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Profile of Shamir

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If Yitzhak Shamir becomes Israel’s next Premier, he will certainly follow in Menachem Begin’s footsteps as a strong willed fighter for a safe and secure Israel. His background and training is similar to Begin’s.

Both men were born in Poland where they were active in the Revisionist Zionist movement founded by Zeev Jabotinsky, Both men were also active in the underground movement in Palestine against the British, although Begin was the leader of the Irgun and Shamir was a leader in the Stem Group.

But in many other ways, Shamir differs from Begin in one and personal style. The short, moustached 68-year-old Shamir, with his heavy eyebrows and ready smile, is friendlier and more diplomatic than Begin, does not share Begin’s penchant for ceremonies, lacks a sense of humor and has a liking for secrets, perhaps a carryover from his days in the Stern Group and the Mossad.

Shamir was born in Ruzinoy, a small Hasidic village in eastern Poland. His family name was Jezrenicki. He graduated from the Bialystock Hebrew Gymnasium and then studied law at the University of Warsaw.


Shamir went to Palestine in 1935 at the age of 20, where he continued to study law at the Hebrew University but soon became involved in local political activities. He first joined the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Three years later, when Abraham Stem left the Irgun to form his own, more radical group, Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Lehi), Shamir joined that group.

Shamir was jailed by the British several times, first in Mizra, near Acre, then in Latrun, near Jerusalem, and eventually in Eritrea. When the State was established the Stern Group was suspected of murdering Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, a United Nations representative who was pressing a plan to partition Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state.

In 1955, Shamir joined the Mossad where he worked for the next 10 years, making Paris his main base of operation. In 1970 he joined the Herut Party which was headed by Begin. He was elected to the Eighth Knesset in 1973 and two years later became chairman of the Herut Executive and in effect the party’s number two man. When the Likud came to power in 1977, Shamir was named Knesset Speaker. After Moshe Dayan resigned from the Cabinet in 1979, Shamir replaced him as Foreign Minister.


When the Knesset approved the Camp David accords, Shamir abstained because he was suspicious of the terms of the treaty, a suspicion he continues to harbor. Prior to the war in Lebanon he maintained a strong standing among his Cabinet colleagues and was considered Begin’s heir apparent. However, his passivity during the war, leaving Defense Minister Ariel Sharon free to guide the military activity in Lebanon and influencing the Foreign Ministry, lost Shamir some of his standing and credit in the Cabinet. He justified his passivity, saying: “When the guns thunder. diplomacy keeps silent.” The Kahan Commission which investigated the massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps reprimanded Shamir, saying that “he erred in not taking any measures” to help prevent the tragedy, after another minister had warned him about the Christian Phalangist actions in the camps.

If Shamir becomes Premier, he is expected to adopt a policy similar to that of Begin. And with the aid of a strengthened Sharon, it might even be more hawkish.

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