Cast a Giant Shadow: David “Mickey” Marcus (1901-1948), the IDF’s first general

Continuing in a Remembrance Day vein, a few words about the American Jewish army officer who ended up being the first aluf (“general”, in modern use Maj.-Gen.) of the IDF.

col_marcus_in_israel_1948

David Daniel Marcus, known to all as “Mickey” Marcus, was born on the Lower East Side in 1901. Bright as well as athletic, he acquired his higher education in what then (as now) was an unusual fashion for an American Jewish boy: he applied to the US Military Academy at West Point and was accepted in 1920, graduating with the Class of 1924.

After completing his active duty requirement, he went to law school and spent most of the 1930s fighting organized crime as an Assistant US Attorney in New York. In 1940, mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed him Corrections Commissioner, thus placing him in charge of the city’s prisons. Simultaneously, he served in the Army National Guard as the Judge Advocate of the 27th Infantry Division, by now at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Pearl Harbor and the US entry in World War II made him rethink his judicial career path, and he organized a ranger combat training school on Hawaii. Despite his hopes for a field command, however, he ended up being assigned to the Civil Affairs Division. (The assignment came with a promotion to full colonel.) Among other things, Col. Marcus was involved in drafting the 1943 surrender terms of Italy and the organization of the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences.

Despite having no paratrooper training, on D-Day he jumped with the 101st Airborne Division (he had pulled in a favor from its commander, his onetime classmate Gen. Maxwell Taylor) and informally commanded a battle group made up of stragglers.

After VE Day he was placed in charge of the DP camps in the US occupation zone of Germany. A tour of the Dachau concentration camp shocked him to the core: subsequently, he would head the Pentagon’s War Crimes Division and select prosecutors and lawyers for the major war crimes trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

On six different occasions he was nominated for promotion to Brigadier General, the last time together with the position of military attaché at the US Embassy in Moscow. He declined the appointment and promotion and returned to civilian practice in 1947.

Shortly after, Maj. Shlomo Shamir of the Haganah approached him to help him find a military expert to assist in organizing and training what was to become the IDF. Soon, it emerged that Marcus himself was the prime candidate. Marcus flew to the Land of Israel under the cover name ‘Mickey Stone’, where he was the first Jew in 2,000 years to bear the rank of aluf (general).[*] His exploits in organizing the Haganah guerilla fighters into an army, and in lifting the siege of Jerusalem through an improvised ‘Burma Road’, are recounted in great detail here.

On June 10, 1948, the night before the cease-fire in Israel’s War of Independence was to end, this “reverse Lafayette” met his end — through friendly fire. Being unable to sleep, he had gone for a walk, covered in his blanket against the cold. When the sentry saw the ‘Arab in a cloak’ approach, he challenged him in Hebrew. Marcus answered in English and kept coming despite a warning shot. The sentry fired again and killed Marcus. Once he realized what he had done, the sentry tried to take his own life, but his comrades stopped him —  it would not bring their commander back.

Colonel / Aluf Marcus’s remains were shipped to the USA and buried in the West Point military cemetery, as many Academy graduates are. He is, to my knowledge, the only person buried there who fell in a foreign uniform.

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His story was turned into a Hollywood movie Cast A Giant Shadow starring Isser Danielovich — better known by his stage name Kirk Douglas, and still alive and kicking at age 101!

The Silver Platter (Natan Alterman)

And the land grows still,
the red eye of the sky
slowly dimming over smoking frontiers

As the nation arises,
Torn at heart but breathing,
To receive its miracle, the only miracle

As the ceremony draws near,  it will rise,
standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass
and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear,
dirty, shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow

They have not yet found time.
Still bone-weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head

Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”

And they will answer quietly,
“We are the silver platter
on which the Jewish state was given.”

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told in the chronicles of Israel

 

[*] in the modern IDF table of ranks, aluf corresponds to Major-General. The highest rank, rav-aluf (corresponding to Lieutenant-General) is reserved for the Chief of Staff (rosh mate ha-clali, or ramatca”l for short), who is the IDF’s overall military commander.

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Intercultural communication and the ten cultural clusters

Editor and college lecturer Matthew Bowman drew our attention to the work of David Livermore on intercultural communication, specifically this online course.

