by Roy Tov
Sunday, July 1st, 2012
Writing an obituary about a terrorist? I couldn’t degrade myself into that; yet, the topic was amusing to the extent of irresistible. “The Digger” had died. Yesterday, June 30, 2012, Israel’s seventh Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir died in Tel Aviv. He was 96 years old and had suffered a severe case of Alzheimer for more than a decade. In 1947, he earned his peculiar nickname after having escaping a British prison in Palestine through a 200 foot tunnel he had allegedly dug with a spoon. Even these colorful details weren’t enough to justify an obituary. Oddly, he is being praised by all Zionist leaders, even those belonging to the left. The state funeral will take place on Monday in Mount Herzl.
Born in the Russian Empire, in 1935 he settled down in Palestine. Yitzhak Shamir joined Irgun Tzvai Leumi (Etzel, the “National Military Organization,” sometimes shortened “Irgun”) until 1940, when this paramilitary group split. He chose to follow the smaller faction, known as Lehi (Hebrew acronym for “Fighters for Israel’s Freedom,” more commonly known in Israel as the Stern Gang, after its leader Avraham “Yair” Stern). Its declared aim was to evict violently the British authorities from Palestine, to the extent that they contacted Nazi Germany with a proposal to aid German conquest in the Middle East in return for recognition of a Jewish state open to unlimited immigration. Unsurprisingly, they were outlawed by the British, who offered generous rewards for the capture of its leaders. In 1941, Shamir was imprisoned for the first time, shortly before “Yair” was killed by the British police. Following the extrajudicial assassination, Shamir escaped prison and became one of the three leaders of Lehi, together with Nathan Yellin-Mor and Israel Eldad. Shamir reorganized the movement into an efficient organization of semi-independent cells. In the summer of 1946 he was caught, and imprisoned in Africa by British Mandatory authorities; yet, the following January he escaped through the abovementioned tunnel. He crossed to French Somalia, was arrested by the French, but eventually granted political asylum in France. His underground sent him a forged passport, with which he returned to Israel after the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
After 1948, the Irgun was incorporated into the Israeli Defense Forces; the bulk of the latter was made by former “Haganah” forces, the leftist faction of the Zionists. However, Lehi members were considered too extremist to be incorporated into the army. The answer came a few years later when an agreement was achieved and the remaining Lehi leaders joined the Mossad. Shamir was there between 1955 and 1965, reaching the position of Deputy Director. Later on, he joined Menahem Begin’s Herut Party (nowadays known as Likud and led by Benjamin Netanyahu). Eventually, he served two terms as Prime Minister, in 1983–1984 and 1986–1992. He is best remembered by his idleness, especially during the First Gulf War, during which he refrained from reacting to the Iraqi Scud missiles landing on Israel. During his turbulent lifetime, he raised a family. His son, Yair, looks almost as his father and offers an extraordinary addition to this unusual obituary.
Lehi Leaders Wanted | Yitzhak Shamir at Center
At first, Yair Shamir looks like the antithesis of his father. He was named after Avraham “Yair” Stern, the Lehi leader killed by the British police, but this is his only connection with extra-official organizations. Mr. Shamir served in the Israeli Air Force as a pilot and squadron commander from 1963 to 1988, reaching the rank of colonel. Considering that his education is just a B.Sc. degree from the Technion, his meteoric ascend in the industrial world after he left the army is odd, but then, his father provided all the “Vitamin P” (“protection” in Hebrew slang) that Yair needed. Bloomberg Businessweek defines him as “this person is connected to 11 Board Members in 11 different organizations across 16 different industries.” Consequently, the list of his business activity is long and complex. The most impressive detail is that Mr. Shamir served as the Chairman of IAI, Israel Aerospace between July 2005 and July 2011. In other words, he is a senior member of the Israeli industry.
However, looking at the details one discovers the similitude between the two. The secretiveness of Yair is remarkable, as well as his dealing with some of the most delicate industries of Israel. In essence the differences between father and son parallel the changes in the state along their lifetimes. The father dealt with the destruction of the Egyptian missiles program in the infamous Operation Damocles. This was a Mossad operation that in August 1962 targeted German scientists formerly employed in Nazi Germany’s rocket program, who were developing rockets for Egypt. The son dealt with the most delicate aerospace deals of Israel, which includes the covert supply of missiles to countries. It is easy to see how these two symbolize the spirit of Israel. What is its true nature of this spirit?
Before the foundation of the IDF, the Zionist paramilitary units were divided in three organizations: “Haganah,” belonging to the left, and the rightists Etzel and Lehi. Among them, they were bitter enemies. In the 1940s, Ben Gurion and Begin fought over arms and ammunition smuggled by the Irgun aboard the Altalena. Ben Gurion feared the creation of a Fifth Column within the IDF, loyal to Begin rather than to the chain of command. Thus, he issued an ultimatum to the ship. The taunt was refused, and the subsequent armed conflict between the two forces led to the Altalena sinking and the death of sixteen Irgun and three IDF men. Nothing else mattered to all involved; neither the ongoing war with Arab countries nor the shaky international position of Ben Gurion’s fiefdom. The only thing that counted was the Ben Gurion-Begin war. Even now, mentioning the event in Israeli circles is considered bad taste.
The situation between the Haganah and the Lehi was not better. Stern was persecuted by the British when Stern’s Lehi “contact,” Hisia Shapiro, brought a last message from the Haganah on February 12, 1942. The message included offering to house Stern for the duration of the war if he would give up his fight against the British; in reply, Stern declined the safe haven and suggested cooperation between Lehi and the Haganah in fighting the British. Unsurprisingly, he was detained two hours later. While under the custody of three armed men, he was shot dead. There is no way of proving the rumors, but they are credible and consistent with the Zionists’ behavior patterns. There is no way the British would have performed an extrajudicial killing of such a magnitude if they wouldn’t have been assured “industrial silence” by the main Zionist faction. When the Haganah received Stern’s decline, the first thing they did was to give away his address to his persecutors.