Aharon ("Aharale") Rabinovich (later Yariv) was born in Moscow in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. He immigrated to Mandatory Palestine at the age of 15 and studied at the Pardes Hanna Agricultural High School. He began his military service in the Haganah in 1938, and later the British Army.
Yariv served in the Israel Defense Forces as a field officer. Among his duties he commanded the Golani Brigade. Later he served as the Israeli military attaché to Washington. From 1964 to 1972, he was head of Aman, the IDF's military intelligence. After the Munich Massacre in 1972, he became Prime Minister Golda Meir's advisor on counterterrorism and directed Operation Wrath of God. During the October War of 1973 he led the Israeli military delegation at the Kilometer 101 talks with Egypt's General Mohamed Abdel Ghani el-Gamasy which endeavoured to bring about a military disengagement treaty.Stein, Kenneth W. Heroic Diplomacy. New York: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-92155-4, p97-116
After leaving the army, he joined the Alignment. He was elected to the Knesset in the 1973 elections, and was appointed Transportation Minister, and then Information Minister. He resigned from the latter post in 1975, and then from the Knesset shortly before the 1977 elections. In March 1979 he concluded the PLO had failed to disrupt normal life, halt immigration or deter tourism.Eveland, Wibur Crane (1980) Ropes of Sand. America's Failure in the Middle East. W.W.Norton. ISBN 0-393-01336-7. Page 352.
In an article dated Tuesday, May 17, 1994, Joseph Finklestone of The Independent wrote "Yariv's lasting fame depends not on his prescience as a politician, though he was both an astute negotiator and an excellent communicator. Israelis, so predominantly concerned with security and of knowing or guessing the evil schemes being concocted by their enemies, will always put him on a special pedestal for being the architect of the Israeli Defence Forces' modern intelligence doctrine and apparatus. His cool and meticulous collection of facts about the Arab armies, their strength and their weakness, the characters of the Arab generals and leaders and the use of both technological hearing and photographic devices, allied to dependable agents on the ground, provided the Israeli forces with immense advantages. He recognised that even some apparently trivial facts could be of outstanding use."
Yariv's exceptional negotiating and communicating skills were once again called upon when he was temporarily brought out of retirement some time around 1990 at almost seventy years old. Various Islamic extremist groups had kidnapped dozens of children from an Ethiopian school for Jews. They offered to release the children in exchange for almost three hundred prisoners being held in Israeli prisons as well as two Mossad agents suspected of assassinations throughout Europe and the Middle East. Yariv had been quoted in the papers asking, "How can we give what we do not know exists?" A rescue mission utilizing Israeli commandos was considered but eventually ruled out since it had been reported the children ranging six to twelve years old were bound by electrical cords attached to hand grenades. Yariv was brought in on an official capacity to negotiate the release of the children. After days of intense negotiations a male and female of American and Canadian descent had voluntarily flown to Israel to turn themselves in as private citizens. With no admittance of guilt or official association with any Israeli or American intelligence agency they would then turn themselves over to the terrorists once the children were released and in safety. The American and Canadian were scheduled to leave Jerusalem for Amman. From there they would be transported to Tabriz, a city in the north of Iran, where they would be tried for "crimes against Allah and the people of Islam." Yariv had arranged the transfer with five conditions: 1. The release of every child. 2. A private trial for the suspected agents with no videos, photographs or reporters. 3. No sexual contact with the female, coerced Islamic conversions or public interrogations of either of the suspected agents. 4. In what was considered to be a certain conviction and death penalty there were to be no public displays of the actual execution or the executed bodies. The Islamic groups would not agree to a death penalty of hanging instead of decapitation. 5. The bodies would be returned to Israel for proper burial.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir conveyed through Yariv that if any of the conditions were violated "then no country, organization, group or individual involved in the hostage taking of our Jewish children would be free from the full weight of the IDF."
Just hours before the deadline and the exchange on the Israeli border all of the Jewish children were released and the two agents were flown back to their respective countries. There were no official explanations as to why the children were released or why the suspected agents were not taken in to captivity but many credit Yariv's counsel and negotiating skills for a peaceful resolution.
Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister at the time of his death, gave the eulogy at his funeral in 1994. Yariv was played by actor Amos Lavi in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film Munich.