Antony J. Blinken currently serves as Deputy Assistant to the President and as National Security Advisor to the Vice President. He spoke on Monday, February 27th to an Israel Policy Forum audience in New York City.
As Prepared for Delivery
Remarks to the Israel Policy Forum
New York City
Monday, February 27, 2012
Let me start by saying to everyone in this room: thank you.
Thank you for the work you do every day, through the Israel Policy Forum, to promote the unshakeable bond between the United States and the State of Israel.
Founded nearly two decades ago with the blessing of a great hero—Yitzhak Rabin—IPF has made extraordinary contributions to peace and security by mobilizing leaders in both countries—inside and outside of government—to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and address some of the defining policy challenges of our time.
The work that you do strengthens America’s foreign policy. And it is critical to the security of Israel. Never has this cause been more important. And that’s what I would like to talk about today, from the perspective of the Obama-Biden administration.
For more than 60 years since Israel's founding—during periods of war and peace, calm and crisis—U.S. administrations of all stripes have worked to safeguard Israel's security.
But I would maintain that no administration – and no President – has done as much as President Obama with Israel… and for Israel’s security.
Last fall, President Obama's personal intervention helped avert catastrophe when a violent mob stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
Afterward, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the president:
"I requested his assistance at a decisive—I would even say fateful—moment. He said he would do everything possible, and this is what he did. He activated all of the United States' means and influence—which are certainly considerable. I believe we owe him a special debt of gratitude."
That influence was but one vivid manifestation of our administration's iron-clad commitment to Israel's security, a commitment that has led to a level of cooperation that Mr. Netanyahu himself has rightly called "unprecedented."
That commitment starts with President Obama’s profound understanding of Israel’s predicament.
Here’s how the President put it this September, speaking to the countries of the world at the United Nations General Assembly:
“Let us be honest with ourselves. Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map.”
When it comes to Israel’s security and maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge, our actions speak loudest of all.
Since coming to office, we have launched the most comprehensive and meaningful strategic and operational consultations… across all levels of our governments… in the history of this relationship.
These interactions, from our heads-of-state on down, are what averted tragedy in Cairo—and they only exist between the closest of allies.
In October 2009, our nations' armed forces conducted their largest ever joint military exercise, Juniper Cobra. It involved 1000 personnel on each side. It tested the inter-operability and effectiveness of our air defense systems.
In 2010, nearly 200 senior-level Department of Defense officials visited Israel, and similar numbers of senior Israeli officials visited the U.S.
Last year, despite tough fiscal times, President Obama secured full funding for Israel in our 2011 budget, including more than $3 billion in military assistance—the most ever. For next year’s budget, we’ve requested an additional $25 million.
And on top of last year’s historic commitment, we added $205 million to help produce Iron Dome.
This short-range rocket defense system has been a godsend for besieged communities along Israel's border with Gaza, and it has now been installed in the north, along the Lebanon border, as well.
Already it has intercepted dozens of rockets and shells that might otherwise have struck homes, schools or hospitals. It is providing some peace of mind for people, like the residents of Sderot whom President Obama visited in 2008, living every day in the line of fire.
To guard against more distant, but also more dangerous threats, we have worked with Israel on the Arrow weapons system, to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles. This is one of the most advanced missile defense systems in existence… and Israel is the only country in the world to field the complete system.
We’ve also worked with Israel on David's Sling, a defense system for shorter-range missiles, like those possessed by Hezbollah.
And we have collaborated on a powerful radar system linked to U.S. early warning satellites that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of a missile attack.
We know that Israel sees the threat posed by Iran as existential. And make no mistake: An Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose a direct and serious threat to the security of the U.S. as well.
That is why President Obama is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
We have backed up that commitment by building an unprecedented coalition to impose the most far-reaching sanctions Iran has ever faced.
As a result, Iran finds itself increasingly isolated from the international community.
It finds it harder than ever to acquire materials for its nuclear and weapons programs and to conduct transactions in dollars and euros.
It is unable to access about 70 percent of its foreign currency reserves.
It has struggled to buy refined petroleum and the goods it needs to modernize its oil and gas sector.
Already close to $60 billion in Iranian energy-related projects have been put on hold or shut down.
World-leading companies are deciding to stop doing business there, including:
And the foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms such as GE, Honeywell and Caterpillar, among many others.
Most recently, the Administration worked with Congress to make sanctionable a host of transactions involving the Central Bank of Iran.
And we are now working with partners to implement this new law in a way that maximizes the pressure on the Iranian regime.
The regime is feeling the pressure. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what Iran’s President, Mr. Ahmadinejad, said about sanctions to Iran’s parliament late last year:
“The West has imposed the most extensive and dastardly sanctions ever… Every day, all our banking and trade activities and our agreements are being monitored and blocked. This is the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history…”
The purpose of this pressure is not punishment. It is to convince Iran that the price to be paid for pursuing a nuclear weapons capability is too high… and the time is now to make good on its commitments to the international community.
Standing up for Israel's security also means remaining ever vigilant against attempts to delegitimize Israel in the international arena.
As President Obama has said, including in the speech he gave in Cairo, Israel's legitimacy is not a matter for debate.
That is why we stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza War was issued.
That is why we refuse to attend events that endorse or commemorate the flawed 2001 World Conference Against Racism, which outrageously singled out Israel for criticism.
And that is why we are working literally around the clock and around the world to try to prevent steps taken at the U.N. or its agencies from further isolating Israel or undermining efforts to reach a secure, negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
As you know, in large part because of our commitment to Israel’s security, the President has made peace between the Israelis and Palestinians a priority from his earliest days in office. And the need for peace has never been more urgent.
Last May, the President presented a vision for a lasting peace involving two states for two people:
-- Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people;
-- And the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.
The Quartet has been working with the parties since then… and Jordan recently hosted exploratory talks in Amman. There simply is no substitute for direct talks.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. You know the recent steps toward reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Our policy on Hamas has not changed. Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly renounce violence… recognize Israel… and accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties.
Our administration is justifiably proud of this record. And we are confident that none of our predecessors has done more for Israel's security than we have.
That does not mean we will always see eye to eye on everything.
Even the closest of allies disagree – just as Israelis do amongst themselves -- and when we do, we make our views clear. That is a sign of our mutual respect and of a relationship robust and mature enough to overcome our differences.
What could actually harm U.S.-Israeli relations, and the security of the Jewish state, is subjecting either to the vagaries of partisan politics or turning them into election-year talking points.
IPF is committed to the idea that debate need not descend into division—particularly when our shared interests are so profound.
You are dedicated to the principal that, and I quote:
“While debate and discussion are helpful, the current divisiveness in the American Jewish community and in Washington on the issues of the US-Israel relationship and our shared pursuit of peace, are not.”
I couldn’t agree more.
This is not about stifling discussion, disagreement or dissent.
It is about a simple proposition: when it comes to discussing U.S. policy toward Israel in our political arena, by all means we should question each other’s judgments – but not each other’s motives.
For generations, Israel has been a bastion of bipartisan consensus. The stakes are too high—for us, and for Israel—to let that change now.
Now, I’m anxious to hear your comments and questions. Thanks for everything you do. And thanks for listening.