Matt was speaking primarily in terms of an application Dr. Livermore surely had not thought of — creating realistic characters in fiction.

Building on earlier work by, e.g., Simcha Ronen and Oded Shenkar, Livermore considers the following ten “cultural value dimensions”:

  1. Identity: Individualist vs. Collectivist
  2. Authority: Low vs. high “power distance”
  3. Risk: Low vs. high “uncertainty avoidance”/risk averseness
  4. Achievement: cooperative vs. competitive
  5. Time orientation: short-term vs. long-term
  6. Communication: direct/explicit vs. indirect/contextual
  7. Lifestyle: being vs. doing
  8. Attitude to rules: universalist vs. particularist
  9. Expressiveness: affective vs. neutral
  10. Social norms: tight vs. loose

 

According to these dimensions, the cultures of the world mostly cluster into the following groups:
  1. Nordic European (Scandinavia)
  2. Anglo (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,…)
  3. Germanic (including Switzerland, and with the Netherlands as a semi-outlier)
  4. Eastern European & Central Asian
  5. Latin European: not just the “vulgar Latin”-speaking countries, but also Belgium (including its Dutch-speaking northern half, Flanders) and… Israel
  6. Latin American
  7. Confucian Asian (primarily CJK=China-Japan-Korea)
  8. South Asian (Indian subcontinent plus SE Asia)
  9. Sub-Saharan Africa
  10. Arab world

For instance, he describes Germanic culture as follows (in a sample chapter of one of his books):

  • individual goals are important, but not as paramount as in Anglo culture. [There is, however, the inconvenient truth that Germany gave birth to not just one but two forms of totalitarian collectivism.]
  • power distance is small. Even the most powerful officials lead fairly modest personal lives. Consider Angela Merkel — whatever you may think of her politics — and her husband, a chemistry professor who flies budget airlines to join her on vacations.
  • Germanic societies are definitely competitive
  • Punctuality is demanded and respected. Until digital watches came along, these cultures were literally watchmakers to the world.
  • “Ordnung muss sein” (there must be order/rules) is a prevailing norm, though the Netherlands is the more liberal odd duck in the gaggle
  • Directness in communication is valued. Expressions like “To explain something in good German” (auf gutes Deutsch) and “to make something Dutch to somebody” (iemand iets Diets maken) speak for themselves. [“Diets” is an archaic word for the Dutch language, which presently calls itself “Nederlands”.]
  • Getting things done is definitely high on the list of priorities, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.

There is variability within the cluster, of course: Austrians are much less punctual than the Swiss, and the Dutch even more direct than the others.

 

The inclusion of Israel with the Latin-European cluster may seem counterintuitive, but it does ring true to this blogger, who substantially grew up in Europe and presently lives in Israel. Again, there is intra-cluster variability, for example between the notoriously risk-averse Belgians and the Israeli “start-up nation”, or between the “dugri” [blunt, no beating around the bush] ways of Israelis and the more suave ways of some Latin countries — but I know from experience that of all the major immigrant groups to Israel, the French have much less of a culture shock than, say, Americans or Russians.

One must keep the limitations of this model in mind — it is a model, after all, not a theory—but it does offer a useful framework for making head or tail of the different cultures in the world.

Preference cascades and the fall of the Ceaucescu regime

The protests in Iran seem to be getting bigger. I can’t help being reminded (though this may be wishful thinking) of the 1989 protests in Rumania and the subsequent downfall of its dictator Nicolae CarpathiaCeaucescu.

The regime was deeply unpopular following an austerity program that had Rumanians scrambling for the most basic necessities, while the Inner Party, of course, enjoyed everything imaginable. Yet the Securitate (the Romanian secret police) maintained the most repressive police state of all the Eastern European regimes, and its grip on the people was supposed to be unassailable.

Then protests broke out in the Transylvanian town of Timisoara, in support of a Protestant pastor named László Tökés who belonged to the Hungarian minority of Transylvania. At the time, I did not think this would be a cause for the Rumanian majority — but it triggered a “preference cascade“. Suddenly, all sorts of people who loathed the regime and their circumstances, but feared to speak up realized they were not alone — and that the others around them had just been keeping their heads down. Thus one regional protest, not immediately suppressed, lit off a firestorm.

