Yitzhak Shamir, former Israeli PM, dies

Story highlights

Shimon Peres calls Shamir a "brave warrior"

The 96-year-old politician was involved in key foreign policy initiatives

Netanyahu says he "belonged to the generation of giants" that established the state

Shamir led Israel during the first Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles fell on Israel

Jerusalem CNN  — 

Yitzhak Shamir, a political hard-liner who served two terms as Israeli prime minster, died Saturday, the prime minister’s office said.

Shamir, 96, served as premier from 1983 to 1984, and from 1986 to 1992. He also was Israel’s foreign minister from 1980 to 1986.

Born in Poland, Shamir moved to Palestine and fought for Israeli independence. He joined the Likud movement, serving as a member of Israel’s parliament, and also worked for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service.

Shamir succeeded Menachem Begin as prime minister in 1983.

“Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants who established the State of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people on their land,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fellow Likud member.

It was during Shamir’s second term as prime minister that the Gulf War broke out, leaving him with the question of how to respond to Iraqi Scud missiles falling on Israeli soil.

Israeli government and military officials pressed him to retaliate and the United States urged him not to, and Shamir ultimately assured Washington he would not strike back.

Shamir also presided over negotiations with Egypt on the post-treaty normalization process, and started diplomatic relations with several African countries that had severed relations with Israel after the Yom Kippur War, according to a biography of Shamir on the prime minister’s website.

Shamir ordered Operation Solomon, the airlift rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews following a regime change in 1991. During the operation, which took less than 48 hours, 14,000 Jews boarded Israeli planes to emigrate to Israel, according to the Israeli government.

In September 1991, Shamir represented Israel at the International Peace Conference in Madrid.

Israeli President Shimon Peres called Shamir a “brave warrior.”

“He fought with courage against the British mandate in the days of the underground and his incredible contribution to the State of Israel during his time in the Mossad will remain forever enshrined in the tales of bravery of our nation,” Peres said in a statement.

Shamir was a leader of the Jewish Zionist underground group that fought the mandate in the 1940s.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Shamir dedicated his life to 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 United States and Israel,” she said in a statement.

CNN’s Guy Azriel contributed to this report.