Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, first let me thank Jacob Solomon, President and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation for your inviting me. I want to welcome you to Israel and tell you what an honor it is to speak with you here today. It’s an honor to share the podium with Israel’s legendary President Shimon Peres, who will be receiving the Medal of Freedom. Congratulations – you are the largest Jewish mission from North America in the last ten years. The size of your group emphasizes the important role that the Greater Miami Jewish Federation is playing in strengthening the unshakeable bonds between the U.S. and Israel. Your being here during Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut allowed you to express the solidarity so many Americans feel for Israel—both with respect to the security challenges that Israel faces and the deep sacrifices Israelis have had to make, and celebrating Israel’s amazing accomplishments in its 64 years.
First, let me thank you for your impressive work in helping resettle Jews from around the world here in Israel, while funding the essential social, educational, and medical programs needed to support these groups, including in your sister city of Yerucham. In the last year alone, I know that your hard work and funding has supported:
- Educational services, mentoring and outreach programs for disaffected youth.
- Therapeutic and educational services for children and young adults with developmental disabilities.
- Afterschool educational programs for children from Israel’s Ethiopian community.
- A hotline to help battered and sexually abused woman in Southern Israel.
These initiatives are crucial in supporting Israelis in need, and they also strengthen the deep bonds between the U.S. and Israel. So let me thank you for your work here in Israel to foster these bonds and continue to build our country’s special relationship with Israel.
As you know, the U.S. relationship with Israel is unique. Ensuring that Israel remains a strong, secure, Jewish democratic state is a fundamental interest of the United States. All our policies seek to promote this goal. The strategic reason is that Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East. But there’s also a moral reason to support self-determination of Jewish people in their historic homeland. Jewish history adds to that imperative. We commit ourselves to Israel’s security and prosperity not only because self interest, but because it is the right thing to do.
Security – Iron Dome
At the heart of U.S.-Israel relations is our commitment to Israel’s security. Rocket attacks in Israel’s south in recent months remind us of how fragile the security situation here can be, and how easily life can be disrupted in Israel. Over 200 rockets were launched during the most recent round of strikes in southern Israel. One million Israelis are living under the constant threat of rockets and mortars from Gaza. No other country in the world faces this kind of onslaught on its citizens. It’s unthinkable. Yet, in southern Israel, as you all know, it’s the reality.
I often think about how it would feel to know that at any moment sirens can sound and everyone will need to take cover. And all I can think about is my children. My wife and I are capable of understanding what is going on, what we would need to do and so forth. But what about our children? Our oldest daughter is just 11. The younger girls are seven and five. Would they be able to understand what is happening? Would the constant stress and panic linger or affect them as they grow up? No other country in the world experiences this. No other country has to fortify so many pre-schools, and kindergartens.
I accompanied President Obama when he visited Sderot in 2008 as a presidential candidate, and as he visited families whose homes had been destroyed by Hamas rockets. And I know he was thinking of his children, because he said so. That visit led him to seek an additional $200 million shortly after taking office to support accelerated deployment of the Iron Dome system. Last August, shortly after I arrived to Israel, one of my first visits was also to Ashdod. Mayor Lasri took me to see a synagogue and school that had been just days before struck by a rocket. I also visited the Iron Dom batteries deployed in the field and the Rafael company where the batteries and interceptor missiles are made. It is very moving to see the way our U.S. tax dollars are being spent to produce this technology which is saving Israeli lives.
Since then, four Iron Dome batteries are operational. And over the course of a week in March alone, Iron Dome performed with great success, intercepting 80 percent of the rockets it targeted. And we are so proud to see America’s early investment in the Iron Dome helping to save the lives of Israeli citizens. Not only does Iron Dome save lives on the ground, but it also creates flexibility for Israel’s leaders in deciding when and how to respond to these attacks.
We need to be clear: Rocket and missile fire from Gaza is not acceptable, and the terrorists who fire them must be stopped. And the United States will always support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens. But in the meantime, we will also continue to support deployment of the Iron Dome system. The Defense Department announced on March 27 that it would request additional funds from Congress to support the Iron Dome system. This announcement reflects President Obama’s continuing commitment to Israel’s security.
When a nation faces threats like Israel does, there is no greater priority than security. Because we recognize that, the Obama Administration has undertaken to deepen and strengthen the exchanges and ties between our militaries and intelligence services. The security coordination, from the highest levels down to working levels, has reached unprecedented heights. My Embassy facilitates a constant stream of delegations in both directions to ensure the closest possible security coordination, with each of us benefitting from the unique capabilities and knowledge that the other brings to the table.
