Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
I covered Shamir during his years as prime minister during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, accumulated many “Shamir hours” in his bureau and - much to the chagrin of many of my colleagues and most of my friends - both liked and admired him. He had what Americans would call “true grit” in his ideological convictions, was undeterred by hardships and unmoved by temptations. He kept his eye on the only ball that mattered to him – the preservation of the Greater Land of Israel – and viewed everything else as subservient diversions. He was one of the last of the “generation of giants” who had fought, often against all odds, for the establishment of the Jewish homeland.
Despite his public image as a dull politician and uninspiring leader, Shamir was a well-read man and an engaging conversationalist who, unlike many of his close-minded and thin-skinned successors, was possessed with enough self-confidence and intellectual curiosity to relish debate and criticism. He had a grudging respect for wily ideologues made in his own image, even if they came from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. The first newspapers he read in the morning were the now-defunct left-wing party organs, Davar and al-Hamishmar; the perennial Soviet foreign minister Andrej Gromyko was one of his adversarial favorites.
He disliked “professional politicians” and was no great fan of Shimon Peres, with whom he had forged a six-year national unity partnership at the helm, nor Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud superstar who would eventually take Shamir’s place after his 1992 electoral loss to Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu’s slick, American-style politicking was alien to Shamir, and his willingness to grudgingly adopt the Oslo Accords in order to win over centrist voters in the 1996 elections was viewed by Shamir both as betrayal and as a vindication of his earlier mistrust. But he got along famously with Rabin, a fellow straight shooter, who served as Shamir’s tough-minded defense minister until 1990.