Yehoshua Zettler, leader of Jewish underground; at 91
JERUSALEM - Yehoshua Zettler, one of the founding members of a violent prestate Jewish movement and mastermind of the assassination of a top UN envoy in 1948, has died in Israel. He was 91.
His wife, Bella, another member of the LEHI movement, also known as the Stern Gang, said Mr. Zettler suffered a stroke and died last week. LEHI is a Hebrew acronym for Israel Freedom Fighters.
Mr. Zettler was one of the original members of the militant Irgun group and its more extreme breakaway LEHI faction, serving under two future Israeli prime ministers - Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
He spent seven years in prison for his role in a bank robbery. Later, as the LEHI Jerusalem commander, he participated in several battles during Israel's war of independence in 1948-49.
However, he was most renowned for planning the assassination of United Nations mediator Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem in September 1948.
Bernadotte was a member of the Swedish royal family and, as the UN envoy, he was responsible for mediating between Jews and Arabs to try to stop the war that followed Israel's creation.
He angered LEHI members by suggesting that the boundaries of a 1947 UN partition plan be revised to put Jerusalem under UN control and hand Israel's Negev desert to Jordan.
Previously, as head of the Swedish Red Cross during World War II, Bernadotte negotiated with top Nazi Heinrich Himmler to save thousands of Jews from concentration camps.
LEHI commanders considered Bernadotte to be a British agent who cooperated with the Nazis. They picked Zettler to have him killed. A LEHI team blocked his limousine, and a gunman killed Bernadotte and a French officer in the car.
Following the war, Zettler settled in Tel Aviv, where he owned a gas station.
"This country owes him a great debt that Jerusalem is today in our hands," said ultranationalist lawmaker Arieh Eldad, whose father, Yisrael, was one of LEHI's leaders. "It was not clear at the time if the country [Israel] would survive, and Bernadotte was suggesting to hand Jerusalem over to the Arabs."
Mr. Zettler, who died May 20, was buried May 21 in Tel Aviv. He leaves his wife and a daughter.