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Biography of Yitzhak Shamir

Biography of Yitzhak Shamir

Yitzhak Shamir was Prime Minister and foreign Minister of Israel. -  He was seventh Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Born Yitzhak Yzernitzky (or Yezhernitsky or Jeziernicky)  in Ruzinoy (or Ruzhany), Poland in 1915. He may have attended Bialystok Hebrew secondary school and at age 14 joined the Betar youth movement.

He or his family apparently lived in Volkovysk, Belarus during his last years in Poland, but he also may have been studying law in Warsaw in the same period.

In 1935 he moved to Palestine and enrolled at the Hebrew University. In 1937, opposing the mainstream Zionist policy of restraint vis--vis the British Mandatory administration, Shamir joined the Irgun Tzeva'i Le'umi (Etzel) - the Revisionist underground organization - and in 1940 became a member of the small, but more militant, faction led by Avraham Stern, the Lehi (Lohamei Herut Israel - Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), that broke away from the larger body. There, as part of the leadership troika, he coordinated organizational and operational activities.

Zionism Yitzhak Shamir (Itzhak Shamir) Photo

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Twice arrested by the British - during and after World War II - Shamir escaped both times, the second time in 1947 from the British prison camp in Eritrea to neighboring French Djibouti. Granted political asylum in France, he returned to Palestine in 1948 and resumed command of the Lehi until it was disbanded following the establishment of the State of Israel.

After several years during which he managed commercial enterprises, Shamir joined Israel's security services in the mid-1950s and held senior positions in the Mossad. He returned to private commercial activity in the mid-1960s and became involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry. In 1970 he joined Menachem Begin's opposition Herut party and became a member of its Executive. In 1973 he was elected a Member of Knesset for the Likud party - a position he held for the next 23 years. During his first decade as a parliamentarian, Shamir was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and, in 1977, became Speaker of the Knesset. In this capacity he presided over the historic appearance of Egyptian President Sadat in the Knesset and the debate over ratifying the Camp David Accords two years later. He abstained in the vote on the Accords, primarily because of the requirement to dismantle settlements. Yitzhak Shamir served as Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1980 and 1983. Among his achievements were closer ties with Washington - reflected in the Memorandum of Understanding on strategic cooperation with the United States and the agreement in principle on free trade between the two nations. Shamir also initiated diplomatic contacts with many African countries which had severed diplomatic ties during the 1973 oil crisis.

Following the resignation of Menachem Begin in October 1983, Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister until the general elections in the fall of 1984. During this year, Shamir concentrated on economic matters - the economy was suffering from hyper-inflation - while also nurturing closer strategic ties with the United States.

Indecisive results in the 1984 general elections led to the formation of a National Unity Government based on a rotation agreement between Shamir and Labor leader Shimon Peres. Shamir served as Vice-Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs for two years, while Shimon Peres was Prime Minister. Peres managed to bring the rampant inflation under control. Subsequently, Shamir served for six years as Prime Minister - from 1986 to 1992 - first heading a National Unity Government, and then as head of a narrow coalition government. Like Begin, Shamir pursued a policy of energetic settlement in the West Bank occupied territories, and invoked the exasperation of US officials who were anxious to promote various peace plans. Shamir opposed a proposed plan for making peace with Jordan offered in 1987, which would have involved Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. This precipitated the breakup of the unity government and also caused Jordan's King Hussein to give up his claims on the West Bank in favor of the PLO. 

Yitzhak Shamir's second term as Prime Minister was marked by two major events: the 1991 Gulf War, in which Shamir - despite Iraqi missile attacks on Israel's civilian population - bent to American demands for restraint. In October 1991, The Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid, forced on Shamir by the United States,  inaugurated direct talks between Israel and the neighboring Arab states as well as multilateral regional talks. Two momentous events overshadowed other issues on the public agenda. The first, beginning in 1989, was the victory in the long struggle for Jewish emigration from the USSR, which brought 450,000 immigrants to Israel in the next two years; the second was "Operation Solomon," in May 1991, in which 15,000 Ethiopian Jews were rescued and brought to Israel in a massive airlift.

After the Likud party lost the 1992 elections, Shamir stepped down from the party leadership and in 1996 also retired from the Knesset.

Adapted from Israel Foreign Ministry biography of Yitshak Shamir


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