Yitzhak Shamir - biography
Yitzhak Shamir (Hebrew: יִצְחָק שָׁמִיר, born October 15, 1915) was the seventh Prime Minister of Israel from 1983 to 1984 and again from 1986 to 1992.
Yitzhak Shamir was born Icchak Jeziernicky in Ruzhany (Yiddish: Rozhinoy), Russian Empire (now Belarus). He studied at a Hebrew High School in Białystok, Poland. As a youth he joined Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement. He studied at the law faculty of Warsaw University, but cut his studies short to immigrate to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1935, after settling in Palestine, he Hebraized his surname to Shamir. He joined the Irgun Zvai Leumi, an underground Jewish militia organization that opposed British control of Palestine. When the Irgun split in 1940, Shamir sided with the more militant faction, Lehi, headed by Avraham Stern. In secret contacts with German representatives at Beirut the group offered to open up a military front against the British in the Middle East in return for the expulsion (rather than extermination) of the Jewish population of Europe to Palestine.
In 1941 Shamir was imprisoned by British authorities. After Stern was killed by the British in 1942, Shamir escaped from the detention camp and became one of the three leaders of the group in 1943, reforming it as "Lehi". In October 1944 he was exiled and interned in Africa by the Mandate authorities. He made an attempt to escape from one of the camps by hiding in a water tank. He was returned, along with the other detainees, after the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. As one of Lehi's triumvirate, he authorized the assassination of the United Nations representative in the Middle East, Count Folke Bernadotte, who was seen by Shamir and his collaborators as an anti-Zionist and "an obvious agent of the British enemy".
Shamir admired the Irish Republicans and sought to emulate their anti-British struggle. Shamir himself took the nickname "Michael" for Michael Collins. After the battle for independence, Shamir joined the secret intelligence service (Mossad) (1955–1965).
In 1969, Shamir joined the Herut party headed by Menachem Begin and was first elected to the Knesset in 1973 as a member of the Likud. He became Speaker of the Knesset in 1977, and foreign minister in 1980, before succeeding Begin as prime minister in 1983 when he retired.
Shamir had a reputation as a Likud hard-liner. In 1977 he presided at the Knesset visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He abstained in the Knesset votes to approve the Camp David Accords and the Peace Treaty with Egypt. In 1981 and 1982, as Foreign Minister, he guided negotiations with Egypt to normalize relations after the treaty. Following the 1982 Lebanon War he directed negotiations which led to the May 17, 1983 Agreement agreement with Lebanon, which did not materialize.
His failure to stabilize Israel's inflationary economy and to suggest a solution to the quagmire of Lebanon led to an indecisive election in 1984, after which a national unity government was formed between his Likud party and the Alignment led by Shimon Peres. As part of the agreement, Peres held the post of Prime Minister until September 1986, when Shamir took over.
As he prepared to reclaim the office of prime minister, which he had held previously from October 1983 to September 1984, Shamir's hard-line image appeared to moderate. However Shamir remained reluctant to change the status quo in Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors, and blocked Peres's initiative to promote a regional peace conference as agreed in 1987 with King Hussein of Jordan in what has become known as the London Agreement. Re-elected in 1988, Shamir and Peres formed a new coalition government until "the dirty trick" of 1990, when the Alignment left the government, leaving Shamir with a narrow right-wing coalition.
During the First Gulf War Shamir's government decided not to retaliate after the Iraqi Scud missile volleys (many of which struck Israeli population centers) . The United States urged restraint, saying Israeli attacks would jeopardize the delicate Arab-Western coalition assembled against Iraq. In May 1991, as the Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was collapsing, Shamir ordered the airlifting of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, known as Operation Solomon. Relations with the US were actually strained in the period after the war, over the Madrid peace talks which Shamir opposed. As a result, US President George Herbert Walker Bush was reluctant to approve loan guarantees needed to help absorb the large immigration from the former Soviet Union. Finally, Shamir gave in and in October 1991 participated in the Madrid talks. His narrow right wing government collapsed as a result, over the participation of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and new elections were called.
Electoral defeat and retirement
Shamir was defeated by Yitzhak Rabin's Labour in the 1992 election. He stepped down from the Likud leadership in March 1993, but remained a member of the Knesset until the 1996 election. For some time, Shamir was a critic of his Likud successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, as being too indecisive in dealing with the Arabs. Shamir went so far as to resign from the Likud in 1998 and endorse the right-wing splinter movement led by Benny Begin, Herut - The National Movement, that later joined the National Union during the 1999 election. After Netanyahu was defeated, Shamir returned to the Likud fold and supported Ariel Sharon in the 2001 election. Subsequently, in his late eighties, Shamir ceased making public comments.
In 2001, Shamir received the Israel Prize, for his lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel. According to Israeli politician Ruby Rivlin, Shamir was "an honest politician who performed his duties with utter integrity." Former head of Israeli Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, calls him a "remarkably honest man."
In 1944 he married Shulamit Shamir (born in 1923), whom he met in a detention camp. Shulamit immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria in 1941 and was sent to prison because she came to Mandatory Palestine illegally, on a rickety boat. They have two children, Yair and Gilada. In 2004, his health declined and he was moved to a nursing home. The government turned down a request by the family to finance his stay at the facility.
He wrote his autobiography Sikumo shel davar, published in English as Summing Up: an autobiography, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1994 ISBN 0297813374