It’s unclear when exactly the tipping point occurred, but apparently, the defense minister was fired by Ceaucescu for not having issued live ammunition to the troops sent to suppress the Timisoara protests. His successor either did not care to sully his hands with mass slaughter to contain what had meanwhile grown to national protests, or he realized that the troops had changed allegiance and would disobey orders to fire on protesters — or perhaps both.

At any rate, second-tier elements of the regime then realized Ceaucescu was doomed, had no desire to share his fate, and made a deal with one of the protest leaders (a hydro-engineer and former head of a technical publishing house named Ion Iliescu). Within days, the grotesque dictator and his even more grotesque wife ignominiously escaped in a helicopter, then in a commandeered private vehicle, then ultimately handed over for arrest. Following a brief kangaroo court session, they were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day. Earlier, propaganda slogans had been aimed at the protesters to go home and enjoy the Christmas repast — whether these admonitions were more cynical or pathetic is hard to decide. At any rate, the Rumanian people did thus get their Christmas gift.

The transition to democracy (at first under Iliescu) was messy, but eventually, Romania left the nightmarish regime behind and has recently achieved a modest measure of prosperity, though much remains to be done.

Incidentally, what became of László Tökés? As it turns out, he had a political career later, and eventually became deputy chair of the European Parliament.

Will elements in Iran at some point similarly realize the mullahcracy is unsustainable, and engineer its downfall? Will this pit the army against the Revolutionary Guard? The mind wonders…

Saturday delight, Chanukah edition: Rami Kleinstein, “All your wonders have not yet ceased”

Happy Festival of Lights/Chag urim sameach!
Happy Festival of Dedication/Chag Chanuka sameach

In honor of the holiday, not my usual classical, prog-rock, or electronica fare. but an Israeli pop song that is a paean to this small, weird, and wonderful country: Rami Kleinstein’s “Od lo tamu pela’ich” —”All your wonders have not yet ceased”.

“Ulpan la-inyan” has a pretty accurate translation, which I’m quoting here:

ארצנו הקטנטונת, ארצנו היפה
מולדת בלי כותונת, מולדת יחפה
קבליני אל שירייך, כלה יפהפייה
פתחי לי שערייך אבוא בם אודה יה.

בצל עצי החורש, הרחק מאור חמה
יחדיו נכה פה שורש אל לב האדמה
אל מעיינות הזוהר, אל בארות התום
מולדת ללא תואר וצועני יתום.

 

Our little land, our beautiful land
Homeland without robes, homeland barefoot
Accept me among your songs, beautiful bride
Open your gates, I’ll come forth and praise G-d.

In the clearing trees’ shade, far from sun’s light
Together shall we plant into the earth’s heart
To the shining springs, to the groundwater wells
Homeland without figure, orphan gypsy.

עוד לא תמו כל פלאייך
עוד הזמר לו שט
עוד לבי מכה עם ליל
ולוחש לו בלאט:
את לי את האחת
את לי את, אם ובת
את לי את המעט
המעט שנותר.

Your wonders have not ceased
The song has yet to sail
My heart still strokes at night
And whispers in the dark:
You are for me the one
You are for me mother and daughter
You are for me the little,
little that remains.

נביאה בבגדינו את ריח הכפרים
בפעמון ליבנו יכו העדרים,
ישנה דממה רוגעת
וקרן אור יפה,
ולאורה נפסעה ברגל יחפה.

עוד לא תמו כל פלאייך…

We bring with our clothing the village scent
To our heart’s bell shall the flocks stride
There is a calming silence
And a pretty ray of light,
And to its light we tread barefoot.

Your wonders have not ceased…

And since it’s also the Sabbath, another song by Kleinstein, “Small gifts,” which is an ode to the Sabbath and to the transmission of Jewish heritage:

[Translation by the YouTube poster, with a few slight corrections.]
Another Friday, breathing the air,
Light and shadow are playing “tag” again.
The table is set, childhood photos on the wall,
Processions in white are returning from shul,
And that smell which scratches my heart-
Sneaking in and opening doors
To a small joy,
To the same old song which is being passed along the generations.
Small gifts
Someone has sent me small gifts
Shards of intent, circles of belief
Small gifts
Such as the strength to accept what I lack and what I possess
What more can one ask for?
Another Friday, a balcony, and a newspaper,
The sun, like worries, is slowly being erased,
Simple melodies crawl through the window
and there is no longer any storm which can hide the silence.
To a small joy
To the same old song which is being passed along for generations.

