The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Good afternoon, and thank you for the kind introduction.
First I want to thank you, President Uriel Reichman and Dr. Boaz Ganor, for your leadership and initiative in setting aside this time each year to remember not only the victims of terrorism who perished on September 11, thirteen years ago today in the United States, but also all victims of terrorism worldwide. And it is very meaningful to share the podium at this memorial ceremony with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate you and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism on the success of this year’s World Summit on Counter-Terrorism. This annual Summit has long been an important venue for promoting a greater understanding of the threats and challenges posed by terrorism, and the ways by which, working together, we can confront and overcome the scourge of terrorism.
I thank Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew King from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of International Affairs, and U.S. Lieutenant Colonel John Kenkel, US Army War College Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, for being a part of this year’s Summit and joining us for this solemn ceremony this afternoon.
Today we remember the victims of the worst terrorist attacks ever carried out on U.S. soil: The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the thwarted attack that resulted in the death of the passengers and crew of United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
The images of that day will never leave us. The clearest of blue skies, befouled by giant fireballs and plumes of black smoke; towers of concrete crumbling into dust; families posting photos of missing loved ones; and a giant hole in the earth in Pennsylvania, as big as the hole in our hearts. But the stories of heroism also stay with us. Friends and colleagues helping each other navigate stairwells filled with smoke, firefighters displaying uncommon bravery charging up those same stairwells to rescue those in peril, and a group of passengers heroically preventing the final, intended blow, saving many hundreds of their fellow citizens’ lives.
As we recount those black moments, our hearts still ache for the lives that were cut short, for the families ripped apart. Four months ago at the dedication of the 9/11 Museum in New York, President Obama invoked the “memory of nearly 3,000 innocent souls (among them 5 Israeli citizens) men and women and children of every race, every creed and every corner of the world.” He also recalled “a generation of service members – our 9/11 generation – who have served with honor in more than a decade of war. A nation that stands tall and united and unafraid – because no act of terror can match the strength or character of our country.”
As we mourn all the victims of terrorism, we join you today in mourning the loss of three fallen Israeli soldiers, alumni of the IDC Herzliya, who were killed this summer in Operation Protective Edge – IDF reservist Sergeant Major Amotz Greenberg, from Hod Hasharon, a graduate of the second class of the Radzyner Law School Law and Business Program; Major Tzafrir Bar-Or, from Holon, a graduate of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy; and Lieutenant Colonel Dolev Kidar, from Modi’in, graduate of the LL.B Law and Government and LL.M programs at Radzyner Law School. We honor their memory today as well, and our hearts go out to their families, friends, and colleagues.
We also grieve for Steven Sotloff and James Foley. These two American journalists immersed themselves in the cultures, politics, conflicts, and religions of the Middle East. They sought to shine a light on the plight of the people of this region whose yearning for a better life and a better future are frustrated by the personal, political and territorial ambitions of the terrorists. And, like Daniel Pearl before them, they were viciously murdered by terrorists whose power and control derives from their intimidation of civilians, from fomenting fear, destruction, chaos and instability, and from their subjugation of those innocent people who are least able to defend themselves.
Steven Sotloff, who was a citizen of both the United States and Israel, wrote for American and Israeli media outlets. His passion for the Middle East and his commitment to reporting the truth were nurtured during the time he spent as a student of international relations right here at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. His loss resonates deeply for everyone here.
So we remember and honor those so cruelly taken from us. And we pledge to build a better world in their memories. But we also honor their memories by taking action to prevent others from being subject to such threats. That is what we are doing today as we carry out our strategy to combat the organization known as ISIL.
Last night, President Obama was crystal clear about his determination to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, the terrorist organization behind the continued slaughter of all those who stand in the way of its empty, hateful vision. The President laid out a comprehensive strategy to achieve this goal with the assistance of a broad international coalition. President Obama clearly defined the nature of this enemy: They execute captives. They kill children. They enslave and rape women. They threaten religious minorities with genocide. These terrorists pose a threat not only to the people of Iraq and Syria, but to our allies in the broader Middle East and beyond, and to American citizens, personnel and facilities. Unless we defeat them, they could pose a threat beyond the region, including to the United States.
Even before the President’s speech, the United States carried out more than 150 successful airstrikes recently in Iraq, which have killed ISIL fighters and destroyed their weapons. We have helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces reclaim key territory and have protected key infrastructure and American facilities and personnel, along with thousands of innocent men, women and children.
As the President described, the United States will, first, continue to conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against the terrorists in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces who are working to roll back ISIL’s territorial gains. Second, we will increase our support to Iraqi forces and our work to equip and train members of the moderate Syrian opposition fighting ISIL on the ground. Third, we will continue to apply our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks—through improved intelligence and defensive capabilities, by stemming the flow of their fighters into and out of the Middle East, by cutting off their funding and by countering their warped ideology – tools we have deployed effectively in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Fourth, we will continue to protect vulnerable populations and provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization.
The United States is committed to defending the common security and common humanity of innocent people in the region who are threatened by ISIL. During last week’s NATO summit, and during Secretary Kerry’s travels in the region, we have been assembling a broad global coalition of nations who will join us in implementing this strategy. We are leading this fight and rallying other nations to join us and we stand with the people who are fighting for their freedom from ISIL’s tyranny. Our goal is clear: to degrade and destroy ISIL so it cannot threaten us and our allies. And make no mistake: we will achieve our goal.
