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Yitzhak Shamir Dies at 96

Yizhak Shamir, the seventh prime minister of Israel, died Saturday at the age of 96.

Shamir, who was born in 1915 in Ruzhany, served in Israel’s Shin Bet, and later on as Speaker of the Knesset as part of the Likud and Israel’s Foreign Minister before succeeding Menachem Begin as Prime Minister in 1983.

In response to the death, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Shamir “led Israel with a deep loyalty to the nation, to the land and to the eternal values of the Jewish people.”

Born Yitzhak Jazernicki in Poland in 1915, he moved to pre-state Palestine in 1935. He served as prime minister for seven years, from 1983-84 and 1986-92. His term as prime minister was marked by the Palestinian uprising and the 1991 Gulf war, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.

“I never ran after any office and did not imagine that my merits and talents amounted to that of a peddler in the marketplace,” the seventh prime minister of Israel said in his autobiography, “Summing Up,” where Yitzhak Shamir also admitted that he had never groomed himself to become the head of government. It never occurred to him that he would aspire to this high public office, perhaps because for a considerable part of his life, he was involved in secret activities for the Mossad, Israel’s espionage agency.

Only when Prime Minister Menachem Begin made the surprise announcement at a cabinet meeting on August 28, 1983, that “I cannot wait any longer [to resign],” did the idea of Shamir’s running for the highest political office become a possibility. Shamir, with other high-ranking members of the Likud, tried to change Begin’s mind, but he was determined to step down. Shamir tells the story in his book that when the suggestion was raised that he run for prime minister, he was confident about his chances to beat David Levy, but though he could accept “how the others praised me, their exaggerations embarrassed me.”

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