Israel mourns death of its seventh prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who
died Saturday • A former member of the Jewish underground and the
Mossad, Shamir rose to become one of the longest-serving premiers and
was widely credited for not dragging Israel into 1991 Gulf War and
orchestrating massive Aliyah waves.
Israel´s seventh prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, passed away on
Saturday at the age of 96. Shamir´s coffin will lie in state at the
Knesset plaza on Monday to allow Israelis to pay their last respects
before the funeral procession commences later that day. Shamir, who
suffered from Alzheimer´s disease, will be buried in the plot
reserved for the nation´s leaders in Mt. Herzl National Cemetery in
Shamir served intermittently as prime minister from 1983 to 1992 as
the head of the Likud. Before entering politics, he worked at the
Israeli spy agency, the Mossad, and was a member of the Revisionist
underground movements Irgun and Lehi in pre-state Israel. Soon after
his health began to fail in the early part of the last decade, he
took residence at a Herzliya nursing home, where he stayed until his
death. He is survived by two children, Gilada and Yair, and five
Shamir´s daughter, Gilada Shamir-Diamant told Army Radio Sunday that
his death was not unexpected. "I could hug him, even though we were
not able to communicate so well," she said. "He would sometime take
my hand and place it next to his heart; sometimes he would have this
twinkle in his eye, which made me think he was aware of what was
taking place around him."
Michal Diamant, Shamir´s granddaughter, told Army Radio she "admired
him." She also recalled the many hours she spent with him. "The more
I got to know him the more I appreciated this man and his unique
personality. Unlike his image of a man who had a spine of steel, he
was a very warm and loving person, particularly over the past several
years." She added that when she asked him if Israel has nuclear
weapon capabilities, he said he didn´t know. "He didn´t like talking
Soon after news broke of Shamir´s passing, Israeli leaders eulogized
the former premier. President Shimon Peres, who was Shamir´s
political archenemy and his senior partner in two national unity
governments, said that Shamir was "a brave fighter both before and
after the founding of the state; he fought with courage against the
British Mandate in the era of the underground movements and his great
contribution at the Mossad will forever be etched in our nation´s
history that tells the story of brave individuals. He was true to his
convictions, a great patriot that loved his people and Israel, who
served his state with honor and dedication for dozens of years."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Peres, releasing a statement
that reflected great sorrow. "Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the
generation of giants that established the State of Israel and fought
for the freedom of the Jewish People in its Land. Shamir led the
State of Israel out of an abiding loyalty to the people and the land.
Shamir, who lost his family in the Holocaust, fought in the Lehi [a
right-wing underground group] and as prime minister worked to
strengthen the security of the State of Israel and ensure its future;
the citizens of the country were always his first and foremost
concern. Shamir showed exemplary loyalty to the Land of Israel and to
the Jewish people´s eternal values."
At Sunday´s weekly cabinet session the government observed a moment
of silence in memory of Shamir. The prime minister told ministers
that Shamir "who did not exude charisma, simply had an inner
charisma, which I believe is the most important thing." Netanyahu
went on to say that the people of Israel have lost "one of the
strongest leaders in our history." Referring to Shamir´s
controversial statement - "The sea is the same sea and the Arabs are
the same Arabs," implying that just like the sea doesn´t change, the
Arabs would never accept Israel and make peace with it - Netanyahu
said Shamir "may have been criticized back then, but today we know
that he did not tailor his inner truth according to the latest trends
in public opinion; people now know that these were well-thought out
words that carried a-lot of meaning; today we bid farewell to one of
our most fiercest defenders."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that "Shamir was an ideologue who
knew how to stand his ground — be it small or grave matters — but he
could also be pragmatic. His ability to exercise forbearance in the
face of missile attacks during the Gulf War [in 1991] was a testament
to the very levelheaded personality he had; he had Israel´s security
at heart more than anything else."
Deputy Prime Minister and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister MK
Dan Meridor, who served as Justice Minister under Shamir, said
that "without any doubt he always acted with great purpose; in 1991
he displayed an amazing ability to show restraint by refusing to
attack Iraq [in response to Scud missile attacks]; he then presided
over talks with Syria and fought against the U.S. decision to declare
the Soviet Jews as a having no national home. Shamir made it clear
back then that every Jew should come to Israel, and riled against
Jewish organizations in the U.S. I remember once when he took issue
with then-U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who told him, ´Since
1948 there are no nationless Jews.´ This is a small story that says a
lot about Shamir."
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said that Shamir "was resilient like a
granite rock who would did not take his eye off the ball and would
not compromise; he always asked himself what is right for the People
of Israel and how they will be best served."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that "Yitzhak Shamir was a
man of the Land of Israel in every bit of his body; he always stuck
to his guns regardless of the capacity in which he served, and was a
man of principles that served as an example."
