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Uzi Gal, 79; Invented Popular Israeli Submachine Gun in 1954

September 10, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Uzi Gal, who invented the Uzi submachine gun favored by military commandos, Secret Service agents, underworld figures and a variety of Hollywood film characters, has died. He was 79.

Gal, who had suffered from cancer and other illnesses for many years, died Saturday in his Philadelphia home.

First made in 1954 by Israel Military Industries, the weapon has been sold in 90 countries.

More than 2 million guns have been produced, making hundreds of millions of dollars for Israel, but not a shekel for Gal, who was a government weapons expert.

Born in Germany, the son of a painter, Gal fled to England with his parents in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. Three years later, the family moved to Palestine and the Kibbutz Yagur near Haifa.

Uzi attended technical school and showed an early proclivity for inventing weapons. At 15, he created a bow that could automatically fire arrows.

Before he could complete an engineering degree, he was recruited by Palmach, the elite unit of the pre-state of Israel army Hagana to head its armaments department. In 1943 he was imprisoned by the British, then in control of what would become Israel, for carrying weapons illegally.

Released three years later, Gal became a force in weapons development in the fight for independence and later in the postwar Israel armament industry. He became adept at designing computer programs to build weapons as well as the weapons themselves.

But his best-known creation would be the Uzi and its variations.

The low-cost gun known for its reliability and simplicity, with its short barrel, limited recoil and 100-round magazine in the handgrip, made an immediate impact in the mid-1950s.

"It was a great moment for the state of Israel," Gal told a London newspaper in 1997. "Because never in 2,000 years had there been such a thing: A weapon that the Jewish people had made for themselves, and I designed it from the ground up."

The Netherlands became the first country outside Israel to buy Uzis for its army in 1958, and Belgium and Germany quickly followed.

Israel forces notably utilized the Uzi in the 1967 Six-Day War and in their daring hostage rescue operation at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976.

The gun was etched in American consciousness in 1981 when a Secret Service agent was photographed brandishing an Uzi after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

The Uzi also has appeared in less heroic photographs of street gangs, drug lords and other criminals and on movie screens in the hands of the villains.

That kind of notoriety prompted a Barbara Walters television special more than a decade ago stressing the dangers of permitting Uzis and other automatic weapons to fall into the public's hands.

But an Israeli Military Industries official reported that sales doubled the day after the program appeared.

"I suppose even bad people can recognize the best," he said.

Gal moved to Philadelphia some years ago.

But he continued to design weapons for Israel, especially guns that could be sold in the United States.

No information on survivors was available.

Gal will be buried Thursday in Kibbutz Yagur in Israel.

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