Thank you Dr. Eran for the opportunity to address this symposium. [I recognize (others) who are also with us here today.] Let me also express my appreciation for the efforts of the Institute of National Strategic Studies – an organization I deeply admire for stimulating dialogue and challenging assumptions on security issues. It is my privilege to be here with the Schiff family and help honor Ze’ev Schiffs life and work by continuing to do what he did best — stimulating dialogue. I did not have the privilege of a close relationship with Ze’ev Schiff – we only met briefly a handful of times – but like all those seeking to understand the security challenges in Israel and the Middle East, I was his faithful reader and devoted student.
In three days, we will mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. On that day ten years ago, 2,977 innocent people were killed in vicious and coordinated terror attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the downing of United Flight 93.
These were attacks against the United States and the American people. But in the international capital that New York City is, hundreds of citizens of other countries died alongside the American victims that day. And among those killed were five Israelis: Alona Avraham, Leon Lebor, Shay Levinhar, Daniel Lewin, and Haggai Sheffi.
I would like to pause for a moment of silence in the memory of all these victims and the many other victims of terrorism around the world.
The United States was profoundly changed by the 9/11 attacks. And for my generation of foreign policy and national security professionals, the searing memory of the terrible losses we suffered the day is a driving force in our work to make America and the world safer and to prevent the recurrence of such terrible attacks.
Tonight, I want to focus on some of the ways U.S. counterterrorism efforts have evolved in the past decade. I’ll focus on four areas: international partnerships, counterterrorism operations, intelligence, and homeland security. In each case, I’ll highlight some particular U.S.-Israel successes.
A key element of our post-9/11 posture is our partnership with critical allies world-wide. Prior to 9/11, our international counter terrorism cooperation was episodic rather than sustained, and conducted primarily bilaterally with a few close partners.
But terrorism is a threat that respects no borders, and as such requires a comprehensive international response. Over the past ten years, we have found countless ways of improving coordination with governments around the world on issues as diverse as terrorist financing, sharing of intelligence information, extradition of suspected terrorists, container security, and cyber security and among others.
We have built close ties between key counter-terrorism elements of our government and their counterparts on every continent, most of which had rarely been in regular contact with each other before. And in countries with less capacity, we are working to make the counterterrorism training of police, prosecutors, border officials, and members of the judiciary more systematic, more innovative, and more far-reaching.
The Departments of State, Justice, Defense, and others across the U.S. government have dozens of programs – literally the whole of the U.S. Government – works tirelessly to help train and equip friendly governments around the world to help address state weaknesses that terrorism thrives on. And our partnerships involve officials from the working level to the very top.
Governments are joining together time and again and preventing real attacks in real time – including ones planned against planes crossing the Atlantic and on public transport systems worldwide.
And I am proud that under the Obama Administration, our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before. We know that many of the threats the United States faces, are threats to Israel. It’s equally true that many of the threats Israel faces, America faces also. So this partnership ensures that in the face of terrorism, both our countries are stronger and our citizens are safer.
Over the past two and a half years, we have undertaken an unprecedented reinvigoration of bilateral defense consultations through nearly continuous high-level discussions and visits. The U.S. and Israel share security dialogues and exchanges in political, military and intelligence channels to discuss regional security matters and counter-terrorism, sharing information that can and does save lives. We have re-energized structured dialogues such as the U.S.-Israel Joint Political-Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, to name a few.
In these dialogues and in countless day-to-day contacts between the security-related officials of both countries, we discuss a wide range of current security concerns ranging from procurement to counter-terrorism to homeland security techniques to regional developments and provide an opportunity for our governments to share perspectives on policies, address mutual concerns, explain threat perceptions, and identify new areas for cooperation.
We share information on Hamas weapons smuggling, Hezbollah’s arsenal, the movement of Al-Qaeda operatives, terrorists financing networks, and the state sponsorship of terrorism by Syria and Iran. We develop and execute joint strategies to counter these threats and jointly approach other governments to enlist their support.
In addition, we continue to work on innovative technology to combat the threat and reality of terrorism. We need to ensure that we are using science and technology to our best advantage.
That is why, in addition to the over $3 billion in military assistance that the U.S. will provide Israel in the coming fiscal year, we also continue to work closely on the development of innovative technology, like missile defense. We have worked together on the Arrow system, are working to develop the David’s Sling system, and as you know, Congress, at the request of President Obama, provided $205 million to accelerate production and deployment of the Iron Dome short-range missile system, a project to which I devoted particular attention during my tenure at the White House.
The recent rocket attacks in southern Israel were a stark reminder of why the U.S.-Israel partnership is so critical. Let me put it as simple as I can: Iron Dome saves lives. It also provides the Israeli government with more time and greater flexibility in determining how to respond to terrorist missile strikes.
Close international defense and counter-terror partnerships is one reality in the post 9/11 environment.
Another is the overhaul of the way we conduct counter-terror operations at home and abroad. The close U.S.-Israel relationship proved invaluable to American officials aiming to establish the most efficient and reliable counter-terrorism posture.
In the years since the September 11 attacks, American leaders and citizens have struggled to balance civil liberties with the needs of secure communities, personal privacy with the need for accurate intelligence, combat operational needs with the demands of a thorough criminal investigation. Security-posture is always a work-in-progress, and our ultimate goal is to make sure we maintain that balance, recognizing the freedoms inherent in our societies.
