The Man Who Developed Israel Military Industries Dies at 105

Eliyahu Sacharov, from the third generation of his family in the country, joined the Haganah in high school and devoted his life to the defense and security of the pre-state Jewish community and then of the State of Israel

Ofer Aderet
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Eliyahu Sacharov in 2005.
Eliyahu Sacharov in 2005.Credit: Alon Ron
Ofer Aderet

Eliyahu Sacharov, one of the founders of Israel Military Industries, died Tuesday at the age of 105. He was born in Jerusalem in 1914, the year that World War I began.

He was a member of his family's third generation in the country. His  grandfather immigrated to pre-state Israel from Russia in 1902.  When Eliyahu Sacharov was in high school, he joined the Haganah, the underground, pre-independence army of the country's Jewish community, the Yishuv. For the rest of his life, he remained active in the defense and security of the Yishuv and then of the independent State of Israel.

During his service in the Haganah, he was the personal assistant of Shaul Avigur, the founder of the Israeli intelligence community, and Eliyahu Golomb, the Haganah's founder. Sacharov worked with them and others in efforts to bring Jews into the country, despite restrictions on immigration imposed by the Mandatory British authorities.

Sacharov at his home in Herzliya, 2012
Sacharov at his home in Herzliya, 2012Credit: Peleg Levi

In 1938, he undertook the creation of what was ultimately to become  Israel Military Industries and facilitated the purchase of weapons for the Jewish community of the country to help defend against attacks during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, and later in Israel's War of Independence.

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During the British Mandate period, Sacharov purchased weapons clandestinely, under the noses of the British. He was responsible the purchase of the first combat aircraft for the Israel Air Force and for their arrival in Israel in an airlift from Czechoslovakia. He was also involved in secret operations on behalf of the Israeli Defense Ministry, along with the procurement of material required for the production of advanced weaponry for the Israeli army – some of which was used in the country's nuclear program.

In an interview for the documentary project "Toldot Yisrael," Sacharov said that he was the man who provided the explosives for Operation Boatswain – in which Haganah fighters went to Lebanon on a mission in 1941, never to return.

In 1950 Sacharov retired from the army wth the rank of lieutenant colonel and established a plywood factory with his brother Yisrael, but he continued to participate in secret operations for the Defense Ministry.

One of his brothers, Yehezkel Sahar, was the first commissioner of the Israel Police. His other brothers, Yisrael and Aharon, were both businessmen.

Eliyahu Sacharov was married to Tanya Sacharov and is survived by two daughters, as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren.