Remarks by Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism

International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s (ICT)
13th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism
“In Remembrance of the Atrocities of September 11, 2001 and the Victims of Terrorism Worldwide” Memorial Ceremony
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good evening and Shana Tova to all.  Thank you, Jonathan, for your kind introduction, and to you, Boaz, for the work you, President Uriel Reichman, and your team at the IDC put into organizing this annual summit on counter-terrorism.  Each year, you gather counter-terrorism experts from around the world to share their research and analysis on trends, challenges, and opportunities, as well as their assessments on the best courses of action.  Pulling together this annual summit requires an ongoing commitment to the fight against terror, and the impact of such discussions goes beyond the academic – shaping domestic and foreign counter-terrorism policies as well as security measures implemented domestically and internationally to keep people in the U.S., Israel, and around the world, safe.

Because of the nature of counter-terrorism work, we rarely hear of the success stories that international cooperation fosters – such cases are often classified and thus hidden from view. Attacks that are prevented, thanks to the hard work of thousands of professionals, make very little news. Meanwhile, we remember all too well the cases of failure – when terrorists succeed in their attacks on innocent civilians, taking the lives of countless family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.  So I salute all of you here today who are involved in the quiet work of keeping our citizens safe.  I am proud to join Brigadier General Dov Shefi and General John Abizaid today because of their work in combating terror and in honoring its victims. Dov, I know today is particularly difficult for you and others who lost their loved ones in the attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001.  I want to thank you for your efforts to make sure each of the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children who perished alongside your son, Haggai Shefi, and fellow Israelis Alona Avraham, Leon Lebor, Shay Levinhar, and Daniel Lewin, are remembered.

Today, we mark the 12th anniversary of the most heinous terrorist attacks to ever occur on U.S. soil – concurrent attacks on New York and Washington, with a thwarted attack killing those aboard United Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania.  To most, the September 11th attacks were unfathomable – what twisted and sick mind would think to use civilian aircraft as weapons?!  To this day, watching footage of the World Trade Center collapsing brings back the shock and horror of those terrifying moments.  And with victims from more than 90 countries, such images rekindle sorrow around the globe.  No country understands our pain on this day the way the people of Israel do. We are bound by our common values of democracy, by our cooperation in science, technology, and people to people ties, but also by the shared experience of terror and our shared fight to defeat it.

And we must remember – the September 11th attacks were not the first, nor unfortunately the last, terrorist attacks to occur around the world.  Amman, Baghdad, Bali, Beirut, Benghazi – with the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and colleagues one year ago today – Boston, Buenos Aires, Burgas…Dar Es Salaam, Jerusalem, Kabul, Kano (Nigeria), Karachi…London, Madrid, Moscow, Mumbai, Nairobi…New Delhi, New York, northern Mali, and Tel Aviv – the list goes on and on, spanning the entire globe.  Many thousands of people have lost their lives, all taken too soon, and thousands more have been grievously injured, by those who seek to terrify innocent civilians for political, religious, or ideological reasons.

As you all know best, terrorists attack via conventional and unconventional methods – guns and bombs, mortars, rockets and missiles, kidnapping and hijacking, and today, even via cyber-terrorism.  As terrorists adapt their methods of attack, we have also had to adapt – making use of new technologies, and at times creating them, in order to stay a step ahead of those who would do us harm.

Through our joint work with our Israeli friends, an anti-missile shield to protect Israel is far along in its development.  Involving numerous layers within the broader umbrella, with names that have become familiar in daily conversation here – Iron Dome, Arrow, and David’s Sling, among others – the defense umbrella has proven invaluable, saving countless lives from rockets launched by terrorists out of the Gaza Strip, and also deploying against threats from southern Lebanon and Syria.  Now, no defense is perfect, and so it is important that we continue to educate people on the importance of taking safety precautions and seeking shelter when sirens go off.  But the effectiveness of the Iron Dome system in limiting the damage caused by terrorist rocket fire has provided Israeli leaders time, space, and flexibility to consider and adjust their responses to attacks, employing both military action and diplomacy.

The outstanding Israeli team that developed Iron Dome has adapted it since its initial creation – it is now prepared to intercept rockets from a longer distance and multiple salvoes at once.  And successful testing of the Arrow system has indicated that Israel has an effective defense against attacks, whether by terrorists or enemy nations, from an even greater distance.  The U.S. is proud to be a partner with Israel on these and other programs, totaling billions of dollars of support, that help defend millions of innocent civilians from the constant threat of terrorism on Israel’s borders.

