Shimon Peres, former prime minister, defense minister, and finally (non-political) president of Israel, has died at age 93 — and an impressive array of world figures are mourning.
They think of him as a man of peace and reconciliation — dreaming of a Middle East that can be incredibly more positive, creative, and productive than it is now. Peres proudly declared himself an optimist, saying that that was the secret of his longevity. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Yitzhak Rabin (his rival within the Labor Party, but by the time Rabin was assassinated in 1995 they were close colleagues in exploring peace possibilities with the Palestinians) and the PLO chief, Yasser Arafat.
Peres’s role in strengthening Israel’s defenses — indeed the Jewish state’s survivability — is not widely and fully known. We have written, in our books, of the work he did — as a young aide who was very close to the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion — to make a deal with France for construction of an atomic reactor near Dimona, in Israel’s Negev Desert. Peres and Ben-Gurion were the leaders of a small corps of Israelis who knew the real purpose and the real result: an arsenal of nuclear weapons, still not officially acknowledged by Israel.
Peres also made sure that Israel Military Industries would be a world-class manufacturer of arms, and Israel now boasts some of the best defense technology and innovations — which sell well around the world.
We salute him, above all, for speaking publicly about the possibility that if reasonable men and women could come together and make necessary compromises, there could be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.