JERUSALEM, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday eulogized late Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's seventh prime minister, saying that the nation has lost one of its greatest patriots and most decisive leaders.
Shamir, a former underground leader, spy and statesman, died Saturday at a nursing home near Tel Aviv at the age of 96, after long years of battling Alzheimer's.
"Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants that found the State of Israel. He devoted his life to ensuring the freedom of the Jewish people, the security of Israelis and settling the land," Netanyahu said at his cabinet's weekly session, according to a press release.
"He, of course, was very tough in his diplomatic approach and perception," Netanyahu said.
Born in Poland in 1915 with the surname Jazernicki, Shamir immigrated to Mandatory Palestine at the age of 20, just years prior to the rise of Germany's Third Reich. Most of his family stayed behind and were later killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Upon his arrival in Palestine, he joined the Irgun, a local militia that initiated violent operations aimed at forcing out the British mandate authorities. He later headed Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, another underground group that fought for independence from the British and carried out reprisal attacks against Arabs who targeted Jews. Shamir was twice arrested by the British and deported to detention camps in Africa.
Shamir spent the years following Israel's establishment in 1948 as a private businessman. In 1955, he joined Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, spending many of his years as a career spy in operations against Nazi scientists who assisted Israel's regional foes build rockets.
Shamir first entered the political arena in the mid-1960s, when he joined the revisionist Herut party, which evolved into today's Likud. As Israel's second longest-serving prime minister after the state's founder, David Ben-Gurion, he served as premier from 1983 to 1984 and 1986 to 1992.
Revered as a hawk among hawks, Shamir's political career was stamped by bitter ideological clashes with the left-leaning Labor party, which dominated the country's politics from its inception until the late 1970s. His staunch refusal to bargain land for peace and security, a notion that he perceived as tantamount to treason, often singled him out as an obstacle to peace-making efforts.
Shamir's terms at the helm of Israel's leadership were highlighted by accelerated construction of settlements in the West Bank, the First Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, the massive airlift of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian and Soviet Jews to Israel and the 1991 Gulf War, during which Israel remained on the sidelines despite near 40 Iraqi Scuds that were fired at the country.
In 1992, much to his dismay, Shamir attended the Madrid international conference, which set the stage for peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. Months later, Labor defeated Likud in the elections, leading Shamir to retire from political life four years later.
Israel's top leadership mourned Shamir's passing over the weekend.
President Shimon Peres, Shamir's long-time political rival, said he was "a brave warrior before and after the founding of the state, loyal to his views, a great patriot and a true lover of Israel who served his country with integrity and unending commitment."
The White House issued a statement praising Shamir for working to forge ties between the allies.
"Yitzhak Shamir dedicated his life to the State of Israel. From his days working for Israel's independence to his service as prime minister, he strengthened Israel's security and advanced the partnership between the U.S. and Israel," read the statement.
Shamir's funeral is scheduled to be held in Jerusalem on Monday, where he will be buried alongside his wife, Shulamit, who died last July. He is survived by a daughter, Gilada.