Yitzhak Shamir, the former Israeli prime minister who expanded settlements and promoted a forceful brand of Zionism, died today at age 96. He reportedly suffered from Alzheimer's disease. The survivor of a Polish family killed in the Holocaust, Shamir made his mark in Israel's pre-state militia in the 1940s, the New York Times reports. After serving time in Eritrea for a hotel bombing, he returned to Israel in 1948, joined the Mossad, spent years in business, and entered Menachem Begin's Herut Party in 1970.
He rose from speaker to foreign minister and eventually succeeded Begin as prime minister in 1983. Serving second-longest among all Israeli PMs, Shamir encouraged settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. He won favor with Washington for not attacking Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, but was criticized for failing to act when, during Israel's war in Lebanon, Lebanese militiamen massacred Palestinians in camps guarded by Israelis. Perhaps it reflected Shamir's understated personality: "With our long, bitter experience,” he once said, "we have to think twice before we do something." (Read more Israel stories.)