiar youth movement, he immigrated to Israel in 1948 when the state was established and joined the late prime minister Menachem Begin in founding the Herut party, a forerunner of Likud.
After graduating from MIT and the California Institute of Technology, he returned to Israel in 1957 and for nearly a decade served as deputy director-general of the Israeli Aircraft Industries, where he put his innovative skills to work in developing one of the best fighter aircraft design departments in the world. He frequently lamented the government’s decision to scrap his brainchild, the Lavi fighter jet, although he lauded the industry’s tactical missiles, unmanned aircraft, radars, satellites and missile interceptors.
In 1973, as one of the unsung founders of Israel’s world-class achievements in technology, often ahead of his time, Moshe Arens turned to politics, running for the Knesset on the newly-established Likud list. In 1983, Arens was appointed to the first of his three stints as defense minister, the last in 1999, after which he retired from politics.
Before that, he had managed to serve as ambassador to Washington, where Binyamin Netanyahu served on his staff, foreign minister and chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Arens, a hawk, voted against the Camp David Accords which Begin signed with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, maintaining that Israel should not have withdrawn from Sinai. He also criticized Israel’s acquisition of the US F-35 stealth plane at the expense of more useful weapons. He wrote in September 2018 (in an Haaretz op-ed):
Nineteen years ago, as defense minister, I thought IDF’s procurement of ballistic missiles would strengthen Israel’s ability to respond to the Hezbollah threat. My initiative was canceled by the defense minister who replaced me and lay dormant for many years.
Now some of Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is being turned into precision-guided ballistic missiles that can be used to attack point targets in Israel. Israel was slow to respond to these developments. The air force continues to be charged with the mission of destroying enemy targets, even though there are major advantages to the use of precision-guided ballistic missiles for this mission. They can be launched from anywhere and do not require airfields and major infrastructure. The launch point can be made mobile. Their response can be instant. In effect, in many cases it is easier and cheaper to attack enemy targets at a distance by ground-launched precision-guided missiles than by aircraft. Finally, new order by the military reflects a major change in the IDF’s future tactics against enemies like Hezbollah.
Moshe Arens is survived by his wife Muriel, sons Yigal and Raanan and daughters Rut and Aliza, as well as numerous grandchildren.