Remarks at the B’nai B’rith World Center
July 7, 2016
would like to talk to you about the alliance between Israel and America – an
alliance that is without question the single most important relationship Israel
has in the world.
It is the
most important relationship but certainly not the only one. Today, Israel has
relations with over 160 countries. Despite the effort by some to paint Israel as
facing unprecedented international isolation, it is perhaps more accurate to say
that by most metrics Israel is less isolated today than at any time in its
Minister is wrapping up an historic five-day visit to Africa. His visit is part
of the broader effort he has led over the past seven years to expand Israel’s
relations with countries across the world. That effort, which has gone largely
unnoticed, has resulted in significant improvements in ties with powerful
countries like China, India, Japan and Russia, as well as dozens of smaller
countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe who see Israel as a
great partner for developing their own countries.
also dramatically upgraded its relations with our Mediterranean neighbors —
Greece and Cyprus — and after many years of negotiations, we have now
completed the agreement to normalize our relations with Turkey. I should note
that even as diplomatic, military, and intelligence ties with Turkey were
largely severed over the last six years, trade between Israel and Turkey
actually doubled over that same period. In the Middle East, our relations with
Egypt and Jordan are better than ever, as are our ties with many countries in
the region with which we do not have formal diplomatic relations.
The fact that
you don’t read or hear about that every day is not because things aren’t
happening. It’s because Israel wants things to continue to happen.
the differences of opinion that we have with some Western European countries —
particularly on the Palestinian issue — we have also worked over the past few
years to strengthen our relationships with these same countries by increasing
intelligence sharing, expanding trade and economic ties, enhancing scientific
and academic cooperation and in many other ways.
notwithstanding all these developments, there is still only one indispensable
relationship for Israel – our alliance with the United States. That the United
States is Israel’s most important ally should be obvious to everyone.
the United States has helped Israel shoulder our enormous defense burden with
generous military assistance – something that we hope will continue under a
new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that we are working to finalize with the
Obama Administration. In recent years, America has also enabled Israel to fund
and develop one of the world’s finest missile defense systems – which
includes the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile systems. Israel hopes
to include this funding in the new Memorandum Of Understanding for the first
time. And crucially, as a matter of both law and policy, the United States is
committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can
defend itself by itself against any threat.
strengthening Israel’s security, the United States has also extended critical
diplomatic and economic support to Israel — by vetoing anti-Israel resolutions
in the UN Security Council, by signing America’s first-ever free trade
agreement with Israel over 30 years ago, and by providing essential loan
guarantees to Israel during times of economic crisis.
In fact, if I
were to list everything that America has done for Israel, I would be here all
But what is
often forgotten about the US-Israel alliance is that it is not a one-way street.
To understand what Israel means to America, I could talk about the Israeli
technology and know-how that improves American lives, the Israeli science and
medicine that prolongs American lives, or the Israeli intelligence and security
cooperation that saves American lives. But a better way to appreciate what
Israel means to America is to simply imagine a Middle East without Israel.
the United States did not have in this region an anchor of democracy, an island
of unabashed pro-American sentiment, an ally with soldiers willing and capable
of defending the interests and values that both countries share. Now imagine a
Middle East with three Israels. Imagine two more countries that shared American
interests and values in the unstable swathe of territory that stretches from
Morocco to Pakistan. What a profound difference that would mean for America!
What a profound difference that would mean for the peace and security of the
region and the world!
there is absolutely no question that Israel benefits immensely from having such
a broad and deep alliance with the most powerful country on earth, there is also
no question that America also benefits a great deal from its alliance with
Israel. American leaders have understood as much for many decades. Thirty-five
years ago, former American Secretary of State Alexander Haig said that “Israel
is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does
not carry even one American soldier and is located in a critical region for
American national security.” Vice President Biden expresses a similar
sentiment when he often says that if Israel didn’t exist, America would have
to invent it.
Gentlemen, in addition to not appreciating the strategic benefits Israel
provides to America, what is also often rarely appreciated is that Israel and
the United States did not always have the strategic alliance we have today.
know that after David Ben Gurion declared our independence, it took President
Truman all of 11 minutes to make the United States the first country to formally
recognize Israel. But while some think this recognition was the beginning of the
strategic alliance between our two countries, it wasn’t. Truman’s decision
was an historic act of moral clarity. But it came at a time when an American
arms embargo was being imposed on a fledgling Jewish state fighting for its life
against five invading Arab armies.