But rocket interceptors are not the answer to all forms of terrorism.  Working together, Israeli and American scientists have been researching and developing new technologies and methods to detect tunnels, which will defend against terrorist capabilities to infiltrate into Israeli territory and kill or kidnap Israeli citizens and soldiers.  They’ve shared best practices and detection methods for identifying explosives and rendering them harmless.  And our countries have been sharing information among intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities at an unprecedented level.

Back home, September 11 helped us to recognize our own weaknesses.  Having one of the best intelligence gathering networks is useless if the information is not shared.  If intelligence authorities have indications of a pending attack, but don’t process it fast enough or pass that information to law enforcement authorities to act upon to prevent it, lives can be lost.  As a result, the U.S. Congress approved and Presidents Bush and Obama have implemented mechanisms to make sure that such information is shared in a timely fashion with those who need to act upon it.  Numerous attacks on U.S. soil have been prevented as a result of this enhanced coordination.

But sharing information internally is not enough to combat global terrorist threats.  Working jointly with our friends and allies around the world, shared intelligence has thwarted many attacks – including in Thailand, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Cyprus, and the Sinai, to name a few.  Terror networks know no boundaries, and so we’ve joined forces to make sure intelligence and law enforcement authorities are able to see the big picture needed to identify and act upon impending threats, whether from non-state actors like Al Qaida, Hizballah, and Hamas, or under the umbrella of state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran and Syria.

To address these threats, we’ve worked in conjunction with international partners to make it more difficult for terrorist networks to function.  The EU’s recent recognition of Hizballah’s military wing as a terrorist organization is the most recent step in such a process of cutting off terrorist financing, limiting the ability of its leaders to travel, and preventing such groups from accessing weapons and other materials used to terrorize innocent civilians.  Those who are caught supporting terrorists face more severe penalties than ever before, and networks are finding it more and more difficult to continue to operate. The international community has been working together to address these gaps in the international financial and legal systems that terrorists have exploited for far too long.

We’re also working to address some of the core issues that terrorist organizations exploit in order to recruit new members.  Syrian President Assad’s violent crack-down on opposition within his country and reprehensible use of chemical weapons has served as a rallying call for foreign fighters to join fundamentalist extremists fighting in Syria – including the Al Nusrah Front.  That is just one of the reasons President Obama has advocated a strong international response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on a broad scale against civilians, and has asked Congress to debate the issue and vote on authorizing the use of force for a targeted response that will reinforce the international norm against the use of chemical weapons, deter further chemical attacks, and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to carry them out.

As President Obama stated to the American people, “Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.”  No one disputes whether or not chemical weapons were used – the evidence is clear.  Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible.

It is important to highlight that the United States deeply prefers peaceful solutions, and that over the past two years, we have tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations with Syria. Yet chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

President Obama has made clear that any military action “would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so.” Determining the U.S. should respond with a targeted military strike is not a decision the President made lightly, and Secretary Kerry made clear to Assad that he can avoid such action by turning over all of Syria’s chemical weapons to the international community and allow for full accounting of its stockpiles. As President Obama said last night, “over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs.” In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks between President Obama and President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.  The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments.  But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

President Obama has asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.  Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and Presidents Obama will continue his conversations with President Putin as well as the leaders of our closest allies, to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

We do not believe there is a military solution to the overall conflict in Syria.  We do, however, believe that the use of chemical weapons cannot go unaddressed.

In support of a final diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria, the United States is providing significant support to moderate opposition members who have demonstrated they intend to respect the integrity of their neighbors, abide by international norms, and honor Syria’s religious diversity.  And we are providing assistance to places in Syria where local and provincial councils are trying to hold on to what’s left of the state in the wake of withdrawals of the Syrian military from towns and cities in the north.  We will continue to work towards a diplomatic resolution to the overall conflict, and will continue to call for Assad’s departure and the installation of a government that will respect the basic human rights of its people.

Another issue exploited by terrorists to justify their cause and recruit members has long been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Through a rigorous diplomatic effort, we have helped the parties resume final status negotiations aimed at ending the conflict.  We laud not only Israeli and Palestinian leaders for having the courage to resume negotiations and make hard decisions that are required, but also Israel’s Arab neighbors for demonstrating interest in supporting such discussions as part of a broader peace initiative.  Any final status agreement must build on the effective coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that has contributed to a significant decline in terrorist attacks in or from the West Bank.  An agreement to end the conflict must include strong security arrangements to ensure that terrorists cannot act to threaten Israelis or Palestinians.  As President Obama noted during his visit back in March, “Given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war – because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.”

As Yom Kippur approaches, those of the Jewish faith who have lost loved ones will recite the Yizkor prayer in their remembrance.  May we remember all of the victims of terrorism worldwide, and honor their memory through our work to counter future acts of terrorism and to bring about peace.

Thank you, and Shana Tova.