It is a true partnership in every sense of the word. Over the decades, America has invested tens of billions of dollars in Israel’s security, always with the goal of ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge and has the means to defend itself. With strong bipartisan support, our roughly $3 billion dollars in annual military assistance enables Israel to purchase the most advanced U.S. military technology, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft.
But our security relationship is not simply about what America does for Israel. This is about what we do together. When President Obama 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, he knows that Israel’s commitment and contribution to America make this a two-way street.
One area of cooperation from which we both benefit is joint military training. Our special operations forces, counterterrorism specialists, and air forces all train together, which has helped make our troops more effective in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We also collaborate on defense technology development, from which the benefits flow in both directions. Our shared work to develop missile defense systems has led to technological breakthroughs that we are both employing to defend ourselves. In addition to the Iron Dome short-range missile program already mentioned, there is the success of the Arrow long-range and the David’s Sling mid-range missile defense programs, which are critical advances that save lives and enhance Israel’s strategic position.
I also want to mention an Israeli technological breakthrough that has had enormous strategic significance for the United States. I recently visited Kibbutz Sasa in northern Israel, the home of a small company called 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. So we help each other, we protect each other, and we work to ensure each other’s security.
Israel also faces a different kind of threat to its security – a growing diplomatic threats in the UN from some in the international community who are intent on delegitimizing Israel. Make no mistake that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in opposition to these initiatives. All countries come under scrutiny now and then at the United Nations, including the United States. But what Israel faces is something very different: an unrelenting campaign designed to single out Israel and question its very legitimacy. President Obama has insisted that the United States be clear and consistent: the treatment Israel receives across the UN system is unacceptable. Efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy have been met with the unflinching opposition of the United States. There are literally hundreds of people in our government – in Washington, in New York, in Geneva, in Vienna, in the Hague, and wherever international organizations are based, who spend a considerable amount of their time carrying out the strong U.S. opposition to all efforts to delegitimize Israel.
Here are a few examples of U.S. leadership in opposing anti-Israel initiatives and in rallying like-minded countries in defense of Israel.
- The U.S. stood firm with Israel by walking out of the first Durban conference in 2001, the only other country to do so. The original Durban Conference and the follow-up conferences in 2009 and 2011 were billed as anti-racism conferences. Combating racism is a worthy goal, but unfortunately, anti-Israel activists hijacked these gatherings – particularly the notorious 2001 conference — and turned them into a platform to equate Zionism with racism. Since the first Durban conference, the number of countries opposing this forum has grown, thanks in large part to U.S. leadership.
- When the deeply flawed Goldstone Report was released, the U.S. unequivocally rejected the findings as unfairly biased against Israel. The basic premise of Goldstone was unbalanced, precluding an unbiased investigation of the facts, and the events preceding Operation Cast Lead. The U.S. insisted on Israel’s right to defend itself and maintained that Israel’s democratic institutions could credibly investigate any possible abuses.
- In 2010, we rallied our partners and defeated a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference that singled out Israel’s nuclear program for rebuke. And when the same resolution was considered in 2011, its sponsors, anticipating another defeat¸ preemptively withdrew their proposal.
- When the Human Rights Council turns session after session to Agenda Item Seven which is on Israel, the Council’s only standing agenda item on any single country in the world, we fight hard on principle to end this glaring, structural bias. And by making our voice heard, we have rallied others to join us in defending Israel, and have helped shine light on serious human rights abuses in Iran and Syria.
- When the Human Rights Council last month voted to establish a Fact Finding Mission on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the United States was the lone country to vote “no.”
The U.S. is doing far more than just playing defense. We have also racked up important wins that support Israel as it struggles to assume its rightful place among its fellow nations.
- When terrorists recently struck at Israeli diplomatic personnel in India and Georgia, we led the Security Council in unanimously condemning the attacks “in the strongest terms.” It was the first Security Council statement supporting Israel against terrorism in seven years.
- Israel is also proudly showing the world how much it has to offer. In January 2010, with U.S. support, Israel became Chair of the Kimberley Process—an important conflict-diamonds certification initiative. Israel will join the board of UNICEF this year. And just last month, Israel won its first-ever seat on the executive board of the United Nations Development Program, which Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador called, and I quote: “a milestone in Israel’s integration into the global agenda of the United Nations.”
I also want to highlight what is, in my view, one of the most overlooked elements of the U.S.-Israel relationship: the economic sphere. Our economic relationship is growing rapidly, but huge potential growth still remains.
Israel’s future doesn’t just depend on security. It also depends on creating economic opportunities for a new generation of Israelis who are globally connected and ambitious for a better future. Israel’s ability to keep skilled Israeli workers in Israel and to maintain the social cohesion and economic vitality that will enable the country to succeed is vital to its survival and strength—and therefore to U.S. interests. We want to help Israel, the country that made the desert bloom in the 20th century, compete economically in the 21st. American-Israeli economic partnerships can help achieve that goal.
