“U.S.-Israel Relations: The U.S. in the Middle East” Former Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro Institute for National Security Studies (as prepared)

Professor Zaki Shalom, thank you for that kind introduction.  I’d like to thank Major General Amos Yadlin for the opportunity to address this distinguished group.  The Institute continues to do groundbreaking work on the region’s security challenges and opportunities, as Ambassador Oded Eran just illustrated in his presentation of the findings of the U.S.-Israel relations research group.  There is no question that, in the minds of the United States government, Israel is a strategic asset to the United States, and that the relationship between our countries is based on common interests and shared values.

The truth is, we cannot talk about security and stability in this region without talking about the U.S.-Israel partnership, because that relationship really is one of the cornerstones for regional stability, one of the foundations upon which all our efforts towards regional stability are based.

Today, in keeping with the theme of this session, I will speak about the special relationship between Israel and the United States, ties rooted in shared values and people-to-people ties.  Our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security is a reflection of this bond, but that relationship doesn’t just benefit Israel.  It is a two way street.  Both Israel and the United States benefit from the extraordinary level of our security and intelligence coordination.  And our bond is reflected in how we view the challenges and opportunities of the upheaval sweeping this region, and our common goal of a prosperous, democratic Jewish State of Israel, living in peace and security alongside a sovereign state of Palestine.  And there is no better example of this bond than our coordination on Iran, so I want to update you on how we see this challenge coming out of the Baghdad talks.

As I mentioned, President Obama recently observed that the deep partnership between the United States and Israel is rooted in people-to-people ties based on shared values and common ideals.  And these common ideals also explain our dedication to Israel, the democratic example for this part of the world, and our commitment to Israel’s security.

I will speak more about America’s commitment to Israel’s security in a moment.  But fundamentally, the special relationship between the United States and Israel starts from the proposition that a flourishing, strong, secure, Jewish, democratic State of Israel is a fundamental interest of the United States.  All our policies seek to promote this goal – on our security cooperation, on the Palestinian issue, on our approach to the changes in the Arab world, and on Iran.

The strategic reason is that Israel is our most reliable ally in the Middle East.  It is the region’s only stable democracy, and it is a stellar security partner.  We face many common threats, and each of us brings unique capabilities to those struggles, making us more effective together than either of us could be individually.  So it is in our interests to strengthen such a reliable partner.  But there are also moral reasons: Israel and the United States share the values of two democracies, committed to freedom, justice, and peaceful relations with others.  In addition the ancient ties of the Jewish people to this land compel us to support self-determination for the Jewish people in their historic homeland.  The weight of Jewish history, a history of anti-Semitism and persecution, adds to that imperative.

At the heart of U.S.-Israel relations is our commitment to Israel’s security.  Over the decades, America has invested billions of dollars in Israel’s security, always with the goal of ensuring that Israel has the means to defend itself by 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.  And the Obama Administration has increased funding for Iron Dome and other missile defense programs to protect Israel from terrorists who fire on innocent civilians.  The Obama Administration has also deepened and strengthened 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.  All of this assistance and coordination reflects a commitment of the United States to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, so Israel can defend itself, by itself, against any threat it may face.

But we don’t just ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself.  The United States will also always support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens.  This is not a statement that should be taken lightly.  At a time when a campaign of deligitimization against Israel continues around the world, much of it focused on depriving Israel of the right to defend itself and its citizens from attack, the United States has made clear that we will oppose these efforts in every forum in which they occur.

But our security relationship is not simply about what America does for Israel.  It is about what we do together.  Many of the challenges and threats that Israel faces, America faces as well.  When President Obama says the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and our commitment to the security of Israel is ironclad, he knows that Israel’s commitment and contribution to America make this a two-way street in ways that are good for Israel and good for the United States.

We share another goal with Israel, which Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about last night:  To ensure that Israel remains a secure, Jewish and democratic state.  This is a goal that runs as a common thread through our entire government.  It is a litmus test of our policy.  And it is inseparable from our determination to see the State of Israel living in peace and security alongside a sovereign state of Palestine.  Two states for two peoples.  Israel as a Jewish state and homeland of the Jewish people.  An independent Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people.  Each side enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, security and peace.

To be clear, a peace agreement is not a silver bullet that will remedy all of Israel’s security challenges.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is right about that.  But an agreement along the lines outlined by President Obama one year ago, a realistic agreement, reached through direct negotiations, that ensures Israel’s security and leads to two states for two peoples, would fundamentally improve Israel’s strategic picture.  It would secure the Zionist dream of a democratic state with a stable Jewish majority.  It would enhance Israel’s international standing and enable the strengthening of many of its relationships.  It can also open the door to engaging with Arab publics, who will now have a greater say in their own governance and foreign policy.

