Rafael Eitan, whose name has surfaced repeatedly as a key figure in the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American naval analyst accused of selling secrets to Israel, is a legendary figure in Israeli intelligence circles.

Eitan, who is not related to the former Israeli chief of staff of the same name, has spent most of his career in intelligence and served as an adviser on terrorism to former prime minister Menachem Begin. He is a close political ally of Ariel Sharon, the controversial former defense minister who currently is minister of trade.

One of the most famous of Israel's intelligence operatives, Eitan is commonly referred to as Rafi Hamasria, or Rafi the Stinker, be-cause of his legendary covert operations, including his role in the abduction in 1960 of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires. He reputedly was the member of the Israeli kidnap team who put the former Nazi to sleep as he was bundled away. Eichmann was brought to Israel, where he was tried and executed.

Eitan rose to become head of operations of Mossad, Israel's external intelligence service, leaving it in the mid-1970s when Sharon, then Labor Party prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's security adviser, recruited him to be his assistant.

In March 1976, Eitan left the Labor government with Sharon and entered private business, setting up a fishing enterprise in El Arish in the Sinai, then occupied by Israel. He also established a business in France but is said to have retained his connections with Mossad.

In July 1978, he was named by Begin as an adviser on terrorism, having maintained close association with right-wing politicians as a member of the central committee of the Herut Party, the core party of the Likud bloc. Like Begin, Eitan was a former member of Irgun, the Jewish nationalist underground movement that used terrorist tactics against the British rulers of Palestine before Israel became an independent nation.

An outspoken person, Eitan caused a storm of controversy just after the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 when he told Israeli radio: "The Israeli people have gone through 100 years of Zionism and terror. I believe we still face 100 years of Zionism, and until the Israeli nation resides securely on its land, . . . another 100 years of terror."

When Labor Party leader Shimon Peres became prime minister of the national unity government in September 1984, Eitan stayed on for only about a month before quitting, ostensibly to reenter private life. He reportedly has retained a salaried post with Mossad.

Eitan participated in February of this year in a panel that heard testimony against Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele before evidence of Mengele's death in Brazil was discovered.

Asked Friday about reports that he was involved in the Pollard case, Eitan told the newspaper Maariv: "I may have something to say, but at a later stage. At this point, the wisest thing is not to respond to all of the attacks against me because past experience proves that the best thing an intelligence man can do is stay away from the media. Concerning the mention of my name in the American and local press as the man who recruited and operated Pollard, perhaps this is a mistake. My name is in the news by mistake."