"Ecclesiastes, of course, was right: indeed, nothing is new under the sun," writes Yitzhak Shamir in his autobiography. This seems a surprising statement from a man who has seen and molded dizzying changes in an amazingly active life. Inspired by the visions of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Jewish nationalism, Shamir came to British -- controlled Palestine in 1935 as a young Polish immigrant named Yitzhak Yezernitzky and joined the militant Jewish underground. The name Shamir came from a forged identification certificate he carried. Shamir became the commander of the underground militia known as the Stern Gang, or Lehi. After Israel's establishment in 1948, he spent 17 secretive years working as a Mossad agent. He then began a rapid political climb in the rightist Likud party: first a member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), then its speaker, then foreign minister, and then in 1983 prime minister. Despite this remarkable career, Shamir considers his career as a Lehi fighter 50 years ago "the best part of my life." Shamir's formative experiences etched such lasting impressions on him that whatever occurred thereafter has seemed only a slight variation on the same theme. This is not an unusual phenomenon among people who, in their youth, participated in dramatic events and therefore consider later life a dull anticlimax. For a person who eventually assumed awesome responsibilities for an entire nation, however, such a nostalgic, petrified worldview is crippling and dangerous.
As prime minister, Shamir vehemently rejected any proposal to convene a superpower -- sponsored international peace conference with the Arabs. " `Peace' secured in this way, under duress," he writes, "would only bring greater demands in its wake until everything the Arabs wanted would, at last, be theirs, even Jerusalem." His rejectionism strained relations with the United States and brought down the government of national unity that he had formed with the opposition Labor Party. Shamir candidly admits that "somewhere in the back of my mind there still echoed the fiasco of 1939," when the British brought Jewish and Arab