Opposition leader MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said that "Shamir was
a determined prime minister who dedicated his life to the state and
while remaining true to his ideological world view, with integrity,
modesty and with a layman´s way of life, the way a leader should
behave. The citizens of Israel will forever remember the wisdom
displayed during the first Gulf War, when despite his hawkish views,
he showed restraint and exercised forbearance by avoiding a pointless
entanglement in a war."
Journalist Yosef "Yossi" Ahimeir, who was Shamir´s right-hand man
between 1984 and 1992, said Saturday that "he was, above all, a man
of principles who put his money where his mouth is; there was no
other leader who loved the Jewish people more than he did; he was
willing to accept a peace deal where the two sides exchange peace for
peace; he was willing to accept tactical compromises but not
Education Minister Gideon Sa´ar said that "Yitzhak Shamir was made of
steel, who had great inner strength that made him stand tall in the
defense of the People of Israel and the Land of Israel."
A White House statement said “Yitzhak Shamir dedicated his life to
the State of Israel. From his days working for Israel’s independence
to his service as prime minister, he strengthened Israel’s security
and advanced the partnership between the United States and Israel.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of
After he retired from politics, he was asked how he would have liked
to be remembered. His response, in what combined his two core traits
throughout his life, was — as a man who loved the Land of Israel and
had great modesty. "If history remembers me at all, I hope it will
remember me as someone who loved the Land of Israel and stood on
guard in its defense all his life, in every possible way."
Shamir, born Yitzhak Jaziernicki, was born to observant parents in
1915 in Ruzhany (a Polish town that is now part of Belarus). His
parents were Zionists and sent him to the Hebrew Gymansium, or
college preparatory school, in Bialystok, Poland. Upon turning 14, he
joined Beitar, a Zionist youth movement that espoused the nationalist
views of Revisionist leader Ze´ev Jabotinsky. In 1935, while studying
law in Warsaw, he decided to emigrate to British-controlled
Palestine, where he enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In 1937 he joined the Irgun, the nationalist right wing underground
movement, and later, in 1940, became a founder of one of its splinter
groups, the Lehi, or Stern Gang. When the group´s leader
Avraham "Yair" Stern was killed by the British authorities in 1942,
he became one of the group´s three top members. He was arrested twice
in 1940 by the British, and in both cases managed to escape. The
second time was from a detention facility in Eritrea.
Between 1955 and 1965 Shamir served as a senior Mossad official. He
entered politics in 1970, when he became a top politico at the Herut
party apparatus, the precursor to today´s Likud. Four years later he
was elected to the Knesset. In 1977 he was appointed Knesset Speaker
and three years later, upon the resignation of Moshe Dayan, he was
tapped by Prime Minister Menachem Begin to be his foreign minister.
When Begin resigned in 1983, Shamir took the reigns of government for
11 months until elections, in what eventually became an on-and-off
premiership spanning six and a half years. In the wake of the 1984
elections, neither the Left nor the Right could form a governing
coalition. Consequently, Labor and Likud signed a unique power-
sharing rotation agreement that had then-Labor leader Peres and
Shamir each serve as prime minister for half a term, or two years,
and as foreign minister while the other was in power.
After the 1988 elections Shamir formed a short-lived national unity
government. In 1990, Peres, as head of Labor, orchestrated a
successful no-confidence vote after which he was tasked with forming
an alternative coalition (known as "the Stinking Maneuver").
Eventually Shamir frustrated Peres´ efforts and established a new
narrow right-wing government that lasted until the 1992 elections.
Shamir´s public image owes much to his handling of the Gulf War
crisis in 1991, which had a lasting effect on his political career.
During the Persian Gulf War in January, Shamir overruled those in his
government who wanted to strike Iraq after Israeli population centers
were hit with Scud missiles. This decision won Shamir tremendous
respect among U.S. policy makers at the time. Later that year he
decided to take part in the Madrid Conference, sending Israeli
negotiators to peace talks with Syrian and Lebanese delegations, as
well as with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The Tehiya,
Tzomet and Moledet parties left the coalition to protest the talks.
This precipitated early elections in which Labor trounced Shamir´s
As prime minister, Shamir presided over one of the largest waves of
Jewish immigration, or aliyah. The biggest endeavor involved the
absorption of hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews who had been
allowed to emigrate by the communist regime. Shamir even encouraged
Washington policymakers to make Jews go through many hoops before
they could arrive in the U.S., hoping that such red tape would have
them choose Israel instead. Shamir also launched Operation Solomon,
in which 14,400 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted into Israel. Shamir won
the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and contribution to the
state in 2001.