JERUSALEM -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who clung throughout his life to the belief that Israel should hang on to territory and never trust an Arab regime, died Saturday. He was 96.

Israeli media said he died at a nursing home in Herzliya.

Shamir served as prime minister in 1983-84 and 1986-92 -- leading his Likud Party to election victories twice. Barely more than 5 feet tall and built like a block of granite, he projected an image of uncompromising solidity at a time when Palestinians rose up in the West Bank and Gaza, demanding an end to Israeli occupation.

Defeated in the 1992 election, he watched as his successor, Yitzhak Rabin, negotiated interim land-for-peace agreements with the Palestinians. The agreements, including Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's recognition of Israel, did nothing to ease his suspicion.

In a 1997 interview with The Jewish Post, Shamir declared: "The Arabs will always dream to destroy us. I do not believe that they will recognize us as part of this region."

He embraced the ideology of the Revisionists -- that Israel is the sole owner of all of the Holy Land, made up of Israel, West Bank and Jordan.

Born Yitzhak Jazernicki in Poland in 1915, he moved to pre-state Palestine in 1935. He joined Lehi, the most hard-line of three Jewish movements resisting British mandate authorities, taking over the Lehi leadership after the British killed its founder.

Once in Palestine, he changed his name to Shamir, Hebrew for thorn. In 1944, he was the architect of Lehi's most daring attack, the Cairo assassination of Lord Moyne, Britain's top Middle East official and a close friend of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Shamir seldom spoke about his underground work. But referring to Lord Moyne's killing, he told author Gerold Frank: "A man who goes forth to take the life of another whom he does not know must believe one thing only -- that by his act he will change the course of history."

Captured twice, Shamir escaped from two British detention camps and returned to resistance action.

After Israel was founded in 1948, Shamir was in business for a few years before entering Israel's Mossad spy agency. In the mid-1960s he joined the right-wing Herut party, which evolved into present-day Likud. Shamir succeeded Menachem Begin as prime minister in 1983 in the aftermath of Israel's disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

His term was marked by the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation and the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.

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