I loved Yitzhak Shamir – Israel’s last proud, dedicated Jew and true Zionist Prime Minister

I loved Yitzhak Shamir – Israel’s last proud, dedicated Jew and true Zionist Prime Minister

(Wake up Netanyahu! You had an icon of a mentor to follow and instead elected to align with Shimon Peres, who has spent over 50 years attempting to destroy Israel as an independent sovereign nation.) jsk

I Yitzhak Shamir, Editorial of The New York Sun | June 30, 2012

II Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Legacy by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

I It is with great sadness that the Sun has received the news of the death of Israel’s seventh prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. He deserved a great deal more regard than he was accorded in the bien pensant precincts in America and Europe, where he was set down as an extremist and a stubborn … what? simpleton? Yet a decade after he left power it can be said that his policies, had they been pursued, would have put us in a better place than we are in today. His career, his character will repay careful study in a time when friends of both Israel and America are being serenaded by the sirens of appeasement.

Your editor first met Shamir in the early 1980s, when he was foreign minister of the Jewish state on a visit to New York. The minister received the young newspaperman and another editor of the Wall Street Journal for breakfast in his suite at the Hotel Regency. When he was asked about the issue of the day — external gas tanks for planes Saudia Arabia wanted — he replied with the word “oil.” All he said was: “Oiiiiiiil, Oiiiiiiiil.” Several years later, the young editor met with him again, this time in Brussels, when Shamir was on another mission as foreign minister, and asked him what he was doing in the capital of Europe. “Oranges,” he replied. “Orrrranges.”

Those exchanges are recounted in the Wall Street Journal in a review of Shamir’s memoir, “Summing Up.” They give a sense of one of his qualities, which is that he often seemed impatient or bored with the workaday details of modern diplomacy. This may have contributed to his perception as a simple man. Instead it no doubt reflected his higher priorities, based on a clear-eyed view of what mattered most in the long struggle of the redemption of the Jews in their own state in the land of Israel. What an extraordinary role he played in it, from his days in the underground organization known as Lehi through the search for peace that brought him in 1991 to Madrid, which might be called the last realistic parley.

Shamir was in the leadership of Lehi when, in 1944, its agents assassinated Lord Moyne, the highest British official in the Middle East, responsible for, among other things, Britain’s default in the affair of the Struma, the refugee vessel sunk by the Russians after the Turks and British couldn’t find way to get its 768 mostly Jewish passengers to Palestine. The killing shocked the world, including one of Zionism’s greatest friends, Winston Churchill. “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of an assassin’s pistol, and the labors for its future produce a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany,” Churchill rumbled, “then many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past.”

Yet Shamir never had any apologies for any aspect of his years in the underground, and when, with the formation of the state in 1948, Lehi’s leaders were given amnesty, Shamir began a long and distinguished career above ground. He was the second longest-serving premier, after Ben Gurion. It was under his leadership that Israel attended the Madrid meeting. The parley was established without crossing Shamir’s redlines; the Palestine Liberation Organization did not have a seat, nor did the Madrid talks include Arabs from Jerusalem. It was a more hard-headed, more principled process than the one for which it was abandoned, namely Oslo.

One of our favorite facts is that history doesn’t disclose her alternatives, and the world will never know what would have happened had America and the other parties been held to the standards Shamir insisted on at Madrid. No doubt there are many who will scorn at very thought. But here we are a generation after Oslo, and the Iranians are building an a-bomb, the Arafat who was embraced at Oslo is gone without achievement, the Eyptians have just elected a president who will make it a priority to seek the release of the sheik who masterminded the first bombing of the World Trade Center, the Syrians are engulfed in a civil war, the Lebanese are victims of Iranian-based terror and tyranny, and the Europeans are more hostile to Israel than ever. So the world will miss this practical idealist who knew where he stood and wouldn’t budge.

II Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Legacy

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
“Israel Hayom”, Israeli Daily Newspaper, July 1, 2012

In 1992, the Republican Whip, Senator Alan Simpson from Wyoming, who was critical of Prime Minister Shamir’s policies, told me: “How can I like Prime Minister Shamir when he resembles a non-peaceful roaring tiger? However, how can I but respect a roaring tiger?!”

Former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who was one of the crudest detractors of Shamir’s policies, respected Shamir’s ironclad commitment to deeply-rooted ideology. Therefore, he considered Shamir a trustworthy – although non-subservient – ally of the USA. Shamir was consistently guided by principles, values and history-steered vision/ideology; he was not herded – zigzagging – by pollsters and public opinion consultants.

