June 30. 2012: Yitzchak Shamir, Israel’s seventh Prime Minister, has passed away at the age of 96 at a nursing home in Herzliya Saturday. His funeral is expected to take place on Monday, July 2, 2012. Born Yitzhak Jazernicki in 1915 in Belarus,Poland, he moved to pre-state Israel in 1935. Barely over five feet tall and built like a block of granite, Shamir projected an image of uncompromising solidity at a time when Arab Palestinians rose up in the West Bank and Gaza, demanding an end to Israeli occupation of the Israelite Holy Land. Shamir, throughout his life believed that Israel should keep its territory and never trust an Arab regime. He embraced the ideology that Israel is the sole owner of all of the biblical Holy Land, made up of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Regarding his view of territorial compromise for peace, Shamir stated often that Israel had already given up 80 per cent of the Land of Israel in a reference to Jordan.
Shamir made his reputation as a leader in the days before the state’s re-establishment, with his participation in the uprising against British Mandate control of the Land of Israel. In 1940, he joined the Lehi (National Military Organization), the most hardline of three Jewish movements resisting British mandatory authorities and taking over the Lehi leadership after the British killed its founder. Captured twice, he escaped from two British detention camps and returned to resistance action. The second camp was in Djibouti, in Africa. He was arrested in 1941 for his activities against the British. He was exiled to Africa by the British in 1944, and fought against the Arabs with the Lehi for the independence of the State. After the establishment of the State, he served in the Mossad for ten years. In 2001, he won the Israel Prize for his activities on behalf of Israel, the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Israel Prize awarded annually to outstanding citizens in several fields.
Shamir was Prime Minister of Israel twice, in 1983-84 and 1986-92. He presided as head of the nation over numerous important events in Israeli history, most notably the Gulf War, in which Israel was attacked by dozens of Iraqi Scud missiles. Shamir acceded to demands by the United States that Israel not respond to the Iraqi attacks, lest the coalition of Arab nations aligned against Saddam Hussein disband. Shamir also ordered the massive airlift of Ethiopian Jews in 1991, known as Operation Solomon. Shamir’s government collapsed after several parties left the coalition in the wake of Israel’s particiaption in the Madrid Talks.
Defeated in the 1992 election, he 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 Yasser 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.” The Labor movement, in power for Israel’s first three decades, agreed to a 1947 U.N.-proposed partition plan to allow the creation of the Jewish state alongside a Palestinian entity. To Shamir and other Revisionists, that was tantamount to treason.
After Israel was founded in 1948, Shamir was in business for a few years before entering a career in Israel’s Mossad spy agency. In the mid-1960s he emerged to join the right-wing Herut party, which evolved into the present-day Likud. Shamir succeeded Menahem Begin as prime minister in 1983. His term was marked by the Arab Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the Holy Land, and the 1991 Gulf war, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel. During the Gulf war, Shamir went along with American demands not to retaliate for the Iraqi missile strikes. After the war, the United States stepped up pressure to start a Middle East process that could lead in only one direction a compromise with the Arabs.
Exasperated by Shamir’s stubborn refusal to go along with their plans for a regional settlement, then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker once went on television, recited the switchboard number of the White House and told Shamir to call when he got serious about peace. Despite his deep mistrust of Arab intentions, Shamir agreed to attend the 1991 Middle East peace conference in Madrid, sponsored by the United States and Russia. Shamir rejected the deals his successors made with the Arab Palestinians, in which Israel turned over control of some West Bank land to the Palestinians.
His pleasure at the 1996 election victory of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu soured when Netanyahu continued to negotiate with the Palestinians and carry out land-for-security deals.Before the 1999 election, Shamir resigned from the Likud and joined a new right-wing block called National Union, headed by Begin’s son, Ze’ev Binyamin. The party, which rejected any turnover of land to the Palestinians, won only four seats in parliament, though it had seven members of the outgoing legislature on its list.
In a statement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahi stated that Shamir was “a member of the generation of giants that established the State of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people in its land. As Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shamir acted to ensure the security of the State of Israel and its future, and was a sterling example of faithfulness to the future of the Jewish people.” Netanyahu, “expressed deep sadness over the death of Yitzchak Shamir.”