Doron Rubin, Highly Regarded Israel Army Commander Whose Career Was Cut Short, Dies at 74

He was the revered leader of a paratrooper battalion, known as a critical officer who clashed with colleagues, including Ehud Barak, who dismissed him

Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Rubin in 1987.
Yaakov Saar/GPO

Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Rubin, formerly a commander in the paratroopers and the armored corps, died on Friday at the age of 74 after an illness. He leaves behind a wife and four children.

Many considered Rubin an admired and highly respected field soldier and an outstanding tank crewman. He was known as an officer who didn’t hesitate to voice criticism, leading to clashes with his colleagues, especially with then-deputy chief of staff and future prime minister Ehud Barak, who ultimately ended his military career.

Rubin was born in Moshav Bustan Hagalil in northern Israel in 1944 and joined the Israel Defense Forces Paratroopers Brigade in 1963. During his 25-year career in the army he served as commander of the 202nd Paratroopers Battalion, the officer training school, the Paratroopers Brigade, the 500th Brigade and the 162nd Armor Division, as well as serving as the head of the IDF’s training division. He took part in the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War and the first Lebanon War. In 1986 he established the Maglan Unit, which specializes in anti-tank warfare.

During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Rubin commanded the 202nd Paratroopers Battalion, taking part in the legendary battle of Wadi Mabouk, in which two Egyptian armored brigades were destroyed.

Left to right: Doron Rubin at the ceremony where he was awarded the rank of major general with his mother, generals Menachem Eynan, Ehud Barak and Rubin's wife.
Alona Yefet

Rubin’s army career was marred by two incidents. The first occurred during the Lebanon War, when three officers under his command mistakenly entered an area under Syrian control. Contact with them was lost. Rubin took his weapon and went to extricate them on his own, without telling anyone. Two of the officers were killed by the Syrians, and Rubin was found by a search party sent for him the next morning.

The second incident happened in 1988, when Rubin, just 43, was already a major general serving as the head of the army’s training division. From the headquarters, he coordinated Operation Blue and Brown, in which forces from the Golani Brigade raided terrorist bases in Lebanon. The operation ran into trouble when the troops’ commander was killed and it was decided to evacuate the others by helicopter. When they returned to their base was it discovered that three soldiers had been left behind.

It was Rubin's unflinching criticism that led him to butt heads with Barak, who dismissed Rubin once he was appointed IDF chief of staff, ending his career in the army. This decision was later condemned with claims that it was made for personal and not professional reasons.

Rubin remained bitter. “I have a record of achievements on the battlefield, not in offices – not anywhere that wasn’t a war zone or as a commander,” he said in an interview for a TV documentary several years ago. He also wondered why he never received a citation: “The army also gives them for operations that failed, for battles that went wrong and for idiotic moves.” Some military and defense officials believed that his military career could have continued successfully, leading him to increasingly senior positions.

As a civilian, starting in 1991 he worked in real estate, among other things. However, his ventures failed and he accumulated debts until his business collapsed. He left the country and lived in Honduras for a some time. In 1998 he ran for Tel Aviv mayor, first as a candidate for the Likud and then as an independent candidate. He lost. His last public appearances were last summer, when he participated in demonstrations against government corruption, held in Petah Tikva.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia, a former head of the army’s Southern Command, eulogized Rubin. “I won’t forget the first time I saw this giant, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. He was the commander of 202nd Battalion and I was a young soldier, looking at him with admiration, learning what I could. I never stopped following him after that. Doron was the greatest commander and educator I ever had. He was a friend and a commander, a symbol and a beacon of simple truth, who always led, with everyone following his light.”