As we have said many times, this conflict can only be resolved through direct negotiations.  It cannot be resolved by unilateral measures by either side.  It cannot be resolved through appeals to the UN, which we will continue to oppose.  We have been crystal clear that the core issues of the conflict can only be resolved through direct negotiations.

Recent meetings between the parties, both with the help of the Jordanian government and under the auspices of the Quartet, have led to direct contact, including an exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  We hope this exchange can lead to additional dialogue on substantive on issues of concern for both sides, while at the same time preserving the impressive gains that have been achieved on the ground, by increasing security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces and by strengthening the viability of the Palestinian Authority under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  This dialogue, if it is serious and realistic, can help the parties gain what has most been lacking throughout our efforts – the mutual confidence that they each have a partner with whom they can achieve their goals.

The U.S. remains committed to a negotiated solution between the parties.  We do not accept unilateral steps by either side that undermine trust and confidence.  This includes Palestinian efforts to join UN agencies and the UN General Assembly as a non-member state, as well as Israeli decisions to expand settlements and legalize outposts.

There are other challenges in this region, of course, on which the United States and Israel coordinate closely.  From Tunis and Tripoli to Sanaa 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 transitions in the Arab world pose both opportunities and challenges.  The peoples of the Arab world will now determine their own destiny.  We must, and are, aiming to strengthen the forces in Arab societies that believe in and promote democratic values.  We need to make clear what those values are: that every such new regime must respect the universal rights of its people, must govern transparently, must honor the rights of minorities and women, must reject violence, must honor international commitments and agreements, and in the case of Egypt, must honor the Treaty of Peace with Israel.  As we have throughout the transition, we will emphasize this priority with whatever government emerges from the elections in Egypt.

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.  Israel has never enjoyed the benefits of democratic neighbors.  But these outcomes are far from guaranteed; they would take years, not months to be realized; and, in any case, 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.

Now, I want to focus the balance of my remarks on the issue of Iran.  There is no better example of the close bond between our countries than the United States’ and Israel’s shared determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  As President Obama said in his March speech to AIPAC, no issue is higher on the agendas of the United States and Israel than preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  At every stage, we have conducted the most intensive, high-level, intimate consultations to ensure that our efforts are fully coordinated.  Just this weekend, immediately after the negotiations in Baghdad, senior U.S. officials involved in the P5+1 talks visited Israel and discussed the recent talks in Baghdad with senior Israeli officials.  It is a sign of how close the relationship is and the level of trust between us that we were prepared to share details of the talks with Israel that we had not yet had an opportunity to fully brief to our own government.

Over many months, through this extraordinarily close, high-level coordination, the United States and Israel have developed a common understanding of the threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, a common intelligence basis on which to judge the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, a common goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, a common strategy – together with many other nations – to use unprecedented sanctions and economic pressure to induce Iran to change course.  We also have a shared preference to try to resolve this issue diplomatically, but also a shared principle that no options are off the table to achieve our goal.  And President Obama has been clear that 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 would pose a grave threat to the security of the United States, our allies, and the world.  It would heighten the possibility that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.  It would spark a nuclear arms race in this volatile region.  It could collapse the global nuclear non-proliferation system.  And a nuclear umbrella would embolden Iran in its support for terror by Hezbollah, Hamas, and other groups, and threaten freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.  It would simply 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.

As we apply all elements of American power to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the United States takes no options off the table.  As President Obama has said, that means a political component aimed at isolating Iran as never before; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose unprecedented, crippling sanctions.  And it means a military option, and as Secretary Panetta assured us, we have done the planning to ensure that we are  prepared for any contingency.

We have mobilized the international community around this issue.  Together with our international coalition, we have put in place the strongest sanctions that the Iranian government has ever faced.  And we’ve expanded these sanctions to further target Iran’s banking and petroleum sectors.

We are urging all governments to further increase the pressure on Iran and to deepen the impact of these measures through sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and concerted efforts to reduce Iran’s oil revenues.  We continue to work with oil consuming countries to help them find alternatives to energy supplies from Iran.  Our allies share our goals and are imposing measures of their own, such as the EU ban on Iranian oil purchases that will take hold in July.

We also continue to deepen our defense partnerships in the region and built a robust regional security architecture that blunts Iran’s ability to threaten and coerce its neighbors while carefully guarding Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.  We have enhanced our enduring U.S. force presence in the region and worked with partners to build their capacity, improve defenses, and protect critical infrastructure.  Our efforts have reassured our partners, and demonstrate unmistakably to Tehran that any attempt to dominate the region will be futile.

We are sending a clear message to Iran that continued refusal to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program will result in an escalating series of consequences.

