Former Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir dies


YITZHAK SHAMIR, Israel’s seventh prime minister, and its most dogmatic and uncompromising leader, will be buried in Jerusalem today after his death on Saturday aged 96.

Mr Shamir was born in Poland in 1915. After serving in the Jewish underground in Palestine in the 1940s he spent a decade in the Mossad before being drafted into the right-wing Herut party, precursor to the Likud, by its leader Menachem Begin in the 1970s.

He was appointed foreign minister in 1980 but, when Begin suddenly retired in 1983, Mr Shamir became a compromise candidate to succeed him – alternating the post with Labour’s Shimon Peres for a four-year term. Mr Shamir secured his own term in 1988. He entered opposition when Labour’s Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992 and finally retired from politics a few years later.

Mr Shamir was eulogised by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu after a minute’s silence was observed at yesterday’s cabinet meeting. Mr Netanyahu said Mr Shamir “belonged to the generation of giants who founded the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people”.

He referred to Mr Shamir’s controversial statement that summed up the essence of his political thought: “The sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the same Arabs”, implying that as the sea does not change, neither would the Arabs accept Israel and make peace.

Mr Netanyahu said Mr Shamir “may have been criticised 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.”

One of Mr Shamir’s key decisions as prime minister was his policy of restraint during the 1991 Gulf War when he decided that Israel would not retaliate despite Iraqi Scud missiles striking population centres.

He also agreed, under intense US pressure, to participate in the Madrid peace conference that year, during which Israeli teams held parallel talks with Syrian, Lebanese and a joint Palestinian-Jordanian group. The decision prompted three small right-wing parties to quit his coalition.

He backed massive Jewish settlement-building and also sent reinforcements to the West Bank and Gaza to quell the Palestinian intifada, which erupted in December 1987.