Yitzhak Shamir was born in Ruzinoy, Poland in 1915. He attended the Bialystok Hebrew Gymnasium, and from 1929 was an active member of the Betar Zionist movement. In 1932 he began studying law at the University of Warsaw, but in 1935 interrupted his studies to move to Israel. He enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but never graduated.
In 1937 Shamir joined the Etzel ("Irgun Zvai Leumi"), and in 1940 he followed Avraham Stern, resigned from the Etzel, and joined the Lehi ("Lohamei Herut Israel"). In 1941 he was imprisoned by the British Mandatory authorities in the Yizrael Valley detention camp, from which he escaped in 1943. He became one of the leaders of the Lehi and served as its principle director of operations until he was detained again by the British and exiled to a prison camp in Eritrea. In 1947 he escaped, made his way to the neighboring French colony of Djibouti, and was later granted political asylum in France. Upon his return to Israel, he resumed command of the Lehi until it disbanded in 1949.
After managing several commercial enterprises, Shamir joined Israel's security services in the mid-1950's. He returned to private commercial activity in the mid-1960's, when he became involved in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry and joined Menachem Begin's Herut movement, which evolved into the Likud party.
Elected to the Knesset in 1973 on behalf of the Likud, Shamir was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the State Comptroller Committee. In 1977 he was appointed Chairman of the Knesset, a position which he held until 1980.
Following Moshe Dayan's resignation in 1980, Shamir joined the Cabinet and assumed the post of Foreign Minister. He continued in this position after the 1981 elections. In this capacity, he presided over the negotiations with Egypt on the post-treaty normalization process, and initiated diplomatic contacts with several African countries which had severed relations with Israel after the Yom Kippur War. Following Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, he oversaw negotiations with Lebanon on a peace agreement (which was never ratified by the Lebanese government).
In October 1983, Shamir succeeded Menachem Begin as Prime Minister. Following the 1984 election, he was appointed Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister in the National Unity Government. Together with Defense Minister Moshe Arens, Shamir worked to create a framework for US-Israel strategic cooperation and a Free-Trade Agreement between the two countries. In 1986, Shamir returned to the premiership, rotating tenure with Labor Chairman, Shimon Peres.
Following the 1988 elections, Shamir created a National Unity Government (without the previous "rotation" element). That government fell in 1990 due to a political crisis, but after several weeks, Shamir succeeded in forming a narrow coalition government, without the Labor Party.
In May 1991, Shamir ordered "Operation Solomon", the airlift rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews. In September 1991 he represented Israel at the International Peace Conference in Madrid.
Defeated in the 1992 elections, Shamir stepped down from the party leadership and remained a Knesset member until the 1996 elections .
Yitzhak Shamir and his wife Shulamit have a son, Yair, and a daughter, Gilada.
Yitzhak Shamir died on June 30, 2012.