Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who was the 15th Chief of Staff of the IDF and two-time Citation of Valor awardee, was laid to rest last Thursday at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul. The celebrated soldier – who also served as a Member of the Knesset, and as Minister of Transportation and Tourism – died on December 19 at age 68 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
The President, Prime Minister, Defense Minister and IDF generals paid tribute to their former comrade. His three sons said Kaddish.
“You were rare in your courage,” said President Shimon Peres in his eulogy. “Rare in your wisdom. Rare in your honesty. A man with a clean path and depth of thought. All your life, you sought and found ways to contribute, and you never expected anything in return for your contributions.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Lipkin-Shahak was “a courageous fighter, on and off the battlefield. A Zionist patriot; a leader who showed the way, and exceptionally brave. One of the unique few who made the IDF what it is today.”
“A few days ago, I heard that the disease had gotten much worse and that Amnon would not be taking any more medication, in effect,” Netanyahu said. Looking at Lipkin-Shahak’s widow, Tali, he continued: “I called you, Tali, who were next to him in all of the stations and helped him. After we spoke, you passed him the phone and this was a conversation I will never forget, which sent a chill down my spine.
“Amnon spoke and his voice was weak and quiet, but his speech was clear, clean and eloquent. He spoke about the country. He spoke about the duty of the person who heads the country. He did not speak about himself and his illness. He moved me to the depth of my soul. I think that was Amnon’s essence. Nobleness of spirit, devotion to the country and courage. A real hero.”
Lipkin-Shahak started his military service as a teenager in the military boarding-school in Haifa. He enlisted as a corporal in the paratrooper brigade in 1962, fulfilled various command positions and eventually became brigade commander. During his military service, he was decorated twice with the Medal of Courage for his conduct in Operation Inferno, in Karameh, Jordan 1968 as a captain, and in Operation Spring of Youth, Beirut, Lebanon 1973 as a Lt. Colonel. As deputy Chief of Staff, he was involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Lipkin-Shahak succeeded Ehud Barak as the 15th Chief of the General Staff in 1995. As Chief of staff, he continued to take part in negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians, in which position he met his Syrian counterpart. Most of his tenure as Chief of Staff was under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. His tenure was marked with much public friction between him and his superiors, reportedly due to political differences and personal disrespect (Lipkin-Shahak refused to nominate Mordechai, a Major General, as his deputy when he became Chief of Staff, causing Mordechai to retire from the army and join the political arena, eventually to become Lipkin-Shahak’s superior.)
Lipkin-Shahak retired from the army after 36 years of service in 1998 and was succeeded as Chief of Staff by Shaul Mofaz.
Lipkin-Shahak joined Barak’s government as Minister of Tourism and later on also as Minister of Transport following Mordechai’s resignation. Soon afterwards he left the Center Party and joined the New Way party. When Barak failed to be re-elected in the 2001 election for Prime Minister (which he lost to Ariel Sharon), Lipkin-Shahak resigned from the Knesset and was replaced by David Magen.
In April 2008, Lipkin-Shahak signed a letter of support for the recently created J Street American Jewish pro-peace lobby group. He was married and had five children.