Shimon Peres (1923-2016) was an Israeli politician who served as the de facto head of the Israeli nuclear program during its early years.
Peres was born in Vishneva, at the time part of Poland. In 1934, his family moved to Tel Aviv in then-Palestine. As a young man, Peres helped organize the Haganah paramilitary group, which later became the Israel Defense Forces. After Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, Peres briefly served as head of the Israeli Navy. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion later named him deputy directory-general of the Ministry of Defense.
Beginning in 1955, Peres was the unofficial head of the Israeli nuclear program. “I resolved to keep my role entirely out of the public lime-light,” he explained. “That did not, however, prevent me from effectively running the entire program on behalf of Ben-Gurion, nor did it impair in any way my authority. Ben-Gurion trusted me. Professor [Ernst David] Bergmann worked with me with no reservations.” Peres was instrumental in getting key French support for the Israeli nuclear program during the 1950s, including a nuclear reactor and assistance constructing the Dimona nuclear complex. As Peres remembered, “Originality was necessary but it was not an end in itself. This outlook brought me into headlong collision with Bergmann. He believed that Israel had the potential and the ability to build its own nuclear reactors; I maintained that, if it were at all possible, we would be better to buy one abroad.”
After leaving the Ministry of Defense in 1965, Peres enjoyed a very successful political career. He was twice elected Prime Minister and also served as President and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1993, Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Shimon Peres died on September 28, 2016 in Ramat Gan, Israel.