Family members, commanders, subordinates, acquaintances and political rivals will each remember Yitzhak Shamir in their own way. But how will he go down in history?
When I first met him, in the mid-1960s, Yitzhak Shamir had just resigned a senior position at the Mossad over the German scientists debacle, and was recruited by his fellow members of the intelligence community – Izi Dorot, Efraim Ronel and Isser Harel – to salvage a rubber factory in Kfar Saba.
The first image etched in my memory is that of Shamir the accountant, poring over paperwork at the factory's office. I never imagined in those embarrassing moments in Kfar Saba that he was one of the three original leaders of the Lehi movement and a top Mossad official.
Over the years, he went from managing accounts to managing the state. After holding various positions with the Herut and Likud parties and within the Knesset, he assumed the role of prime minister, heading a unity government in the mid-1980s. Throughout his career he remained the same Yitzhak Shamir: tough, meticulous, determined, distrustful and even cruel at times – towards himself and others. He kept steadfast watch over Israel's boundaries, disliked Arabs and was ardent about keeping secrets. For him, a three-person gathering was enough to constitute a town meeting.
Decision not to decide
History will remember him favorably primarily due to his decision not to decide. During the Gulf War, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir faced exorbitant pressure from Israelis to strike Iraq to pay back Saddam Hussein for firing Scud missiles on the Jewish state. But Shamir resisted, bolstering ties with the United States, which knew to appreciate his leadership.
Another decision of his might one day become historically significant: He relented to pressure from Washington to join the Madrid Peace Conference. The convention failed to yield anything more than senseless chatter, but if the conflict with the Palestinians is ever resolved, every history book will describe it as a landmark in the journey towards peace.
Furthermore, tens of thousands of Ethiopians and hundreds of thousands of Russians came to Israel during his rule, and turned the country into what it is today.
Shamir was always proud of his wife – his comrade – and his two children, Yair and Gilada, but could not enjoy their company in his final years. He passed away at the Beit Juliana parents home in Herzliya on Saturday at the age of 96.