Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir belonged to a generation for whom the love of Israel was hardwired into their soul and their spirit. It pulsed through their veins and permeated their bodies. During his years at the helm, Israel faced many challenges, and he navigated the Zionist ship through stormy waters with great wisdom and insight, drawing on decades of experience.
Shamir's lifetime spanned some of the most important events ever to befall the Jewish people in the new era, and he played an active role in the battle to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, the establishment of the state, the battle over Israel's security here and around the world, the political leadership of Israel and finally, the pinnacle, heading the Israeli government in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.
I had the pleasure of meeting Shamir while he was prime minister. I came to him as the commander of Sayeret Matkal, the Israel Defense Forces' elite special-forces unit, to get his authorization for operations. His observations and questions were razor sharp. I could go on and on about his attentiveness, his intelligent questions which reflected a deep understanding of what is important and what is not, and his analysis of cost versus benefit and the chances of success versus the risk. He had immense experience and as a young officer I could discern his insistence on the things that he believed in.
Afterward, during the first Gulf War, when I was a brigade commander and we were preparing for an operation in western Iraq, I was very impressed with the composure he displayed as prime minister and with his courageous decision, after a heated debate, to adopt a policy of restraint in the face of Iraqi missile attacks. His policy took into account a wide range of considerations.
A year later, in 1992, Shamir's Likud lost power mainly due to the public's sense that Israel had reached a dead-end and that a political breakthrough was in order. The public cultivated a fantasy, stemming from a real desire for true peace, that the conflict between us and our neighbors could be swiftly and easily resolved, despite 100 years of hatred.
Twenty years have gone by since then. We now understand that parts of the public have become disillusioned and are frustrated by the knowledge that their hopes for a magical peace solution cannot materialize. To these people I often say that the long, blood-soaked road that we have traveled, the repeated efforts to institute an immediate peace solution, and politicians' attempts to generate hope that only ends up being a shattered illusion — all these only push the coveted peace further away. Shamir knew what Ze'ev Jabotinsky said before him: Peace can be achieved through the erection of an iron wall, not concessions and withdrawals.
Shamir's actions were directed by a compass, not by a weather vane. He acted on his principles, not according to polls or trends. Even when he was criticized for it, he navigated his way in accordance with his beliefs and values. Shamir was a rock, and he remained loyal to his country and his people even in the face of immense pressure exerted from every direction, even from his political partners and from Israel's allies in the U.S. These were values that guided him throughout his life and shaped his leadership style. I am convinced that history will remember that.