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World Remembers Shimon Peres, ‘the Face of Israel’

Son of Shimon Peres Remembers Father 1:37

Political and Jewish leaders around the world mourned the death Wednesday morning of Shimon Peres, who was present at the creation of the state of Israel and led the country through times both troubled and peaceful.

Peres, who was twice prime minister of Israel and was president as late as 2014, died in Tel Aviv at the age of 93.

Obituary: Shimon Peres, Ex-Israeli President and Nobel Laureate, Dies at 93

"There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement. "My friend Shimon was one of those people."

Image: Barack Obama and Shimon Peres
President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres in the East Room of the White House in June 2012. REX/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Former President George H.W. Bush, likewise, saluted Peres' "unyielding determination and principle."

"Shimon Peres time and again helped guide his beloved country through the crucible of mortal challenge," Bush said from his home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Peres will probably best be remembered for his negotiations, as foreign minister, of the historic Oslo Accords in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, for which he shared the Nobel Peace Prize the following year with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

PHOTOS: Lifelong Israeli Statesman Shimon Peres Dies

"I'll never forget how happy he was 23 years ago when he signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, heralding a more hopeful era in Israeli-Palestinian relations," former President Bill Clinton, who helped broker the deal, said on learning of Peres' death.

IMAGE: Shimon Peres and Bill Clinton
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and U.S. President Bill Clinton shake hands during a joint news conference in Washington in December 1995. Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images

But his shadow was much bigger, casting itself upon the entire history of the Israeli state, said Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, the oldest Jewish service organization in the world.

"He really was the face of Israel in many, many countries around the world," Mariaschin, who serves as B'nai B'rith's chief executive and met Peres many times, told NBC News.

Peres joined the Haganah, the predecessor of the Israel Defense Forces, in 1947 and served alongside David Ben-Gurion in the first Arab-Israeli War, which began when Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces invaded Palestine on May 15, 1948. That was one day after Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of Israel.

Peres was often referred to as one of Ben-Gurion's "old boys, and the founding prime minister appointed his protégé director of the new country's naval services. He promoted Peres to director-general of the Defense Ministry in 1952, age 29.

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres Dies at 93 1:45

"You could say Ben-Gurion was the founding father of the country, and Peres was by his side ... making important contributions," Mariaschin said. "His involvement in Israel, his political life, almost spans the entire time of the state of Israel."

Time and again, Peres was at the center of military crises. He played a major role in planning the British-French invasion of Egypt over the Suez Canal in 1956, which ended mostly in failure.

And he was the defense minister responsible for engineering Operation Entebbe — when Israeli commandos successfully rescued more than 100 hostages who had been seized on a plane at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in July 1976 by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

IMAGE: Surin Hershko and Shimon Peres
Former Israeli President kisses Surin Hershko, an Israeli soldier wounded during the 1976 raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda, during a presentation in the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, Israel, last June. Jim Hollander / EPA

With the raid on Entebbe Airport, Peres helped to establish modern military counterterrorism operations, Mariaschin said.

At the same time, Peres was a complex, intellectual man who was "interested in a range of issues beyond his immediate agenda," Mariaschin said. When he was director of the Defense Ministry's delegation to the United States during the 1950s, he studied English, economics, and philosophy at The New School and New York University, and then advanced management at Harvard University.

Peres had "a capability to read an issue and to act quickly ... but also with a great deal of thought," Mariaschin said.

"He was a very good speaker, and with a turn of a phrase he could encapsulate matters in a way that wordsmiths do," Mariaschin said. "Listening to his speeches or even at a meeting in an office, you would listen very carefully to what he had to say, because he used his words carefully and very well."

"His loss will be felt by many," Mariaschin said. "We mourn his loss and know that in many parts of the world that many others are doing so, as well."

IMAGE: Ronald Reagan and Shimon Peres
U.S. President Ronald Reagan meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in the Oval Office Office of the White House in May 1988. Arnie Sachs/REX/Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Other prominent figures also noted what Bush called Peres' "innate humanity," through which he "inspired the world over and helped pave a path to peace broad enough that future generations will walk it one day, side-by-side," the former president said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, chose to highlight what he characterized as Peres' gift for looking beyond the passing issues of the day, which he said was apparent in a meeting with Hier, filmmaker Jeffery Katzenberg and Jerry Seinfeld over Hanukkah in 2007.

Hier said Wednesday morning that during the meeting, Peres said of Israel: "Gentlemen, not all miracles are in the Bible. You are visiting Israel. The whole country is a miracle! We have no oil, no water, but look at what Israel has accomplished."

Marvin Nathan, and Jonathan Greenblatt, national chairman and chief executive, respectively, of the Anti-Defamation League, noted Peres' military and political achievements in a joint statement. But they also stressed his engagement with society at large, right up until his death.

"At an age when all of his contemporaries had entered retirement, along with taking up skydiving, Peres worked to promote social innovation and new advanced technologies for international social change and the greater good," they said.

In his statement, Clinton called Peres "a genius with a big heart."

"His critics called him a dreamer. That he was — a lucid, eloquent dreamer until the very end," Clinton said. "Thank goodness. Let those of us who loved him and love his nation keep his dream alive."