Israel will formally rename its nuclear research facility in Dimona, currently known innocuously as the Nuclear Research Center – Negev, after Shimon Peres, the late president and key architect of Israel’s reported nuclear capabilities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that he intended to rename the Dimona plant – that a Finance Ministry official told a curious US ambassador in 1960 was a “textile factory” – after Peres.
“Shimon Peres worked greatly to establish this important enterprise,” Netanyahu said of the facility, “an enterprise which is important to the security of Israel for generations, and I think that it would be right and proper to rename the center after him.”
As director-general of the Defense Ministry in the mid 1950s, Peres was instrumental in building a close relationship with France, which agreed to sell a nuclear reactor to Israel. France also provided the technical knowledge and equipment needed to turn the young Jewish state into the world’s sixth nuclear power. Peres played another pivotal role in securing other key components needed for the program, all under the nose of the Americans.
Upon Peres’ death, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission released a rare statement saying that the head of the organization, Ze’ev Snir, along with present and past employees, “bow their heads in mourning” Peres.
Peres’ actions, the statement said, “have been interwoven with the commission since its inception. Peres had a significant contribution in the establishment of the Nuclear Research Center – Negev and the concretization of Israel’s nuclear policy as a significant component in ensuring Israel’s national resilience.”
Peres said in a Time magazine interview in February that the country’s nuclear program helped bring about the Oslo accords in 1993, for which he – along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat – shared the Nobel Peace Prize a year later.
“Dimona helped us to achieve Oslo,” Peres said in the interview. “Because many Arabs, out of suspicion, came to the conclusion that it’s very hard to destroy Israel because of it, because of their suspicion [of Israel’s nuclear capabilities].”
In addition to naming the Dimona facility after Peres, Transportation Minister Israel Katz said that renaming Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway after Peres was also under consideration.