As we examine the impact of terrorism, it is instructive to remember that the 9/11 attacks killed citizens of more than 90 countries, including five Israelis. When terrorist groups act indiscriminately and with such unspeakable cruelty and wanton disregard for the lives of innocent people, it highlights the tremendous chasm that divides our values from theirs; it stiffens our resolve to defeat them; and it strengthens the bonds of solidarity between nations that share a common interest in preserving democratic values, political freedoms, economic opportunity, and the protection of their peoples.
That is why the United States and Israel stand together at the forefront of modern counterterrorism efforts. Our shared values and our common determination to prevail in the struggle against terrorists lead our governments to even greater political, economic, intelligence, and security cooperation – ironically, the very same bonds that the terrorists seek to break apart.
This close bilateral cooperation is complemented by the United States’ engagement with other foreign governments, multilateral organizations and other actors who share our resolve. As Secretary Kerry recently wrote in The New York Times, “extremists are defeated only when responsible nations and their peoples unite to oppose them.”
Our cooperation in fighting terrorism arises from necessity and, sadly, it is rooted in shared tragedies. No nation can accept premeditated violence against its citizens, and the United States will continue to strengthen the hands of our friends and allies in defending themselves from such attacks.
That is why the United States strongly supported Israel’s right, indeed, its responsibility, to defend its citizens, when Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza launched thousands of rockets, and dug dozens of attack tunnels, to target Israeli civilians. No nation can tolerate such attacks against its civilian population. It is also why the United States is proud to support the Iron Dome defense system developed by Israel, and has helped develop and deploy additional layers of Israel’s missile defense umbrella. During the recent conflict, Iron Dome intercepted more than 700 rockets fired from Gaza at civilian areas in Israel and thus saved lives, reduced casualties, protected property, and enabled the Israeli people to demonstrate their impressive strength, determination, and resilience in the face of conflict and uncertainty. And that is why we will work hard with the international community to ensure that as plans to reconstruct Gaza are put into action, they are implemented with adequate controls to ensure such materials do not enable Hamas and other terrorists there to rearm.
It is essential that societies project resilience when confronting terrorism. Terrorism, by its very nature, is meant to intimidate and frighten innocent people into submission and to sow chronic fear that disrupts peoples’ abilities to lead ordinary, peaceful lives.
Terrorists achieve their goals when societies lack the will or the means to confront, resist, and defeat them, and when we fail to recover or “bounce back” from a terrorist attack.
Americans and Israelis have demonstrated remarkable composure and resilience in the face of terrorist attacks that have destroyed and upended countless lives. We take cover, we innovate and we strike back at our enemies; we protect our people, and increase our resolve to preserve and pursue our way of life; and we don’t abandon our values.
When a bomb goes off in Israel, people mourn, but within hours broken windows are repaired and shops quickly reopen. At Sapir College in Sderot where I visited, barely a mile from the Gaza Strip, classes are sometimes interrupted by sirens and students take cover, but at the end of the term, the college still turns out talented engineers and filmmakers, who strengthen Israel’s industry and economy, enrich the lives of its people and reinforce messages of the strengths of democracy, tolerance, and acceptance.
After three people were killed in the bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013, Americans were angry and saddened, but they weren’t cowed. The 2014 Boston Marathon had the second-highest number of entrants ever, and twice as many people lined the course to cheer on the runners as the year before.
Modern, open societies must take steps to combat terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks in order to protect ourselves from the death and destruction that characterize their criminal acts against civilian populations, and the abuse and oppression that typify how they govern. We must join forces in doing so, wherever terrorists seek to take hold – not only in the Middle East, but in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas as well. Recognizing that the challenges of terrorism are best addressed through cooperation among partners, President Obama announced the creation of the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund of up to $5 billion during his commencement address to our West Point graduates in late May. The creation of a broad coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL is also crucial to address this challenge.
As we confront terrorists, we do not lose sight of our own core values. Even in the darkest times when we feel understandable rage at our terrorist enemies, we resist the urge to adopt means that go against our values.
That doesn’t mean that democracies fight with one hand tied behind their backs. No duty is higher than protecting the security of our citizens. Democracies like ours are taking positive steps to contain the terrorist threats, dismantle these criminal organizations, and increase public awareness.
That means that at airports we wait patiently, perhaps a bit inconvenienced, but aware of the protection that prevents another hijacking or terrorist attack in our skies. In Israel, safe rooms are required in new construction, and even young children know what to do when a siren sounds. These measures save lives and they signal to the terrorists who would strike at us that besides taking the fight to them, we are confidently going on with our lives.
The United States and Israel are countries where liberty, equal justice, and the rule of law prevail. We will fight to defend these values, but those same values also serve as checks on how we wage that fight. Lest terrorists mistake this commitment to our values as weakness, the resilience of our societies shows them that we are secure in our democratic way of life and institutions and will be tenacious in protecting them. Our success in doing so demoralizes violent extremists, for their goal is to undermine free and democratic societies.
A friend of Steven Sotloff put this in clear context. He said: “We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess: fear.”
Observing the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks presents a somber reminder that we still face threats of extremism and terrorism around the world, but it is also an opportunity to acknowledge our resilience in facing down and turning back this challenge and it reaffirms our commitment to work together with our allies to confront these threats.