Michael Harari, an Israeli intelligence agent who led the hit squad that was sent to avenge the murders of 11 Israeli athletes byPalestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, died on Sept. 21 in Tel Aviv. He was 87.
His death was reported by The Associated Press, citing a statement by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Mr. Harari “one of the great warriors for Israel’s security.”
Mr. Harari, who was sometimes referred to as the “Zionist James Bond,” spent decades in the shadowy and dangerous echelons of global espionage, working for more than 25 years under the aegis of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and participating in the 1976 rescue of Israelis held hostage at an airport in Entebbe, Uganda.
In the 1980s, after retiring from the Mossad, he was an aide to Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Panamanian dictator who was ousted in an American invasion in 1989 and imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering.
Mr. Harari’s precise relationship to General Noriega was the subject of much speculation. He was variously said to have been a military adviser, an organizer of security forces, an intermediary in arms deals and a business partner, but Mr. Harari denied all of it.
“I’m not Noriega’s adviser, and I never was,” he said in an interview on Israeli television shortly after he vanished from Panama on Dec. 20, 1989, the day of the American invasion. “Noriega is not my partner. I didn’t run his business. I didn’t manage or instruct his forces. I didn’t organize his personal bodyguards.”
Mr. Harari joined the Mossad in 1954 and was appointed to lead its special operations division, known as Caesarea, in 1970. For a decade, he was at the forefront of the Israeli fight against Palestinian terrorism. Reportedly, it was Mr. Harari who established within Caesarea the unit called Kidon (Hebrew for bayonet), which specialized in assassinations.
Shortly after the massacre in the Munich Olympic Village by a Palestinian group known as Black September, Golda Meir, then the Israeli prime minister, approved a Mossad plan to seek out and kill those deemed responsible.
It is uncertain how many of those targeted had actually taken part in the Munich attacks. But in a calamitous error in July 1973, members of Mr. Harari’s team who had traveled to Norway in pursuit of the terrorists mistook an innocent Moroccan there for a Black September leader, Ali Hassan Salameh, and gunned him down as he walked with his wife on a street in the city of Lillehammer.
Mr. Harari escaped from Norway, but six Israelis were arrested there and charged with complicity in the killing. Five were convicted and given sentences of one to five and a half years in prison; Norway later pardoned three of them.
Mr. Salameh was killed in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1979 by a remote-controlled bomb, in an operation said to have been engineered by Mr. Harari. In Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film about the massacre, “Munich,” Mr. Harari was portrayed by the Israeli actor Moshe Ivgy.
Mr. Harari was born in Tel Aviv on Feb. 18, 1927. As a teenager, he joined Haganah, the Jewish militia that preceded the Israeli Army. Some sources say he enlisted at 16 after lying about his age so that he could be admitted to Palmach, Haganah’s elite fighting unit.
After World War II, he was sent to Europe to help Jewish survivors of the Holocaust immigrate illegally to Palestine, which was then controlled by the British. After the State of Israel was established in 1948, he worked for the government security agency known as Shin Bet.
Mr. Harari’s survivors could not be confirmed, but Israeli and English news reports said they included a wife, two children and five grandchildren.
In 1976, Mr. Harari participated in the planning and execution of Operation Entebbe, a counterterrorism mission to rescue 103 hostages being held at the Entebbe airport in Uganda. Seven men — five Palestinians and two Germans — had hijacked an Air France flight bound for Paris from Tel Aviv after a stop in Athens. They demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and four other countries.
Israeli paratroopers and commandos killed the hijackers and flew back to Israel with the freed captives. Three hostages died during the operation, along with 20 Ugandan soldiers and the commander of the Israeli troops, Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, a brother of the future prime minister.
Mr. Harari was said to have done advance work in Entebbe in which he managed to talk his way into the airport control tower disguised as a businessman from Italy.
But much of his career remains shrouded in secrecy. The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Mr. Harari belonged to a “rare breed of builders of the state.”
“Most of Mike Harari’s actions for the security of the State of Israel as a fighter and a commander in the Mossad are unknown and will never be known,” Mr. Ya’alon said.