The Polish native who lost his family in the Holocaust was Israel's second-longest serving prime minister.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a gunman in the most violent underground faction fighting for a Jewish state who rose to become leader of the nation during the pivotal years when Israel emerged as a modern middle-class country, died Saturday. He was 96.
A man of iron will and simple tastes, Shamir prided himself on his hard-line views, his relentless determination to hang onto every square inch of what he considered the Land of Israel, and his championing of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, defying the demands of Israel's most important ally, the United States.
He first served as prime minister for a year after Menachem Begin's sudden resignation in 1983, then returned to power for six tumultuous years between 1986 and 1992. Much of that period was dominated by the first Palestinian intifada, an uprising that shattered the old terms of Israel's domination of its Palestinian subjects and compelled even Shamir to make concessions that he had never anticipated.
At the same time, he presided over an era of growing prosperity and consumerism in the late 1980s and early '90s that inexorably drove Israel to seek accommodation with many of its Arab foes and laid the groundwork for Shamir's own political demise. Still, Shamir was Israel's second-longest serving prime minister after founding father David Ben-Gurion.
In the end, Shamir's miscalculation of the patience and persistence of President George H.W. Bush and Bush's canny secretary of state, James Baker, triggered a diplomatic showdown that set the stage for Shamir's defeat by opposition party leader Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.
But Shamir's vision for Israel -- a strong nation capable of defeating any enemy and continuing down the path of colonizing the West Bank - endures. "There is the sense that no one had the impact that he had," said Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at Princeton University. "He was the ultimate true believer in the idea of Greater Israel."
Yitzhak Yezernitsky was born in Ruzinoy, Poland, on Oct. 15, 1915, to a relatively affluent family, most of whom were later killed in the Holocaust.
At 14, he joined Betar, a Zionist youth organization, and came to British-ruled Palestine on a student visa at 19. He registered for law school at the new Hebrew University.
But he changed his name to Shamir, a Hebrew word for thorn, and quickly dropped out of school and joined the Irgun, which was led by Begin and the smaller of the two armed Zionist movements seeking to establish a state for the 400,000 Jews living in the territory among 1 million Arabs.
After Israel gained its independence, Shamir was shunned by Ben-Gurion and the Labor Zionist establishment. But in 1955, he was recruited by the head of the Mossad, Israel's top-secret intelligence agency. He spent more than a decade as an agent.
Begin rescued Shamir from obscurity in 1970, giving him a job as a political lieutenant and bestowing upon him a safe seat in the Israeli parliament in 1973. Shamir became speaker of the Knesset when Begin and Likud won a stunning electoral triumph in 1977.