The embassy move to Jerusalem: less changes than you might think

“Sinterklaasdag” (December 6, St. Nicholas Day) presents are neither a Jewish nor an American tradition, but today US President Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he is instructing the State Department to start moving the embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

1600px-us_embassy_tel_aviv_6924

Predictably, doomsayers and useful idiots of the Caliphate are claiming the world will end—while in fact [sarcasm] this moves clearly proves collusion between Trump and the Russians, since Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital six months ago.[/sarcasm]

But jokes aside, what does this move change? In practice, less than you might think.

(a) The US already has a pretty large diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, with at least four locations that I can think of: a consular office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem; another on Agron Street in West Jerusalem (near the Great Synagogue); a third in the Arnona neighborhood, in what used to be “no man’s land” between the 1949 armistice and the 1967 Six-Day War; and an America House next to the YMCA. [State reportedly also owns a plot of land in the Talpiot neighborhood, which could be a potential embassy site.]

(b) The initial decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem was taken 22 years ago by Congress, in the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was approved on October 24, 1995 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities of 374–37 in the House and 93–5 in the Senate.  (Roll call vote 734Roll call vote 496,) Then-President Clinton refused to sign the Act — which was an embarrassment for him as well as for the Rabin-Peres gov’t in Israel at the time — but with a veto-proof majority, it passed into law anyway on November 8, 1995.

According to the terms of the act, if the embassy had not been moved by a May 31, 1999 deadline, the State Department would see its construction and upkeep budget for overseas missions cut by 50%. The Act did leave one loophole: the President may sign a six-month waiver, renewable indefinitely, for the sake of national security interest. Clinton, Bush 43, 0bama, and Trump all have done so, Trump just once when the previous waiver expired.

Apparently, he will sign again in order to prevent State getting partially defunded, but he has given instructions to start the process of moving the embassy. Fox reports that “some 1,000 employees” will need to be moved: the mind wonders whether this was a blooper on Fox’s part, or whether the US truly needs such a massive mission in a relatively small country—any halfway competent spy novelist will of course nod in recognition.

(c) The Jerusalem consulate already operates at near-parity with the consular section of the Embassy in Tel-Aviv: certain consular services, for instance (such as those related to Social Security) have been centralized in Jerusalem, while certain others (such as visas) are only available in Tel-Aviv. (The US also maintains a smaller consular presence in Haifa, while some countries maintain consulates in smaller cities — e.g. France in Ashdod and Netanya, with their sizable French-Jewish communities.)

In short: while Presidential recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (rather than Israel’s economic nerve center Tel-Aviv) is of great symbolic value for friend and foe alike, the practical implications on the ground are quite limited. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat quipped that all the Americans needed to do is clear an office at the Consulate where the ambassador could sit; in practice, ambassadors don’t move alone, and the migration is likely to take years.

UPDATE: in the wake of Trump’s announcement, the Czech Republic followed suit

And here, at the website of the Mann/Shinar architectural bureau, are some architectural renderings of the Arnona ‘annex’ to the Consulate in Jerusalem.

3kkk

Some little ‘annex’. Commissioned in 2003, during Bush 43’s first term.

UPDATE 2: Six months ago, Northwestern U. international law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote in a prescient Wall Street Journal op-ed:

If Mr. Trump nonetheless signs the waiver, he could do two things to maintain his credibility in the peace process. First, formally recognize Jerusalem—the whole city—as the capital of Israel, and reflect that status in official documents. Second, make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last. He should set concrete benchmarks for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to negotiations. These would include ending their campaign against Israel in international organizations and cutting off payments to terrorists and their relatives.

 

 

 

 

 

November 29, 1947: The Story of a Vote

 

Seventy years ago to this day, the United Nations voted on Resolution 181, the partitioning of the British Mandate into Jewish and Arab states as recommended by the UN’s special investigative commission (UNSCOP).

