Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s modest, hardline ex-PM, dies at 96 (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF 06/30/12)
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Pre-’48 underground leader, Mossad agent, and seventh prime minister
passes away after long illness; Netanyahu mourns a ‘founder of the
Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s seventh prime minister, died on Saturday
Shamir was 96. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several
Shamir fought in radical pre-state undergrounds to oust the British
from Palestine, served in the Mossad, was a Knesset member and
Knesset Speaker, held several ministerial positions and ultimately
served as prime minister.
Ruthless as an underground leader, he was an obdurate politician,
robustly unmoving on his commitment to Greater Israel, and
mistrusting of Arab willingness for reconciliation. Personally, he
was modest and understated, qualities that meant he was eulogized
Saturday night even by politicians firmly opposed to his world view.
As prime minister, Shamir oversaw a major immigration airlift of Jews
from Ethiopia, reluctantly attended the Madrid peace conference, and
memorably kept Israel out of the first Gulf War even after it was
attacked by more than three dozen Scud missiles fired by Saddam
Hussein — a position that showed he could be far-sighted and
pragmatic, even at the expense of his hard-line instincts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised him as “one of the founders
of the state” and a man of profound loyalty “to his people and to the
Shamir was born Icchak Jeziernicky in Belarus in 1915. A member of
the Betar Revisionist Zionist youth movement, he moved to pre-state
Palestine in 1935, and was active in the militant Irgun Zvai Leumi
and Stern Gang pre-state undergrounds, causing him to be singled out
and hunted by the British.
The family he left behind were mostly killed in the Holocaust. His
father, he would reveal in the 1980s, was killed by childhood friends
from his own village. Those experiences, many of his colleagues
believed, were central in shaping Shamir’s intransigent political
views and determined battling for Israel’s security.
Captured and jailed by the British authorities in 1941, he escaped
the following year and became a leader of the Lehi — the renamed
During the War of Independence, Shamir was one of those who approved
the assassination of the United Nations representative in the Middle
East, Count Bernadotte — one of the actions that led the mainstream
nascent Israeli leadership to enforce the dismantling of the Lehi and
the establishment of a single Israeli military force.
Shamir was recruited into the Mossad intelligence service in the mid-
1950s, where he oversaw the killings of several former Nazi
scientists who were working on an Egyptian rocket program.
He entered politics late in the 1960s, joining Herut, the precursor
to the Likud, under Menachem Begin. Winning election to the Knesset
in 1973, he became Speaker four years later — in which capacity he
hosted Egyptian president Anwar Sadat on his first visit to Israel.
He was later foreign minister, and then succeeded Begin, who resigned
as prime minister in 1983, in the wake of Israel’s controversial
invasion of Lebanon the previous year.
Highly skeptical about Arab readiness for genuine reconciliation with
Israel, Shamir had a difficult relationship with Israel’s key
American allies because of his disinclination to give ground to the
Palestinians. He was not unpopular at home, but his failure to
quickly draw Israel out of Lebanon was a factor in his failure to win
the 1984 elections outright. Instead he entered a “rotation”
agreement with Labor’s Shimon Peres under which Peres and he held the
prime ministership for two years each.
He formed another coalition with Peres in 1988, but after Peres tried
and failed to unseat him and then left the government, Shamir headed
a right-wing coalition from 1990.
It was during this period that he kept Israel out of the Gulf War, to
the relief of the Americans leading the coalition to oust Saddam.
In May 1991, he approved a weekend airlift of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews
to Israel, rescuing them from a country in the midst of civil war.
Under heavy American pressure, he attended that October’s Madrid
peace conference, but said later he did not intend to move toward
statehood for the Palestinians.
His hard-line stance on the Palestinian issue contributed to his
defeat to Yitzhak Rabin in the 1992 elections, and he quit as Likud
leader in 1993, leaving the Knesset three years later.
Shamir had been suffering from Alzheimer’s since 2004. His wife
Shulamit, with whom he had two children, Yair and Gilad, passed away
last year. (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 06/30/12)
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