THE man the British Foreign Office once described as ”among the most fanatical terrorist leaders”, who went on to become a senior Mossad spy and Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, has died aged 96.
The life-long hawk and advocate of the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, Mr Shamir served as prime minister from 1983 to 1984, and from 1986 to 1992. He also was foreign minister from 1980 to 1986.
”Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants that founded the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people in its own land,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
There was a mixed reaction to his death – the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper’s headline read: ”A modest man, an uninspiring leader – and a genuine zealot”, while the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth noted that he was: ”Cast from Steel”.
Mr Shamir’s most criticised decision, many commentators noted, was to undermine the 1987 agreement on Palestine reached by his foreign minister Shimon Peres and Jordan’s King Hussein.
His refusal to entertain any territorial compromise ushered in the first intifada and enabled ”the ascendancy of the PLO and Hamas”, wrote Chemi Salev in Haaretz.
Born in Poland in 1915, he moved to Palestine in 1935 and two years later joined the Etzel underground organisation to fight the British Mandate. A leader of a small, militant faction, he was arrested after the bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in 1946, in which scores of people died, and exiled to an internment camp in Eritrea. But he escaped a few months later and took refuge in France, arriving in the newly declared state of Israel in May 1948.
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