What a coincidence that on the day when a former prime minister who was considered the most honest of men was buried, a prime minister who is alive and kicking was exposed as a habitual liar. What a coincidence, that on the day we lose Yitzhak Shamir as a leader who stuck to his own truth, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz describes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as someone who doesn't tell the truth, not to say a cheat.
I have not come to eulogize Shamir, but to compare two leaders from two generations: one whose viewpoints and integrity could not be misinterpreted, and the present one who zigzags, who doesn't give a damn about the political partner with whom he just forged an alliance of friendship.
With U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who was a subject of satirical sketches, his countrymen knew that what he said - for example, that he wouldn't raise taxes - he would do. With Reagan, an American knew where he stood. For good or for ill, the same was true of us: What we saw in Shamir is what we got.
At a ceremony held on the 20th anniversary of the Madrid Conference, it was James Baker, the tough U.S. secretary of state during the conference, who spoke admiringly of Shamir, saying that although they had profound differences of opinion, he never stopped respecting Shamir's integrity. He affirmed that Shamir was decent and honest, never misled them and never leaked secret talks. Baker said he knew it would be hard to do business with Shamir, but despite all the differences of opinion, both sides knew that Israel was the ally of the United States, and like it or not, Shamir was the country's leader.
It was this attitude that forced the Americans to engage in a different way of thinking: that each side could insist on its own needs without causing a rift. Shamir, unlike Bibi Netanyahu, did not try to make Congress dance to his tune or undermine the incumbent president.
At the time when Alexander Haig was the U.S. secretary of state and Shamir was the Israeli foreign minister, a serious dispute emerged during one of their encounters. Stubbornness was a trademark of Shamir's. But in spite of the difficult day, Haig called Shamir at night and said: "We both said 'no' many times today. Let's talk now about how to cross the bridge."
Although Shamir was a commander of Lehi, the most extreme of the underground pre-state paramilitary groups, as prime minister he didn't lead Israel into adventures or initiated wars, nor did he return hundreds of Arab murderers in exchange for one captive soldier. With the approach of the Gulf War, in 1991, then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens and the Israel Defense Forces advocated an operation inside Iraq to prevent the firing of missiles at Israel. Shamir, who was opposed to this dangerous move, which was also opposed by the United States, summoned then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Shomron and asked him: Danny, in all honesty, is it possible to operate successfully inside Iraq? Shomron said it was impossible.
The battle-hungry pilots and commando units were disappointed when Shamir said no. But the fact is that the British air force and navy commandos who acted in our stead were unable to locate a single one of the 40 Scud missiles fired at Israel.
Shamir did not mislead either his ministers or his cabinet with maneuvers of the kind we are now witnessing. When he discovered at the time that his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, had reached a secret agreement with Jordan's King Hussein in London, he asked to see the agreement. Peres refused and told him "You'll get it from the Americans." Peres' people bragged that he had made mincemeat out of Shamir. But in the end Peres was defeated and Shamir served another term as prime minister with Yitzhak Rabin as defense minister, and they had an excellent relationship.
It was said of Shamir that he attended the Madrid Conference under duress. It's true he went with wariness and resistance, but he came prepared, just so they wouldn't say he had caused the conference's failure. Although he is remembered as the originator of the expression that it is permissible to lie for the sake of the Land of Israel, he was never caught in a lie.
Bibi, on the other hand, has gained an image as a habitual deceiver, not only here but among foreign leaders as well.
If Bibi has a strategic way of thinking, he manages to conceal it even from his ministers and coalition partners. Had it not been for his promises to Mofaz, including the promise to implement the decisions of the Plesner Committee on conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, as well as several other secret matters, Kadima would not have disgraced itself by joining this elephantine, 94-MK government. What was Bibi's goal, a government that wouldn't be dependent on the religious parties? This is a dream that won't come true until we all grow hair on the palms of our hands.
Shamir was a leader who was cut out of basalt, and we knew where we stood with him. We have the impression that Bibi doesn't even know why he deceived Kadima, why he lied in his Bar-Ilan speech about a two-state solution. This you call a leader?
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