Jerusalem, July 1 – Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s prime minister through much of the 1980s and into the Nineties, died on Saturday, aged 96.
His short stature and grandfatherly-looks belied the man underneath – a tough veteran of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and former underground fighter whose family perished in the Holocaust.
Shamir, who was fluent in at least a half dozen languages, started his political career in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in 1973 as a member of the Likud. Before becoming prime minister in 1983 he served as speaker of the house and foreign minister.
Known as a hard-line defender of a country facing constant threats to its security, Shamir lived through Israel’s tumultuous decades of rebuilding and fighting off repeated wars and terrorist attacks. His tenures as prime minister oversaw significant events including leading Israel at the Madrid peace conference in 1991, and ordering the rescue of over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 1991, who were flown to Israel in a massive secret airlift.
“With an open heart, we call on the Arab leaders to take the courageous step and respond to our outstretched hand in peace,” Shamir said in Madrid.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to Shamir, saying he “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,” Netanyahu eulogized. “Shamir…worked to build up the security of the State of Israel and ensure its future; the citizens of the country were ever his concern. Shamir personified loyalty to the Land of Israel and the eternal values of the Jewish People."
A state funeral is planned for Monday, July 2. Shamir will be interred in the national cemetery on Mount Herzl alongside the graves of other prime ministers.