The story behind the scenes is told in this short movie, which combines historical footage with recent interviews of people who lived the event. The woman in the thumbnail is Suzy Eban, wife of Abba Eban.

A two-thirds majority was needed. In the end, thirty-three countries voted in favor:

• Latin American and Caribbean Group: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela

• Western Europe and Others: Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden

• Eastern Europe: Byelorussian SSR (Belarus), Ukrainian SSR (Ukraine), USSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland

• African: Liberia and South Africa

• Asia-Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Philippines

• North America: USA and Canada

Ten countries abstained:

• Latin American and Caribbean Group: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico

• Four other countries: UK (the outgoing mandate holder), China, Ethiopia, and Yugoslavia

Thailand was absent from the vote.

Thirteen countries voted against, ten of them Muslim:

•  Arab or Islamic countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Turkey, and Egypt

• Others: India, Cuba, and Greece. It should be noted that Greece then had a large diaspora in countries like Egypt, and was thus vulnerable to threats.

Voting happened by voice vote, alphabetically. The vote that put the resolution over the top was cast by the Philippines.

The day of the vote is remembered in Israel to this day as kaf-tet be-November  (from the Hebrew notation of the number 29, כ׳׳ט). The British Mandate was to end at midnight between May 14-15, 1948. On the afternoon of May 14, around 4pm, a hastily convened assembly gathered at a museum building in Tel-Aviv, and with a minimum of pomp and circumstance, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independent State of Israel.

 

Our hope is not yet lost

The hope of two thousand years

To be a free people in our land

The land of Zion, Jerusalem

 

 

 

End of an era: Shimon Peres (1923-2016)

The Times has a mostly fair-minded obituary. Peres may not technically have been one of Israel’s Founding Fathers (the way David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin were), but he was the last living representative of “the founder generation” of Israeli politics.

A protégé of David Ben-Gurion’s, he started his career in the final years of the Mandate as the person in charge of arms acquisition for the Haganah, and continued to act in that capacity after the founding of the state and the Haganah’s transformation from the pre-state militia  into the IDF.  In 1952 he was appointed deputy director general of the Ministry of Defense, becoming director-general (and de facto minister) in 1953 at the age of 30. He has been a mainstay of the Israeli political landscape for over six decades, ending with his term as  President (a mostly ceremonial position) from mid-2007 until mid-2014.

There is a Hebrew saying, acharei mot kedoshim (after their death, saints) — a pun on the titles of two consecutive Torah readings, acharei mot (Leviticus 16-18) and kedoshim. (Leviticus 19-20). “Do not speak ill of the dead,” if you like. I am however reminded of Oliver Cromwell, who told a painter to paint his portrait, “warts and all”. Paradoxically, because Peres was too great a man to need hagiography.

In his early career, Peres made tremendous contributions to the Israeli defense establishment and the security of the State. The Israel air force, Israel Aircraft Industries, RAFAE”L (Hebrew letter word for reshut le-pituach emtza’ei lechima, Weapon Systems Development Authority), Israel’s alleged nuclear deterrent… all came about on Peres’s watch. In 1959 he was first elected to the Knesset on the Mapai (mifleget poalei eretz Israel, Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel) ticket, and became Deputy Defense Minister (again, de facto minister, as Ben-Gurion officially held the portfolio himself).

In 1965, Peres, Ben-Gurion, and Moshe Dayan broke away from Mapai as  a new ticket Rafi (reshimat poalei Israel, Israel Workers List). After the Six-Day War, Mapai and Rafi merged into ha-Ma`arach (the [Labor] Alignment), and Peres joined the cabinet first as Immigrant Absorption Minister, then as Postmaster General and Information Minister. An intense rivalry with Yitzhak Rabin (Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War, later ambassador to the US) started with their competition for the Defense portfolio. After the Yom Kippur War and the resignation of Golda Meir, Rabin became Prime Minister and Peres Minister of Defense. Ironically, Peres was then the more hawkish of the two, fostering settlements in the disputed territories on the one hand and green-lighting the daring Entebbe Rescue on the other hand.

