From: New York Times, June 30, 2012, Joel Brinkley
Stubborn and laconic, Shamir was by his own assessment a most unlikely political leader.
He was a wanted man then; to the British rulers of Palestine he was a terrorist, an assassin. But Shamir said he considered those “the best years of my life.”
Not a talker
His wife, Shulamit, once said that in the underground she and her husband learned not to talk about their work for fear of being overheard. It was a habit he apparently never lost.
No social graces
He was not blessed with a sharp wit, a soothing public manner or an engaging oratorical style. Most often he answered questions with a shrug and an air of weary wisdom, as if to say: “This is so clear. Why do you even ask?”
Shamir was born in eastern Poland on Oct. 22, 1915. He immigrated to Palestine when he was 20 and selected Shamir as his Hebrew surname. The word means thorn, thistle or sharp point.
Members of his family who remained in Poland died in the Holocaust...
Mr. Shamir was a pariah of sorts to the new Labor government of Israel, which regarded him as a terrorist.
Mr. Shamir contended that it had been more humane to assassinate specific military or political figures than to attack military installations and possibly kill innocent people, as the other underground groups did.
Besides, he once said, “a man who goes forth to take the life of another whom he does not know must believe only one thing: that by his act he will change the course of history.”
Couldn't get a good job
Rebuffed in his efforts to work in the government, he drifted from one small job to another until 1955, when he finally found a government agency that appreciated his past: the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service.
He served in several posts, including that of top agent in France, but returned to Israel and spent several years in business.
Not seen as powerful
In 1979, when Moshe Dayan resigned as foreign minister, Mr. Begin proposed appointing Mr. Shamir to replace him.
Yechiel Kadishai, chief of the prime minister’s office under Mr. Begin, recalled that Mr. Shamir was chosen because the prime minister did not want or need a powerful figure high in his cabinet.
Mr. Shamir’s political opponents said that his laconic nature played into his handling of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut in September 1982, during Israel’s war in Lebanon.
On the evening of Sept. 16, Phalangists — Lebanese Christian militiamen — entered the camps and began killing hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children while the Israeli Army, largely unaware of the killings, stood guard at the gates.
The next morning in Tel Aviv, Ze’ev Schiff, a prominent Israeli journalist, received a call from a military official who told him about the slaughter. He rushed to the office of his friend Mordechai Zipori, the minister of communications, and told him what he had heard. Mr. Zipori then called the foreign minister, Mr. Shamir.
Mr. Shamir was scheduled to meet with military and intelligence officials shortly, so with some urgency Mr. Zipori told him to ask about the report he had received that the Phalangists “are carrying out a slaughter.”
Mr. Zipori remembered that Mr. Shamir promised to look into the report. But according to the official findings of an Israeli government commission of inquiry, Mr. Shamir merely asked Foreign Ministry officers to see “whether any new reports had arrived from Beirut.” When the meeting ended, Mr. Shamir “left for his home and took no additional action,” the report said.
Years later, Mr. Shamir said: “You know, in those times of the Lebanese war, every day something happened. And from the first glance of it, it seemed like just another detail of what was going on every day. But after 24 hours, it became clear it was not a normal event.”
Mr. Shamir was certainly not the only Israeli official who failed to act, but the commission found it “difficult to find a justification” for his decision not to make “any attempt to check whether there was anything in what he heard.”
When Mr. Begin retired in 1983, Mr. Shamir was designated his successor largely because of his position in the Foreign Ministry.
Looked like a loser
Even many in his own party thought Mr. Shamir would lose the election.
And even after he took office, many saw this low-key, colorless man as a caretaker.
In some ways he was. Asked once what he intended to do in his second full term in office, he said he had no plans except to “keep things as they are.”
“With our long, bitter experience,” he added, “we have to think twice before we do something.”
From: The Telegraph
He only entered the Knesset (parliament) in 1973, when he was nearly 60...
In 1977 he was elected Speaker and three years later he became Foreign Minister.
It was a curious appointment, not only because had he never held any ministerial office before, but also because he differed profoundly from (prime mininster) Begin on perhaps the key element in his foreign policy
Like Begin he was a Pole. Like Begin he spent his youth in the right wing Zionist Revisionist party. Both men studied Law at Warsaw University, and both were tough and tenacious, but there the similarities stopped.
Begin was a cultivated man and a great orator with something of the urbanity and grace of a Polish gentleman. Shamir was not, though his forceful, aggressive manner of speech had it own compelling qualities.
There was nothing about him to suggest culture or learning, though in the course of his peregrinations he had picked up several European languages.
Joined the aggressive parties
He went to Palestine in 1935, studied at the Hebrew University, worked for a time as a building labourer and bookkeeper, and, after the 1936 Arab riots, joined the Irgun Zvei Lumi.
While Haganah, the defence arm of the Zionist movement, was concerned merely to repel attacks, the Irgun was determined to go over to the offensive. Haganah, moreover, only confronted the Arabs, while Irgun was also prepared to take on the British administration. When the Second World War broke out, however, the Irgun called a truce. Shamir moved over to the Stern Gang, which continued the struggle with the British as if Hitler had never existed.
When he did become a backbencher, he did not shine, though he proved an effective Speaker and did much to raise both the decorum of the house and to limit the interjections of the more prolix members.
Friends surprised by his skills
....he was bracing himself for a showdown with America when a new figure came to dominate the Middle East scene in the person of Saddam Hussein.
Iraq replaced Israel as America’s most pressing concern in the region and the pressure on Shamir suddenly eased. It was as if the fates, which had carried him safely through so many hazards in his younger years, and had wafted him to high office in his later ones, had interceded yet again on his behalf.
As the first Gulf War got underway, Iraq targeted Israeli cities with dozens of Scud missiles.
The Scud attacks challenged Israel’s long held doctrine that no attack on it would go unpunished.
Under intense pressure from America however, which was determined to keep its Arab allies on board in the campaign, Shamir reluctantly agreed not to order a military response.
Caught in the middle
Despite his only grudging acceptance of the Madrid talks, his right-wing coalition partners thought he had not been tough enough in negotiations. His government collapsed.
Out of step
With voters frustrated with five years of intifada, Shamir’s miraculous political career began to wind down.
He declared, after leaving the Knesset for the last time, that “we made progress, and I hope we will again, but never by concessions, never by submission.”
He will be better remembered for his obstinacy than his vision.