There are about one dozen American-Israel Chambers of Commerce throughout the United States, based in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. In 2011 alone, the U.S. imported $23 billion of Israeli goods and services; that’s ten percent of Israel’s GDP. American companies and their representatives here directly employ about 60,000 Israelis; that’s fully two percent of Israel’s entire workforce. This figure does not include the many thousands more that are supported by American companies here as subcontractors or in downstream businesses.
American companies have opened two-thirds of all foreign R&D facilities in Israel and brought in nearly 60 percent of all foreign direct investment. American-sourced venture capital provides more than half of all money for nascent technology companies to get off the ground. Last year, American companies acquired at least ten Israeli startups to the tune of $1.5 billion dollars, not just for their products, but for their technology and to establish leading international R&D centers. These companies tap into the greatest asset of Israel’s people—their brainpower.
Virtually every major U.S. technology company has chosen to base major research and development centers 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. If we didn’t have Israel as a Start-Up Nation, we would have to invent it for our own economic competitiveness.
There are also tremendous opportunities for increased US-Israeli cooperation in the field of energy. Israeli advances in renewable energy technologies such as electric cars, and Israel’s discovery of significant off-shore energy resources—which U.S. companies are helping to develop and where we bring great expertise—only scratch the surface of the possible expansion of our economic relationship. One of my goals as Ambassador is to create as many opportunities as possible for exchange – in the fields of security, business, culture, education, and others – between Israelis and Americans of all walks of life.
Transitions in the Arab World
There are challenges in this region, of course, on which the United States and Israel are coordinating closely. From Tunis and Tripoli to Sana’a and Cairo, straight on through to Damascus, people have taken to the streets to insist that their governments respect them and reflect their political and economic aspirations. Many in Israel are watching this process with concern, unsure of the implications for Israel’s security of the instability that has accompanied these upheavals.
For the United States and Israel, the transformation of the Arab world poses both opportunities and challenges. The people of the Arab world will now determine their own destiny.
We must all strive to encourage a more positive regional atmosphere. We must, and are, aiming to strengthen the forces in Arab societies that believe in and promote democratic values; to make clear what those values are; to make clear that every such new regime must respect the universal rights of their people, must govern transparently, must honor the rights of minorities and women, must honor international commitments and agreements, and in the case of Egypt, must honor the peace treaty with Israel. We will not compromise our decade’s long commitment to Middle East peace, and will continue to pursue prospects for peace just as we work toward an Arab world that is freer and more democratic.
Parties cannot go to the polls with a gun in one hand and a ballot in the other. They have to choose. At the same time, we have to be practical and smart. We are less concerned what a political party or organization calls itself than what it does in practice, and we will reach out to all those who act according to democratic principles, respect their fellow citizens’ rights, and do not use force or violence to impose their views.
At a time of great uncertainty and change, we have deepened our coordination with Israel. We both recognize that there is significant risk and opportunity in the changes in the Arab world. The opportunity presented by the emergence, over time, of peaceful, stable, democratic regimes is undeniable, and we must work for it, supporting those in the Arab world who share these goals. But these outcomes are far from guaranteed, and they are beyond the ability of the United States or Israel to control. So at the same time, we are working together to prevent, mitigate, and be prepared to deal with the real risks in this period – from terrorists using Sinai as a base of operations, to instability in Syria. And throughout this period, we will remain as committed as ever to helping Israel deal with any threat to its security. We demonstrated this commitment on a night last September when President Obama and our entire government worked overtime to help ensure the safety of six Israeli security guards trapped inside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo during a mass protest.
The changes that are underway in the region will not take weeks or months to play out, but rather years. And we will have to continue to work hard to help these new governments realize their potential, support their people, and stabilize their countries. But, we’ll do that while maintaining our total and uncompromising commitment to Israel’s security.
Promoting a Two State Solution
We also continue our work to promote vision of two states for two peoples, a Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people, and an independent state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people. This is part and parcel of our commitment to Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state, and it is also an Israeli goal as described by Prime Minister Netanyahu. We believe it is the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are very clear that this outcome can only be reached through direct negotiations between the two sides. It cannot be reached through unilateral measures by either side; it cannot be reached through appeals to the United Nations, which we have opposed and will continue to oppose. The President spoke clearly on this subject at UN General Assembly in September. In recent weeks, we have worked closely with partners like Jordan and the Quartet to help support Israel and Palestinians in the first direct talks since 2010. We now have direct dialogue and exchange of letters between the leaders, and we are trying to encourage this dialogue and keep it going. Meanwhile, even as negotiations may proceed more slowly than we would like, we are working to sustain the very important gains that have been achieved on the ground in the West Bank. Thanks to the professionalism and cooperation of Palestinian and Israeli security forces, there is a vastly improved security environment for Israelis and Palestinians. Thanks to steps taken by the Palestinian Authority and Israeli steps to increase the freedom of movement of people and goods, the West Bank is experiencing significant economic growth. And thanks to the leadership of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the building blocks of a future Palestinian state, in the form of professional institutions of governance, are taking shape. U.S. assistance remains key to sustaining these gains, so we plan to continue providing it, which serves Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. interests.
