Yitzhak Shamir, 96, Israeli statesman

Yitzhak Shamir
Yitzhak Shamir (NATI HARNICK / Associated Press, file)
Posted: July 02, 2012

JERUSALEM - Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, 96, who clung throughout his life to the belief that Israel should hang on to territory and never trust an Arab regime, died Saturday at a nursing home in the town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

Israeli media said Mr. Shamir had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for years.

In his younger days, Mr. Shamir served as a Jewish underground leader who fought the British as well as Arab militias before Israel's creation in 1948. Later, he hunted Nazi scientists as a Mossad agent before eventually becoming Israel's seventh prime minister.

His time in office was eventful, marked by the airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the Palestinian uprising, and the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.

Israelis across the political spectrum paid tribute to the former leader Saturday.

"Yitzhak Shamir was a brave warrior before and after the founding of the State of Israel," said Israeli President Shimon Peres, a longtime political opponent of Mr. Shamir. "He was loyal to his views, a great patriot, and a true lover of Israel who served his country with integrity and unending commitment. May his memory be blessed."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mr. Shamir "led Israel with a deep loyalty to the nation and to the land and to the eternal values of the Jewish people."

Mr. Shamir served as prime minister for seven years, from 1983-84 and 1986-92, leading his party to election victories twice, despite lacking much of the outward charisma that characterizes many modern politicians. Barely over 5 feet tall and built like a block of granite, he projected an image of uncompromising solidity during the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in the West Bank and Gaza that demanded an end to Israeli occupation.

Defeated in the 1992 election, Mr. Shamir stepped down as head of the Likud party and watched from the sidelines as his successor, Yitzhak Rabin, negotiated interim land-for-peace agreements with the Palestinians.

The agreements, including Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's recognition of Israel, did nothing to ease his suspicion.

In a 1997 interview with the New York-based Jewish Post, he declared: "The Arabs will always dream to destroy us. I do not believe that they will recognize us as part of this region."

Born Yitzhak Jazernicki in what is now Poland in 1915, Mr. Shamir moved to pre-state Palestine in 1935. Most of his family stayed behind and was killed in the Holocaust during World War II.

Once in Palestine, Mr. Shamir joined LEHI, the most hard line of three Jewish movements fighting for independence from the British mandate authorities, taking over the group's leadership after the British killed its founder.

LEHI was behind the assassination of U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem in September 1948. LEHI commanders considered Bernadotte to be a British agent who cooperated with the Nazis.

Mr. Shamir often disguised himself as an Orthodox rabbi to avoid arrest by the British. Still, he was captured twice but escaped from two British detention camps and returned to resistance action. The second camp was in Djibouti, in Africa.

After Israel was founded in 1948, Mr. Shamir went into business before entering a career in Israel's Mossad spy agency.

During that time, he carried out operations against Nazi scientists who were helping Israel's Arab neighbors build rockets.

In the mid-1960s, he emerged to join the right-wing Herut party, which evolved into the present-day Likud.

Mr. Shamir succeeded Menachem Begin as prime minister in 1983 in the aftermath of Israel's disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

His pleasure at the 1996 election victory of Likud leader Netanyahu soured when Netanyahu continued to negotiate with the Palestinians and carry out land-for-security deals.

In 2001, Mr. Shamir was given his nation's highest civilian honor, the Israel Prize, awarded annually to outstanding citizens in several fields.

"Dad was an amazing man," Mr. Shamir's daughter, Gilada, told the Israeli news site Ynet. "He was a family man in the fullest sense of the word, a man who dedicated himself to the State of Israel but never forgot his family, not even for a moment."

Israeli media said a funeral would be held Monday. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said the funeral procession would leave from Israel's parliament.

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