Peres never fared well at elections: an old Israeli joke was that “he could run against himself and still lose”. He always felt more in his element in the boardroom and carrying out diplomacy (sometimes incognito) with the high and mighty than on the campaign trail. He succeeded Rabin as party leader following the latter’s forced resignation over a (by today’s standards picayune) financial peccadillo: Rabin had maintained a US bank account from his days as ambassador, which had about $2,000 in it. (The law prohibiting Israelis from maintaining foreign bank accounts would later rightly be wiped off the books.) Peres’s triumph was brief: the general election put Menachem Begin’s Likud in power, and consigned the Labor Alignment to the opposition for the first time in history.

Peres had another shining moment after Begin’s “I cannot go on” (eineini yachol `od) resignation following the Lebanon War (and the demise of his wife Aliza Begin, to whom he was deeply attached). In the following National Unity Government, Peres and the Likud finance minister Yitzhak Moda’i put a stop to the hyperinflation that was ravaging the country. Under the coalition agreement, Peres started out as PM and Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir as Foreign Minister: after two years, the two men traded posts. Peres engaged in ample “behind the scenes” diplomacy in that era — something at which he excelled.

Following another narrow loss at the polls, the national unity coalition was continued, now with Shamir as PM all the way through. A failed scheme by Peres to topple the government in favor of a coalition of the left wing with fervently religious parties entered the Israeli political lexicon as ha-targil ha-masriach (“the stinky maneuver”, a term coined by Rabin).

After Rabin led Labor to victory in the 1992 elections, Peres became Foreign Minister in  his cabinet — the two erstwhile rivals established a surprisingly good working relationship until Rabin’s assassination. Here his main legacy became the Oslo Agreements — which must have “seemed a good idea at the time” but would become ashes in the mouths of so many of us.

Peres’s party was widely expected to win the election in the wave of sympathy and mourning following the Rabin assassination. True to form, he lost again, and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu became PM for the first time.  Former Chief of Staff Ehud Barak replaced Peres at the helm of Labor and three years later led it to victory in the polls, but left Peres on the sideline as Minister of Economic Cooperation.

Following the collapse of the Camp David Talks and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Barak lost a direct election for Prime Minister to Ariel Sharon. Peres brought Labor into Sharon’s coalition, thus forming another national unity government and holding the Foreign Ministry once again.

His record as foreign minister was mixed. While his personal diplomatic skills are undisputed, FM insiders have told me he devoted little attention to the ministry’s hasbara (“explanation”, PR) activities: he was quoted as saying that a good policy sells itself, while a bad policy cannot be sold. (It is fitting that my interlocutor, who generally is opposed to Netanyahu’s policies and favors those of Peres, acknowledged Netanyahu’s running of the ministry was much more effective.)

When Sharon founded a new centrist “Kadima” party and pursued a policy of unilateral disengagement, Peres followed him to Kadima and became his ally. After Sharon was rendered permanently unconscious by  a cerebral hemorrhage, Peres became deputy PM under Sharon’s successor Olmert.

Peres had earlier run for the post of President (the largely ceremonial head of state of Israel), but lost to Moshe Katzav in the Knesset vote. Katzav was ultimately forced to resign, and eventually imprisoned, in a sexual harassment scandal. Peres threw his hat in the ring again, successfully this time. His tenure as President restored dignity and prestige to the office, friend and foe agreeing he was perfect for the position.

Throughout it all, Peres remained a workaholic with an extraordinary drive, an insatiable intellectual curiosity, and an energy level that belied his age. It was widely assumed that Peres would either die with his boots on, or shortly after finally having to retire.

On a personal note: Across Peres’s triumphs and failures, and the many decades of his career, the one constant feature that stands out to me is his fascination with science and technology. Even just a couple of years ago, he could still be relied upon to hold forth to philanthropists, VC types, and foreign dignitaries on nanotech, renewable energy, virtual reality, you name it.

Some loved him, some hated him, many of us did both at one time or another. The prophet of the New Middle East, the ‘indefatigable schemer’ (chatran bilti nil’e, as Rabin called him in his memoirs), the arms master of early Israel, the father of our nuclear program,… he was all that and more. A man larger than life. Once there was a giant. May his memory be blessed.

PS: movie buffs might be interested to know that Peres (born Szymon Persky in Vishnyeva, present-day Belarus) was a second cousin of Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske).