By Avi Shushan
When Ehud Olmert appointed him defense minister, people said he was forsaking Israel’s security. When he spoke with senior officials, they humiliated him and disregarded his opinions, claiming he should not interfere in things he knows nothing about. When he toured the northern border, he was given binoculars with the caps still on and was made a laughing stock all over the world. When he left office shamefacedly, people said that Israel’s security had been restored and that the appointment of a citizen for such a position would never happen again.
He was laughed at, disrespected and turned into an irrelevant product. But now, five years after he left the defense minister’s bureau, one thing is clear: Amir Peretz was one of the most important and influential defense ministers the State of Israel ever had, if only for one important decision he made during his short term – developing the Iron Dome defense system, which changed the rules of the game and is saving the lives of many Israeli citizens as we speak.
Peretz made a decision which appeared almost imaginary at the time. People said that he was pouring money he didn’t have into a technological adventure, that he was ignoring the opinions of senior officers who rejected this “absurd idea” taken from Star Trek, that he should stop presenting the army with creative ideas but rather invest the money in the familiar combat doctrines.
But Peretz, specifically because he was an outsider, saw what all those well-informed people didn’t see: A horizon. As a resident of the rocket-battered city of Sderot, he realized that the State must do everything in its power to provide the home front with a defensive shield, that residents must not be allowed to continue going like lambs to the slaughter and that you can’t threaten offense without thinking about defense.
Looking back, Amir Peretz was the right person in the perfect timing. He introduced creativity, imagination, inspiration and new solutions to a large, well-oiled and some would say cumbersome system. But all that did not help him. The Second Lebanon War was considered a huge failure at the time and was not appreciated as a successful and important battle as it is today. The Winograd Commission was appointed and the public was looking for blood.
Peretz’s blood dripped the most: A not particularly articulate Moroccan with a peasant’s mustache, who was not part of “the clique.” The Labor Party overthrew him, the public believed that he had asked for the job to boost his ego, and the media subjected him to an unprecedented character assassination.
Amir Peretz left the Defense Ministry shamefacedly, leaving behind “scorched earth” with a megalomaniac project no one knew what to do with. Upon his departure, there were even those who said that the huge amount of money spent on the Iron Dome system should be written off from the defense establishment’s budget.
We all know what happened in the end. The Iron Dome system saves the lives of dozens and perhaps hundreds of citizens on a daily basis. Its ability to identify the missile in one thousandth of a second, know if it will hit an open or constructed area and intercept the missile if necessary – is absolutely fantastic. The system has an interception success rate of 86%, and as we speak it is preventing many Israelis from getting hurt.
In special media broadcasts these days, presenters and commentators are regularly praising the system and its developers. They have forgotten to thank the one person who decided to give the system a chance against the majority of defense officials – Amir Peretz.
Now, as the Iron Dome system is raising global interest and is expected to become one of the most successful and highly esteemed Israeli developments in the world, we must thank Amir Peretz and apologize to him for the character assassination he suffered. History has done him injustice, and now is the time to thank him.