The death of Shimon Peres at the age of 93 marks the departure of the last major figure in Israel’s founding generation.
He died on Wednesday in a hospital after suffering a major stroke, the Israeli news website Ynet reported, after his condition worsened following a stroke two weeks ago.
Peres – one of the disciples of David Ben-Gurion , Israel’s first prime minister – spent his long political career in the public spotlight, but his greatest successes were engineered in the shadows, noted Yaron Ezrahi, a politics professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Peres’ most important task, to which he was entrusted by Ben-Gurion, was developing in secret – and over United States opposition – Israel’s nuclear weapons programme through the 1950s and 60s. To that end, he recruited the assistance of France, Britain and Norway.
Peres, like his mentor, believed an Israeli bomb was the key to guaranteeing Israel’s status – both in Washington DC and among the Arab states – as an unassailable Middle East power.
The testing of the first warhead in the late 1960s was probably at least as responsible for ensuring rock-solid US patronage in subsequent decades as Israel’s rapid victory against neighbouring Arab states in the Six-Day War.
At home, among both Israelis and Palestinians, he was viewed far less favourably.
Born Szymon Perski, Peres emigrated to Palestine from Poland with his family in 1934, aged 11. Raised on a kibbutz and inculcated in the values of Labour Zionism espoused by Israel’s East European elite, he was quickly identified as a rising star by Ben-Gurion, a fellow Pole.
During the 1948 war, Ben-Gurion kept Peres in a backroom job, far from the fighting, where he was responsible for acquiring weapons, often illicitly, for the new Israeli army.
His diplomatic skills were relied on throughout the state’s tricky early years in the defence ministry. Despite his lack of an army background, he was instrumental in developing Israel’s large state-run military industries.
In the same role, he also developed alliances with key western states, especially France and Britain, that would eventually help Israel establish the Dimona nuclear reactor and build a bomb.
In return, Peres plotted with these two fading colonial powers an attack on Egypt in 1956 that triggered the Suez Crisis. Israel invaded Sinai to create the pretext for an Anglo-French “intervention” and seizure of the Suez Canal. All three soon had to withdraw under pressure from the United States [president Dwight Eisenhower] and Soviet Union.
- ○ How Shimon Peres Stole the Bomb with a Bluff, and Why Military Censor Doesn’t Want Israelis to Know About It
Now, there’s another to add to the treasury of hasbara promoted by Israel to the world: nuke-washing. I wrote about a similar domestic effort at cleansing Israel’s nuclear warheads of the stench of potential mass murder.
The IAEA celebrated its 60th anniversary in Vienna, its headquarters, recently. And Israel was there with its very own exhibit featuring the innovations and contributions which Israel’s nuclear program has bestowed on humanity. No mention, of course, of Israel’s 200 nuclear weapons and the legacy that they’ve given the world. No mention, of course, that Israel has refused to join the only international agreement limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the NPT. No mention of the fact that Israel has torpedoed a U.S. and Arab effort to hold a regional conference leading to declaring the Mideast a nuclear-free zone.
Instead, we have Rays of Hope (get it? radiation=rays), Israel’s latest marketing effort to persuade the world to ignore its worst deeds and focus instead on deeds that are marginal at best in their overall impact on Israel or the world. A press release from the prime minister’s office hails this as Israel’s first international exhibit of its accomplishments in the field.
- ○ Israel Is Not Our Partner for Middle East Peace
○ Ariel Sharon Dies: The Bulldozer at the Gates of Hell