In recent weeks, the United States has announced additional steps to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime.  Last month, the President signed an executive order authorizing new sanctions against the governments of Syria and Iran – and those that abet them – for using technologies to monitor, track and target citizens for violence.  This novel sanctions tool allows us to sanction not just those oppressive governments, but the companies that enable them with technology they use for oppression and the “digital guns for hire” who create or operate systems used for serious human rights abuses.

And this month, the President signed a new executive order targeting individuals and entities that seek to evade our sanctions and undermine international efforts to bring pressure to bear on the Iranian and Syrian regimes.  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.  And changing Iran’s calculus is essential to achieving a diplomatic solution.

Recent behavior shows Iran’s desperation in the face of growing pressure.  Iran is isolated and is seeking to divert attention from its behavior and domestic problems.  Sanctions are having a significant impact on Iran’s currency.  Iran’s economy has ground to a halt.  And we have made progress in shrinking Iran’s oil export markets, and isolating its Central Bank from the world financial system.   Even the Iranian regime’s leadership has talked of the “crippling” effect sanctions have had on the Iranian economy.

All this pressure, and the additional pressure yet to come, is what brought Iran back to the negotiating table in Istanbul and last week in Baghdad.  Our objective in Baghdad was to get into detailed and serious discussions about concrete, step-by-step, reciprocal measures Iran needs to take in the near term to address international concerns about its nuclear program.  The P5+1 put forward a detailed proposal that offers a path for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.   And we were very clear with Iran from the start – and here again we absolutely agree with Israel – that what we ultimately seek is for Iran to fully comply with all of its international nuclear obligations, including relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Two days of intense and detailed discussions between Iran and a strongly unified P5+1 in Baghdad revealed significant differences, but also some narrow common ground .  And we agreed on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground in Moscow, in less than three weeks’ time.

As Lady Ashton said, the P5+1 are firm, clear, and yes, completely united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community’s concerns.  These issues will not be resolved overnight, and we have no illusions that Iran may try to use these negotiations to buy time.  But we have been clear that there is no lessening of our demands.  We are focused on results that lead to full Iranian compliance in a process that cannot be open-ended.  It is up to Iran to follow through.  The burden falls on Iran to demonstrate it is serious.

Our position is clear:  Iran must live up to its international obligations, including suspension of all uranium enrichment as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions.  The Iranian regime will need to take concrete steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program, and it will need to take them soon.  We will do everything possible to achieve a diplomatic solution.  But while there is a window for diplomacy – backed by pressure – to succeed, we will not pursue talks for the sake of talks, and the window is closing.  The clock is ticking, and Iran must change course.

As Secretary Clinton has said, the pressure must stay on if we want to see progress toward a peaceful resolution.  Until Iran complies with all its international nuclear obligations, we will further increase the pressure.  The toughest sanctions are yet to come.  We will not let up until we achieve our goal.  As President Obama said, the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons, not to contain an Iran with nuclear weapons.  Like Israel, the United States is focused on results, and we will continue our close coordination with Israel toward our common goal.   

עמדתנו ברורה: בדיוק כמו ישראל, ארה”ב מאמינה שאירן חייבת לעמוד בכל התחייבויותיה הבינלאומיות, כולל השעיית העשרת האורניום כפי שדרשו החלטות מועצת הביטחון של האו”ם. בקרוב מאד יידרש המשטר האיראני לנקוט בצעדים קונקרטיים להפיג את החששות הבינלאומיים מתוכנית הגרעין של אירן. אנו נעשה כל מה שאנחנו יכולים כדי להשיג פתרון דיפלומטי. אך למרות שיש סיכוי להצלחת הערוץ הדיפלומטי – בגיבוי לחץ – איננו מתכוונים להמשיך בשיחות פשוט לשם שיחות והחלון הולך ונסגר. השעון מתקתק ואירן חייבת לשנות את דרכה.

כפי שאמרה מזכירת המדינה קלינטון, הלחץ חייב להמשיך אם אנו רוצים להיות עדים להתקדמות לקראת פתרון של שלום. עד שאירן תמלא את התחייבויותיה הבינלאומיות בנושא הגרעין, אנו נמשיך ונגביר את הלחץ. הסנקציות החריפות ביותר טרם הופעלו. אנו לא נפסיק ולא נרפה עד שנשיג את המטרה. כפי שאמר הנשיא אובמה, מדיניותה של ארצות הברית היא למנוע מאירן להשיג נשק גרעיני, לא להשלים עם אירן בעלת נשק גרעיני. בדומה לישראל, גם ארצות הברית מתמקדת בתוצאות קונקרטיות ואנו נמשיך בתיאום הצמוד עם ישראל להשגת היעד המשותף לשתי המדינות.  ובסופו של הדבר, ארה”ב תעשה את הכל מה שנדרש על מנת למנוע מאירן להשיג נשק גרעיני.

Thank you again for the opportunity to talk with you today.  I’m happy to take your questions.