The late Prime Minister Shamir was a role model of Jewish patriotism, optimism, principle-driven and security-based statesmanship, history-motivated tenacity, reliability, modesty, independence and endurance in face of brutal pressure.

In 1991, at the height of the bitter conflict between Prime Minster Shamir and Republican President Bush, then Republican House Whip, Newt Gingrich, asserted: “How can you expect communications between Bush, who was given the presidency, as well as the CIA and the UN ambassadorship, on a golden platter, and Shamir who has demonstrated willingness to sacrifice his life on the altar of ideology?!”

Following the 1990 meeting between Shamir and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, George Mitchell and Bob Dole, the latter told Shamir: “The Majority Leader and I respect you – although we disagree with your policies – because you are tough!”

The short Shamir was a giant of a Prime Minister – a geo political gamer changer – in the areas of Aliya (Jewish immigration), economy, US-Israel strategic cooperation and defiance of pressure.

While the Jackson-Vanik Amendment opened the doors of the USSR for emigration, Shamir’s Aliya policy was chiefly responsible for the arrival in Israel of over one million Olim (Jewish immigrants) from the USSR. Shamir believed that aggressive, tenacious, pro-active Aliya policy – generating Aliya – was the prerequisite for massive Aliya waves from the USSR, Ethiopia and other countries. During the 1990s, he projected a future Aliya wave from France, resulting from anti-Semitism and Islamic migration.

Former US Assistant Secretary of State, Dick Schifter, appreciated Shamir’s intense lobbying of Secretaries of State, Schultz and Baker, to stop issuing refugee certificates to Soviet Jews, thus directing them to relocate to Israel. In addition, Shamir initiated a request from the US Senate to pass a resolution – signed by all 100 Senators – expecting Moscow to direct Jewish emigrants to fly only directly to Israel and not to Rome or Vienna. Shamir’s initiatives transformed an 80% dropout rate (until 1990) to an almost 100% arrival rate, by Soviet Jews, to Israel.

Shamir orchestrated the absorption of over one million Soviet Jews and 60,000 Ethiopian Jews, by less than five million Israelis – an unprecedented human accomplishment. He considered Aliya to be the raison d’etre of the Jewish State, its moral compass, its top priority and its turbo growth engine. He was aware that Aliyah determined Israel’s posture of deterrence and the Jewish-Arab demographic balance between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Shamir laid down the foundations for the resurgence of Israel’s economy from a potential meltdown to one of the most fiscally-responsible economies in the world. His composure in face of lethal pressures, marathon-like (and not sprint-like) style of leadership, strategic thinking and willingness to lead through delegation of authority to experts – such as Jacob Frenkel, who was appointed by Shamir to be the Governor of the Bank of Israel – paved the road to the stabilization of Israel’s Shekel, the dramatic restraint of inflation, interest and unemployment rates and the drastic reduction of budget deficit.

Former Secretary of State George Schultz was a systematic critic of Shamir’s policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but rarely fails to express his utmost respect for Shamir’s integrity and perseverance. Most of Shamir’s sustained critics in Washington indicate that “we miss him now more than anytime before.”

In 1988, Texas Congressman Ted Poe, then a Federal Judge and currently a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, defined Shamir as “the sturdiest statesman in the Middle East.”

Shamir’s defiance of the US, when it came to Jewish roots in the Land of Israel and Israel’s fundamental security requirements, eroded his popularity, but enhanced respect towards him. In 1991, he preconditioned participation in the Madrid Conference upon a US commitment to avoid any reference to Land-for-Peace, to prohibit PLO participation and to inform Syria that no retreat on the Golan Heights was forthcoming. His image as a strategic partner was upgraded by his dismissal of international guarantees of Israel’s security and propositions to station foreign troops on Israel’s borders. On a rainy day, the US is not looking for a “punching bag,” but for a reliable, capable, democratic, unconditional ally, which is willing to defy even the US.

Shamir’s seven years at the helm were characterized by unprecedented expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation – despite severe disagreements over the Palestinian issue – from the April 1988 Memorandum of Understanding through the 1990-1991 enhancement of joint exercises, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation, prepositioning of US military hardware in Israel, defense industrial cooperation, the upgrading of the port of Haifa for the Sixth Fleet, etc.

Contemporary challenges, domestically, internationally, commercially and militarily, behoove Israeli and American leaders to follow in the footsteps of Prime Minister Shamir’s legacy.

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