Behind the Headlines Begin and Shamir: Cast from the Same Mold

Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir will soon become Israel’s new Foreign Minister. The Liberal Party wing of Likud, by failing to put up a credible candidate of its own, has in effect removed its opposition to the appointment of Shamir, a Herut hawk.

By nominating Shamir as successor to Moshe Dayan, Premier Menachem Begin, a man who delights in symbolic significance, emphasizes the Irony of history which has made him, the former Irgun leader, Israel’s Premier and his historic underground rival, Shamir, once the Lehi (Stern Group) commander, the new Foreign Minister.

Begin and Shamir are of the some origin and milieu. Both were born in Poland; both are in their mid-sixties (Begin is 67, Shamir 65); both are products of Betar, the Zionist Revisionist youth movement.

Their ways parred when they immigrated to Palestine. Shamir, who arrived in 1935, joined the Lehi underground movement which later broke away from Irgun. Begin, who came in 1942, became the commander of the Irgun.

Thereafter, during the long struggle against the British Mandatory regime Begin and Shamir were rivals. They differed in their tactical moves, their ideological motives and their operational actions though they were united in their goal: the termination of British rule in Palestine.

Lehi and the Irgun represented different types of resistance movements. While Lehi comprised several dozen zealous fighters, who considered themselves messianic revolutionaries, they regarded Irgun as a semi-military organization headed by an authoritative commander. Lehi’s self-image was that of a group of young individualist intellectuals. They saw the Irgun as a spartan order governed by on absolute commander. Even in jail, prisoners of both movements maintained their mutual rivalry.

After the establishment of the State, Begin and Shamir turned to different ways of life. The former Irgun commander became the leader of the Herut Party while Shamir turned to business. In 1955, Shamir joined the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) and made an impressive record during his ten years of service.

Only in 1970 did the two men become political allies. The former Lehi leader joined Herut. With Begin’s blessing in 1975, Shamir was elected Herut’s Executive Chairman. For Begin, the cooption of Shamir into the Herut leadership symbolized the reconciliation of the two former underground organizations and the unification of the “national front.”

Begin, indeed, discussed the possibility of bringing Shamir into the Cabinet he formed after the 1977 elections. But due to coalition difficulties, he had to drop this intention, and Shamir took the position of Knesset Speaker, From this vantage point Shamir observed Begin’s role in the peace negotiations. As Speaker, Shamir chaired the historic sessions at which President Anwar Sadat, in November 1977, and President Carter, in March 1979, addressed the Knesset. Shamir also conducted the sessions at which the Camp David agreement and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty were approved.

Throughout the peace process Shamir has had doubts about Begin’s views. He expressed fear that the autonomy plan bears the seeds of a Palestinian state. When the Knesset endorsed the Camp David agreements and the peace treaty, Shamir obtained.

ABSOLUTE FAITH IN BEGIN

Reportedly, he considered voting against Camp David but he decided to abstain, he told friends, because the pact had become an unchallengeable political reality. He expressed his firm belief however, that Begin would not countenance any further compromise in the Israeli position. Recently, Shamir has insisted that he was never “against the peace,” but only had doubts about its terms.

Shamir’s confidence in Begin is indeed one of the most characteristic components of their relationship as politicians. Shamir feels that he owes Begin his political career which started late, when he was 55. Some political pundits describe the relation between these two men as that of a patron and his protege, although there is only two years difference in their ages. During his service in Herut, Shamir never challenged Begin’s views.

He is not expected to differ from the Premier when he becomes Foreign Minister despite his doubts about the conditions of the peace treaty. Shamir is a worldly and experienced men endowed with several talents. He is a balanced and practical person, whose honesty and integrity have never been in doubt and whose authoritative personality and analytical way of thinking was always praised by his subordinates. Shamir admires the restraint and the patience of Far Eastern people. His acquaintances describe him as a man who takes infinite pains before arriving at a decision and who stubbornly strives to implement his decisions once they are taken. Shamir is almost unknown to the international community. As Israel’s Foreign Minister he will have to adopt himself to the exposed television diplomacy of the eighties.

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