February 1, 2012 - Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro Remarks for the IDC Herzliya Conference (as prepared)
I would like to thank the IDC, particularly Major General Danny Rothschild, for hosting this always useful conference. It is an honor to be on this panel with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Professor Uzi Arad, and Ambassadors Blackwill and Pinkas. I greatly appreciate Talia Lipkin-Shahak’s willingness to moderate our panel.
I have to admit that I looked at the title of this panel with a bit of surprise. What surprised me were not the words, but the punctuation. There should be no need for a question mark. Israel is a strategic asset and partner to the United States. Period.
What makes us allies is the unique combination of common values and common interests. We don’t have any better partner in the Middle East, a strategically critical and unstable part of the world. We share common goals of combating terrorist organizations and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We also have some common enemies that target both of us.
What makes Israel a strategic asset is that it brings unique capabilities to the table to pursue these interests, and our efforts to pursue them jointly are more effective than what we could do on our own.
The conclusion that Israel is both an ally and a strategic asset is part of the American political consensus. It does not waiver between political parties in the United States. It does not change from one Administration to the next. It is a decades’ long commitment that has only strengthened over time. It was President John F. Kennedy in December 1962 who told then-Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir: “The United States has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to what it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs.” That was in 1962.
The relationship grew to include the U.S. and Israel signing a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation in November 1981. And it was in January 1987 that the U.S. Congress took the largest step by designating Israel as a major non-NATO ally.
Over the decades, we have invested tens of billions of dollars in Israel’s security, always with the goal of ensuring that Israel has the means to defend itself. Today, U.S.-Israel defense cooperation and U.S. security assistance is at its strongest ever, as President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address last week. Defense Minister Barak agrees. In December, he said that “the U.S. stands besides Israel in terms of its security more than ever before.”
We make these commitments, and carry them out, not out of charity or altruism. We do have a moral interest in supporting Israel, and have since its founding. And of course, we stand with Israel as a fellow democracy that has often been threatened by non-democratic neighbors. But at the core of our commitment is the recognition that it is a fundamental interest of the United States that Israel continue to survive and thrive as a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic state here in the Middle East.
Helping ensure Israel remains strong, secure, Jewish and democratic animates our policies across the Administration, and explains our extraordinary security cooperation, our stand against the de-legitimization of Israel in the international community, our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, our response to the Arab transitions, and our efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.
When I say that Israel’s survival as a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic state is an American national interest, and when the President says the bonds between the United States and Israel remain unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad, it represents both the fact and our deep and enduring belief that this is a two-way relationship.
Over the years, we have put in place regular and deep intelligence exchanges that surpass what we do with many of our intelligence partners. The sharing of intelligence, analysis and assessments is constant, rich, and flows in both directions. Israel brings unique capabilities in collecting and analyzing intelligence on certain actors hostile to both of us, from which we benefit enormously.
Joint military training and coordination of our counter-terrorism and civil preparedness efforts are other areas of great collaboration. Israel has tremendous expertise in these fields, from which we learn and improve our own capabilities. The deep ties between our militaries include joint training opportunities that our own troops look forward to and initiate themselves.
We collaborate on defense technology development, from which the benefits flow in both directions. Our work to jointly develop missile defense systems has led to technological breakthroughs that we are both employing to defend ourselves. The successes of the Arrow and Iron Dome programs are critical advances that save lives and enhance Israel’s strategic position. But let me mention an Israeli technological breakthrough that has had enormous strategic significance for the United States.
I just recently visited Kibbutz Sasa, the home of Plasan. Plasan met the call to help protect American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan when they were able to surge the production of up-armor kits for Humvees and for mine-resistant vehicles. These armor kits were critical in saving the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen when they faced the threat of IEDs and RPG attacks.
By the way, when you look at the burgeoning economic relationship we have, particularly in the high-tech sector, if we didn’t have the start-up nation here in Israel, we would have to invent it – for the sake of our own economy. Virtually every major U.S. technology company has chosen to base major research and development centers here in Israel to draw on the talent and innovation of the Israeli work force and start-up culture. That makes American companies more competitive globally and supports our economic growth.
So, why then is there a question mark at the end of the panel topic? Let’s be forthright and acknowledge that the U.S. and Israel may disagree at times on aspects of the issues of the day. But, it is due to our common goals that we discuss these issues at the highest levels and in the most intimate ways in order to seek the best way forward. These discussions are a sign of the health and strength of our partnership. We rarely disagree on the desired outcome, so we focus on coordinating the best method to achieve it.
Let me just close with one example of our coordination on a critical issue of common interest. Much has been made in the press on supposed differences between the U.S. and Israel on preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability. Let me again make clear that the United States views the Iranian threat just as Israel does. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a grave threat to the security of the United States, our allies, the region, and the world, and we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We see eye-to-eye with you on the gravity of the situation and the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The President said he would prevent Iran from acquiring them, and he means it.
Iran now faces the toughest sanctions ever, and they have imposed steep costs on the regime and slowed Iran’s nuclear efforts. Iran’s leaders admit publicly that sanctions are hurting their economy. We are working now with our partners in the international community to further increase the pressure on Iran and to deepen the impact of these measures through the application of sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and efforts to reduce Iran’s oil revenues. We remain committed to a dual-track policy that uses pressure to urge Iran to engage seriously on its nuclear program, but we are not taking any option off the table in pursuit of our basic objective.
With that, I’ll close for now, and I look forward to an energizing discussion and to the rest of the conference. Thank you.