Finally, I’d like to take time to address Iran’s apparent aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons, which continues to be a major focus of our policy in the region. President Obama said in his speech earlier this year to AIPAC, no issue is higher on the agendas of the United States and Israel, and we work together on it every day. Through extraordinarily close, high-level coordination, including during the visit of National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in February, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in March, the United States and Israel produced an extraordinary convergence of our approach on this issue. We have developed a common goal: prevention, not containment. We have developed a common understanding of the nature of the threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose. We have a common intelligence basis on which to judge the progress of the Iranian nuclear program. We have a common strategy – together with many other nations – to use unprecedented sanctions and economic pressure to induce Iran to change course. And we have a common principle that all options are on the table to achieve our goal, including a military option. And, as the President made clear in March, we fully respect Israel’s sovereign right and responsibility to make its own decisions to safeguard its security.
A nuclear-armed Iran is not just an existential threat to Israel. It also poses a grave threat to the security of the United States, our allies, our forces in the region and the world. It would also risk a nuclear arms race across the Middle East, the collapse of the global nuclear non-proliferation system, an emboldened Iran sponsoring terror by Hezbollah, Hamas, and other groups—just as it does today—but under a nuclear umbrella, and severe threats to freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf. It would be too dangerous to permit this regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction, sponsors terrorism, and seeks to dominate and intimidate its neighbors, to acquire nuclear weapons. So we are determined to prevent it from happening.
Despite strong pressure from the international community, Iran continues to engage in a variety of destabilizing activities and refuses to address the international community’s serious concerns about its nuclear program.
As a consequence, we have taken steps in coordination with our partners to increase dramatically the pressure on Iran. We have led the world in imposing the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime, building on U.N Security Council Resolution 1929. Sanctions have imposed steep costs on the regime. Iran’s leaders admit publicly that sanctions are hurting their economy, especially targeted sectors like energy, finance, and transportation. We are urging all governments 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 (CBI) and concerted efforts to reduce Iran’s oil revenues.
Since December 31, the United States implemented new legislation to target the Central Bank of Iran and Iran’s crude oil revenues, and intended to encourage a multilateral initiative to reduce Iran’s oil revenues. We are also working with oil consuming countries to help them respond to the legislation and find alternatives to energy supplies from Iran. The EU shares our goals and has imposed measures of their own, such as an embargo of Iranian oil purchases, which we support. The recent decision by the SWIFT financial transaction center in Brussels to no longer process financial transactions from EU-sanctioned Iranian banks, chokes off one of Iran’s last lifelines to the international financial system.
Taken in combination with the many other sanctions that have been imposed and continue to be implemented, we believe that such aggressive pressure could have an impact on Iran’s strategic calculus. Changing Iran’s calculus is essential to achieving a diplomatic solution. We will do everything possible to achieve a diplomatic solution, through the P5+1 talks, which began April 14 in Istanbul and will resume May 23 in Baghdad. The talks in Istanbul were a positive first step, in that the atmosphere was constructive, and the Iranians came to the table and engaged in a discussion about their nuclear program. The P5-plus-1 was unified in sending a clear message to Iran that they need to demonstrate the peaceful intent of their program. They were also unified in reaffirming that the Non-Proliferation Treaty has got to be the foundation of the relationship between Iran and the international community with regard to its nuclear program. Currently, Iran has not been able to demonstrate that it’s fully in compliance with the NPT, so it will be important for the Iranians to take steps to build the confidence of the international community. But, I want to be clear about this, the window for a diplomatic solution is closing. We do not have unlimited time and Iran must change course. Until Iran chooses to address international concerns about its nuclear program, we will continue to impose the sanctions and will further increase the pressure. We will keep our other options available. And we will not let up until we achieve our goal. Like Israel, the United States is interested in results, and we will continue our close coordination with Israel toward our common goal. And, as the President said a few days ago at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, the political climate in the Middle East is more challenging now than it has been in quite some time. We have a lot of work to do. But in a time of change, one thing that will not change is the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship. I thank you again for the tremendous contributions the Miami Jewish community is making during this mission and all year round. I wish you a successful completion of your mission and a safe trip home. Thank you.