Moshe Sasson, Former Israeli Envoy to Egypt, Dies at Age 81

Moshe Sasson, a former ambassador to Egypt, died Saturday at the age of 81.Sasson first joined the diplomatic corps in 1952, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sunday that during his term as ambassador in Cairo, he "displayed his brilliant abilities and political insights."

Sasson was born in Damascus and came to Israel as a youngster. His father, Eliyahu Sasson, served as postal minister and police minister and even liaised between the Israeli government and Jordanian King Abdullah I. Prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948, Moshe Sasson volunteered for the information corps of the pre-state Haganah militia in Jerusalem. Shmuel Toledano, who served in a similar position in Tel Aviv and later became the Arab affairs advisor to three Israeli prime ministers, recalled Sunday that Sasson possessed a vast knowledge of everything concerning the Arab world.

"He was a man of extraordinary talents," said Toledano. "This was evident throughout his career."

Sasson and Toledano used to meet frequently until not long ago, and Toledano relates that he and Sasson would often discuss the history of the Arab world, as Sasson "knew a tremendous amount about it."

In 1981, ambassador Sasson was sitting not far from Anwar Sadat when members of the Islamic Movement assassinated him. In Sasson's book, "Seven Years in the Land of the Egyptians," he writes about this incident at length. Sasson likewise wrote a book called "Without a Round Table," in which he reviews the history of the contacts between Israel and the Arab states.

Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, was Sasson's commander in the Haganah Underground, and the two continued to see one another regularly until recently. He recalled Sunday that he had met with Sasson on the eve of November 29, 1947, when the United Nations approved the partition of British Mandate Palestine.

"We rode my motorcycle into the Old City [of Jerusalem]," said Navon. "Nothing special was happening then. The riots began two days later."

Until 1948 Sasson was in charge of setting up spy networks, and that year he succeeded in foiling an attack against Jerusalem's Edison theater. In 1967, prime minister Levi Eshkol appointed him to oversee communications with the Arab residents of the territories. In 1981 he became ambassador to Egypt.

"I was the president at that time," recalls Navon, "but if there was something that I was willing to do, it was to be the ambassador in Egypt. That was a fascinating period, and Sasson had access to all the government offices."

Until recently, Sasson watched all the Arab channels and kept up with politics.

"He lived Israel's problems," continued Navon. "He would get upset, sometimes even furious, but he was also a generous and good-hearted man."