As we began restructuring our government, the U.S. turned to a valued and trusted partner. We turned to Israel – a country that has lived under the threat of terror for far too long and had lessons it was willing to share. INSS’s own former Chairman, Major General Uzi Dayan, was a major source of counsel and advice to U.S. officials and security specialists at the time.
The lessons we learned from Israel and applied to an American context broadly fall into three categories: intelligence, operations, and security.
In the area of intelligence, the United States in 2001 was still oriented in a post-Cold War mindset. We were reducing resources dedicated to Cold War threats. While we had identified and acknowledged the new threats of transnational terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, among others, we were not set organizationally to address them. We had overemphasized systems that could spot large pieces of military equipment and put less emphasis on the key role of human intelligence, something Israel is legendary for.
We also learned that the competition between domestic and foreign intelligence operations opened gaps which terrorists could exploit. So we undertook to streamline communication between intelligence communities.
Israel does this as part of its security culture and out of operational necessity. For the U.S., we needed organizational and leadership solutions. We established the National Counterterrorism Center in order to ensure case information is shared between organizations so we don’t miss important connections that can be used to prevent attacks.
We integrated the intelligence community through the creation of a National Director of Intelligence whose job is to connect the dots and ensure we have not overlooked important connections in our analysis of raw intelligence due to a bureaucratic limitation.
Israel offered operational lessons as well. We learned it was necessary to disrupt across the entire terrorist enterprise — recruitment, indoctrination, training, financing, logistical support and at the point of attack.
Targeting elements at these different stages require a range of intelligence resources, identifying and seizing financial assets, engagement with societies to discredit violent and extreme elements and the application of special operations forces.
These lessons were passed through strengthened partnerships between the U.S. and Israel defense and intelligence agencies. This cooperation takes many forms, but I am especially proud of the exchanges and joint training by our elite special operations units. (General Votel)
One of the most challenging overhauls we undertook was in the arena of homeland security. Following the attacks of September 11 and the anthrax attacks using the U.S. Postal Service, we set out to change how we were organized to prevent attacks and respond to threats.
We established the Department of Homeland Security, which took the functions of over 40 separate federal agencies and gave them one address. Organizations like the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Transportation Security Agency all folded into this new organization we call DHS.
The creation of DHS was an effort to match the challenging demand of securing the United States and its interests by better linking those needs with existing offices and personnel with diverse but interrelated responsibilities.
Among its first tasks, done in partnership with the Department of State, was to secure the U.S. border by tracking entries and exits, securing travel documents, providing adequate security screening at airports and cargo facilities, enhancing physical security along our long land and sea borders, and engaging with international partners to help us do it.
Again, we turned to Israel. In aviation security, for example, El Al and Israeli experts offered us their hard lessons learned from earlier acts of aviation terrorism. Israel, despite the threats it faces, has built an effective system to prevent acts of aviation terrorism.
That is why, earlier this year, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano came to Israel to examine security procedures at Ben Gurion Airport. We have has similar exchanges by local law enforcement, who are often times at the forefront of our counterterrorism efforts.
U.S. Local and state officials regularly travel to Israel to learn firsthand how Israel addresses the threat of terrorism in its communities.
All of the areas I have touched on – international partnerships, intelligence, and organization – have made our counterterrorism strategy more effective. But, probably the most important qualities of successful counter-terrorism efforts, which we and Israel share, are relentlessness and dedication.
Terrorists bent on killing civilians and wreaking havoc in our societies do not give up. So we must be even more determined than they are and pursue them to the end. And that is what the United States did on May 1st of this year when President Obama ordered, and U.S. special forces successfully carried out, the operation that found and killed Osama bin Laden.
Because of our efforts, he had become a shadow of a man, locked in a box, stripped of much of his organization. But despite his defeats, he remained a man who was continuing to plan attacks and advocate violence against the U.S. and around the world. And bringing him to justice closed an important chapter for the American people.
Even as it took ten long years to get Osama bin Laden, the threat of terrorism that we felt so intensely has receded for many Americans.
This was a vision set by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, “We stand by America as it struggles to make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness once again self-evident for all of us.”
We have adjusted to our new security focus and life has returned to normality for the vast majority of Americans.
Of course, for Israel, the threat of terrorists striking at home remains constant, as we were reminded on August 18, when terrorists attempted to take hostages along Israel’s border with Egypt.
My wife, Julie, and I, with heavy hearts, attended the funeral of Staff Sergeant Moshe Naftali at Mount Herzl and I later attended the funeral of Chief Warrant Officer Pascal Avraham of the YAMAM Special Police Unit. They were security officers called to respond to the terror attack — a soldier and a police officer doing their duty to protect their fellow citizens.
They were among the many killed and injured that day and in following days of rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip.
On August 23, I saw the damage and threat posed by those strikes when I visited with victims of rocket attacks at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot. I also viewed sites in Ashdod city center struck by rockets and witnessed the severe damage those weapons can do in a civilian area.
These experiences so early in my tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Israel drove home for me the essential nature of continuing and deepening our counterterrorism partnership.
Our efforts must and will continue to evolve to meet new challenges and our partnerships across the world will continue to deepen. Today, we are stronger than we were on 9/11. But there are no guarantees in this world.
What we can do is maximize our ability to prevent an attack from occurring, minimize the ability of such an attack having a large impact, and increase our ability to respond.
On behalf of President Obama and the American people, let me offer my deep appreciation for the close partnership between our two countries in meeting threats and combating terror.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.