Former Ambassador Shapiro’s Remarks at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 15th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism

Good evening and thank you for the kind introduction.

Professor Uriel Reichman and Dr. Boaz Ganor: Thank you for inviting me again this year to address this distinguished forum. The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism shows genuine commitment to public service and to the U.S.-Israel relationship by bringing together policymakers and scholars—Americans and Israelis—to exchange knowledge and thereby improve our cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. This Summit brings to relief the robust cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in so many aspects of counter-terrorism, from operational measures to cybersecurity and law enforcement, to psychology and messaging.

As we near the fourteenth anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, four days from now, the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism is a fitting setting to honor the memory of those murdered by terrorists on that infamous day, and in terrorist attacks everywhere.  I sincerely appreciate that the Summit sets time aside each year to remember the victims of terrorism, from 9/11 and other attacks, at a conference dedicated to discussing how to fight and defeat terrorism. I want to thank Minister Yisrael Katz for his remarks honoring this memorial.

I also want to thank Tom Ridge, the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Brady, a U.S. Army War College Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, for joining the Summit and being part of this ceremony. Uriel Reichman, Boaz Ganor, Jonathan Davis, and the staff of the Interdisciplinary Center and the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, thank you all. 

Fourteen years ago this week, terrorists struck at the United States, with unprecedented lethality, in a carefully machinated, multi-pronged attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in a thwarted attack that brought down United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania, killing its passengers and crew. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in those horrific attacks, including five Israelis. Promising lives were cut short, and countless families were devastated by the loss of their innocent loved ones.

Today, almost a decade and a half later, we still mourn each one of the souls taken from us and, in quiet moments, easily find ourselves returning to our stunned disbelief that they are gone.

This year’s remembrance of 9/11 is particularly meaningful to me. Over the summer, my family and I visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan. It is a difficult, emotional, yet beautifully rendered tribute to those killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Each terrible moment of that day is recalled, and each victim who died is memorialized in the voice of a loved one. The memorial’s reflecting pools, into which the names of nearly three thousand people are inscribed, provide a space for peaceful contemplation, as their waters fill the void of the footprints where the towers once stood.

On the site of Ground Zero, in place of the smoldering ruins that we all remember so vividly in the aftermath of the attack, a majestic tower—the Freedom Tower—now One World Trade Center—now stands, rising to the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, with 1776 being the year of America’s independence. This site of so much bloodshed and heroism, right in the beating heart of the “Capital of the World”—as E.B. White once called New York—has today become a site for remembrance and meditation, amidst the tumult of the big city and the business deals that go on in the office buildings nearby.

It is remarkable and incongruent, but that’s New York City for you. The area around Ground Zero today throbs with life, reflecting the strength and resilience of the American people and of the United States. The place that fourteen years ago made Americans feel so vulnerable and insecure is today alive and bustling, a beacon of freedom and a testament to the irrepressible American spirit.

Earlier this year the USS New York, an amphibious transport vessel, docked at the port of Haifa. Following its port call, I flew out to it on a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, with several senior IDF officers. As you walk the decks and passageways of the ship, you come across countless pieces of memorabilia of New York City, including those that recall 9/11, among them, an American flag with the name of each person killed in the attacks. The ship’s bow stem, the foremost portion of the ship where it cuts through the water, was forged with seven and a half tons of steel from the World Trade Center. This awesome Navy vessel, built out of the ruins of the World Trade Center, which carries brave sailors and Marines to the fight, is a powerful allegory of the strength that America has drawn from the 9/11 tragedy. 

The memory of 9/11 continues to weigh heavily on U.S. national security policy. But America is safer, through the tenacious efforts of our Armed Forces, the diligence of our homeland security and intelligence community and the robust cooperation with allies like Israel who share our values and determination to degrade and defeat terrorists everywhere and to prevent the possibility of weapons of mass destruction falling into their hands. We cannot and will not allow terrorists to kill and injure innocent people or intimidate and frighten them into submission while sowing chronic fear that disrupts peoples’ abilities to lead ordinary, peaceful lives. This imperative guides the United States in protecting our citizens from terrorism at home, and it guides the Coalition we lead in our mission to degrade and defeat ISIL, a campaign that has included more than 6,000 airstrikes in the past year. It is also a motivating factor in the international effort that the United States is leading to undermine and prevent Iran’s support for surrogates and proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis.

Of course, the fight against terrorism requires partnerships we can depend on, as no nation can win this battle alone—partnerships like the outstanding one between the United States and Israel. It is carried out daily at all levels of our governments, militaries, and intelligence services. We share intelligence, we train together, we develop technologies and confer on strategies for counter-terrorism and homeland security, and our governments work closely with each other and with private entities to develop and deploy the most cutting-edge means for thwarting terrorists and safeguarding citizens. The effectiveness of the Iron Dome system is a testament to that, as is our joint research and development of counter-tunneling technologies.

Our robust security relationship with Israel will remain a critical factor in ensuring Israelis ability to defend against all threats that lurk near its borders and beyond them. That will not change under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Should Iran seek to violate the accord and dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the agreement and beyond. We are grateful for the knowledge and insights that Israeli experts contributed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which will help ensure that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. I have every confidence that our vigorous expert-level consultations and intelligence cooperation will continue and increase in the battle against nuclear proliferation.

Meanwhile, the United States fully intends to strengthen our security cooperation with Israel and increase our joint efforts to counter non-nuclear Iranian threats around the region, the arming of terrorist proxies, the destabilizing of neighboring regimes, the threat of advanced ballistic missiles–which exist and will undoubtedly continue. When the Government of Israel is ready, we are fully prepared to immediately resume our dialogue on ways to improve and enhance Israel’s security in this very troubled neighborhood.

And our record is the best evidence of our commitment. Since 2009, more than half of total American foreign military financing worldwide, upwards of $20 billion, has gone towards military assistance to Israel. Beyond this assistance, the U.S. has invested an additional $1 billion in the life-saving Iron Dome system—developed with Israeli technology—and some $2 billion in the Arrow and Iron Dome programs. We have also provided Israel with access to some of the most advanced military equipment in the world.  Israel is the only nation in the Middle East to which the United States has sold the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, the first of which will be delivered in 2016.

President Obama recently authorized an unprecedented multi-year munitions resupply package, valued at well over $1billion, which will provide Israel continued access to state-of-the-art precision-guided munitions, including penetrating munitions (the BLU-113 super-penetrator) and air-to-air missiles, which will enable Israel to acquire these highly advanced and sophisticated systems for years to come.

During his visit to Israel several weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated plainly that he is looking to ensure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is preserved and grown, through increased missile defense funding and co-development of missile defense systems, and by boosting tunnel detection and mapping technologies.

The United States will never underestimate the seriousness of the threats posed by ISIL, Hezbollah and Hamas and we have no illusions about Iran’s dangerous and destabilizing influence in the region, from its nuclear ambitions to its support of Hezbollah and Hamas to its disgraceful Holocaust denial to its calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

President Obama sincerely believes that the agreement that was recently concluded between the international community and Iran is the best way to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

With all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb blocked, the U.S. and Israel need to continue our close cooperation on thwarting Iran’s many other malign activities throughout the region, while ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge, which is fundamental to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

This is not a new policy.  This is a reaffirmation of our national security interests and a reaffirmation of our commitment to the state of Israel.  This has been the case for many years. It is today and will continue to be so.

Thank you.