Former Israeli President Shimon Peres Dies at 93; Leader Built Up Israel’s Defense and Sought Peace

Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres, one of the last surviving pillars of Israel’s founding generation, who did more than anyone to build up his country’s formidable military might, then worked as hard to establish a lasting peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors, died on Wednesday in a Tel Aviv area hospital. He was 93.

His death was reported by The Jerusalem Post and confirmed by an official who did not want to speak publicly until the family made an announcement.

Mr. Peres died just over two weeks after suffering a stroke. Doctors kept him largely unconscious and on a breathing tube since then in hopes that it would give his brain a chance to heal. But he deteriorated as the nation he once led watched his last battle play out publicly and leaders from around the world sent wishes for his recovery.

As prime minister (twice); as minister of defense, foreign affairs, finance and transportation; and, until 2014, as president, Mr. Peres never left the public stage during Israel’s seven decades.

He led the creation of Israel’s defense industry, negotiated key arms deals with France and Germany and was the prime mover behind the development of Israel’s nuclear weapons. But he was consistent in his search for an accommodation with the Arab world, a search that in recent years left him orphaned as Israeli society lost interest, especially after the upheavals of the 2011 Arab Spring led to tumult on its borders.

Chosen by Parliament in 2007 to serve a seven-year term as president, Mr. Peres had complicated relations with the hawkish government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, elected in 2009. While largely a ceremonial post, the presidency afforded Mr. Peres a perch with access and public attention, and he tried to exert his influence.

For someone who was dogged for decades by a reputation for vanity and back-room dealing, Mr. Peres ended his years in public office as a remarkably beloved figure, promoting the country’s high-tech prowess and cultural reach, a founding pioneer who set an example for forward thinking.

Never at a loss for a bon mot in his Polish-accented Hebrew, English and French, Mr. Peres said of his transformation: “For 60 years, I was the most controversial figure in the country, and suddenly I’m the most popular man in the land. Truth be told, I don’t know when I was happier, then or now.”

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