The place and circumstances of his death were not immediately clear.
A man of iron will and simple tastes, Mr. Shamir prided himself on his hard-line views, his relentless determination to hang onto every square inch of what he considered the Land of Israel, and his championing of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, defying the demands of Israel’s most important ally, the United States.
He first served as prime minister for a year after Menachem Begin’s sudden resignation in 1983, then returned to power for six tumultuous years from 1986 to 1992. Much of that period was dominated by the first Palestinian intifada, an uprising that shattered the old terms of Israel’s domination of its Palestinian subjects and compelled even Mr. Shamir to make concessions that he had never anticipated.
At the same time, he presided over an era of growing prosperity and consumerism in the late 1980s and early ’90s that inexorably drove Israel to seek accommodation with many of its Arab foes and laid the groundwork for Mr. Shamir’s own political demise. Still, Mr. Shamir was Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister after founding father David Ben-Gurion.
In the end, Mr. Shamir’s miscalculation of the patience and persistence of President George H.W. Bush and Bush’s canny secretary of state, James Baker, triggered a diplomatic showdown that set the stage for Mr. Shamir’s defeat by opposition party leader Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.
Still, Mr. Shamir’s vision for Israel — a strong, unassailable nation capable of defeating any enemy and continuing down the path of colonizing the West Bank even while establishing itself as an economic success story — endures.
“There is the sense that no one had the impact that he had,” said Avishai Margalit, an Israeli philosopher at Princeton University. “He was the ultimate true believer in the idea of Greater Israel.”
Mr. Shamir was a barrel-chested man with wavy gray hair and bushy eyebrows that topped an asymmetrical rubbery face and a trim, almost indiscernible mustache. He was barely 5-foot-4, a physically unremarkable person who readily blended into a crowd. Yet he was neither frail nor easily intimidated.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was both Mr. Shamir’s occasional political partner and main rival for power within the ruling Likud party, recalled in his memoirs taking Mr. Shamir, then foreign minister, on a clandestine trip to Lebanon during the early 1980s to meet with the Christian warlords who were then allied with Israel. The two men found themselves caught in the middle of a flare-up between rival gunmen. “While I was used to this kind of thing, having been to Beirut so many times, Shamir was not,” Sharon wrote. “I glanced at him and saw his face showed absolutely no trace of emotion. The man had complete self-control.”