Reuven Shiloah (Zaslani) was a Zionist political officer, Israeli diplomat and first director of the Mossad. Born in Jerusalem, to Sarah and Rabbi Yitzchak Aharon Zaslanski, he graduated from Tahkemoni school and the David Yellin Teachers Seminar. He shortened his last name to Zaslani, and was known to many by this name. He then chose his underground resistance alias Shiloah as his last name. Shiloah possessed expertise on Arab affairs, combined with political imagination and a talent for analysis of international affairs.
In 1931, at the age of 22, Shiloah was one of the yishuv’s first emissaries to the Jews in Middle East countries, engaging in covert missions in Baghdad and Kurdistan. He later became active in the Histadrut before transferring to the Jewish Agency’s Political Department (1936).
During World War II, Shiloah coordinated the yishuv’s war effort with that of the Allies. He was involved in recruiting Jews for the British Army, and convincing the British to include them in operations to save Jews in occupied Europe. He organized the parachuting of members of the Haganah into enemy territory, including Hannah Senesh and her friends into Hungary. Shiloah also organized other intelligence operations against the Axis powers, and was active in rescue missions to save the remnants of European Jewry.
Upon the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), Shiloah formed its political intelligence service and coordinated it with military and security intelligence. One of his important achievements was obtaining the Arab League’s invasion plans.
In 1949, he participated in the cease-fire talks in Rhodes and Lausanne with Israel’s neighboring Arab countries and was involved in collecting intelligence while also developing personal contacts with their representatives. In 1949–1950, he participated in Golda Meir’s talks with King Abdullah of Jordan. He also initiated developing ties with the periphery countries (Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia).
On December 13, 1949, David Ben-Gurion appointed Shiloah to establish and head the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (HaMossad LeModi'in U'LeTafkidim Meyuchadim), more commonly known as the Mossad. On March 2, 1951, Ben-Gurion ordered Shiloah to set up the “Directorate” to take all overseas intelligence operations under its wing. As Mossad director, Shiloah worked to end Israel’s isolation. He also developed contacts with the CIA and other Western intelligence services. He retired in 1952 and was replaced by Isser Harel.
After a term of service as minister at the Israel embassy in Washington (1953–57), Shiloah was appointed political adviser to the minister of foreign affairs with ambassadorial rank. His later years were spent in quiet diplomacy seeking closer ties between Israel and the non-Arab countries of the Middle East and Africa.
Reuven Shiloah passed away on May 10, 1959.