1948, Israel fought its War of Independence with Czech rifles. Two decades
later, Israel flew French fighter planes during the Six Day War.
The truth is
that the strategic alliance between our two countries began to be forged only after Israel proved its prowess
and resiliency on the battlefield. Only then did American policymakers begin to
appreciate that Israel was not merely a moral cause but also a strategic asset.
What had started out as a moral imperative of some to help the Jewish people
overcome the horrors of the past soon turned into an effort by many to
strengthen a reliable ally that could help America address both present and
future challenges in the Middle East. That was true for the last two decades of
the Cold War and that has been true since the rise of militant Islam as a force
in the region and the world, particularly since 9/11.
Now, some of
you may be saying to yourselves that that is all well and good but that this
sentiment is a product of the past. Today, some will argue, Israel and the
United States have serious disagreements on important issues that will
ultimately fray our strategic alliance. History suggests otherwise. The truth is
that the alliance between America and Israel grew from a moral commitment to a
strategic partnership despite having to weather many serious
disagreements along the way, even on vital issues.
In 1948, then
Secretary of State George Marshall warned the soon to be Israeli government not
to declare its independence.
In 1967, as
Nasser was tightening the noose around Israel’s neck, President Johnson made
clear to Israel that if it acted alone, it would be alone.
after Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor, the Reagan administration joined
in condemning Israel at the UN Security Council and held up arms transfers to
Israel for three months.
after Israel responded to the worst terror campaign in its history by launching
Operation Defensive Shield, the Bush administration insisted that Israel
withdraw its forces immediately from all Palestinian areas.
only a few of the many instances when there was serious turbulence in the
US-Israel relationship. But despite these bumps, the alliance between America
and Israel grew stronger and our friendship grew deeper, decade after decade.
And I believe our alliance will continue to grow stronger and deeper in the
years ahead despite the serious disagreement Israel has with the Obama
administration over the best way to prevent a nuclear armed Iran.
want to spend too much time rehashing the debate over the nuclear deal with
Iran. But the differences remain clear. The Obama administration sincerely
believes the nuclear deal with Iran makes America and Israel safer. Israel
disagrees. The Obama administration believes that this deal blocks Iran’s path
to the bomb. Israel believes that the deal ultimately paves Iran’s path to the
The best that
can honestly be said about this deal is that it may temporarily block that path. Yet
the price for that temporary delay is not only removing the tough sanctions that
were crippling the economy of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. The
even heavier price is that in 10 to 15 years, Iran will have a fully legitimate
industrial-sized nuclear enrichment program, as the restrictions placed on
Iran’s nuclear program are automatically removed. Those two words –
“automatically removed” – are at the heart of Israel’s opposition to the
restrictions the deal puts in place will be automatically removed even if
Iran’s regime continues its aggression against its neighbors, continues its
support for terror across the world and continues its commitment in both word
and deed to annihilate Israel. No amount of spin can change the fact that in 15
years, Iran will be able to spin as much uranium as it wants without
consequence. And as the Prime Minister said last year in his speech to Congress,
15 years may seem like a long time in politics, but it is a blink of an eye in
the life of a nation.
despite the profound disagreement between Israel and the Obama administration on
such a vital issue — as well as ongoing disagreements on the best way to
advance peace with the Palestinians — I am confident that the alliance between
America and Israel will continue to grow stronger in the years ahead. First,
because the most dangerous security challenges facing the United States will
continue to emanate from the Middle East for a long time to come. Some in the
United States hope that America can pivot away from the Middle East. But for the
foreseeable future, I don’t think the Middle East is going to pivot away from
America. In the coming years, Israel’s importance to America as a reliable
ally and a formidable military power in a very dangerous region is likely to
become more critical not less critical for protecting
America’s security interests. In fact, the fewer troops America has on the
ground in the Middle East, the more important having a reliable Israeli ally
21st century is a century of knowledge, in which prosperity in the developed
world will be driven primarily by a country’s ability to innovate. There are
two great centers of innovation in the world today. One is in Silicon Valley.
The second is here in Israel. In the coming years and decades, Israel’s value
as a leader in technology — in medicine, science, agriculture, water and cyber
— will continue to cement our relations with countries around the world,
that I think most powerfully illustrates Israel’s disproportionate value as an
ally in technology is what is happening in cyber. In 2014, Israel accounted for
over 10% of global investments in cybersecurity. Think about that. Israel is
1/10th of 1% of the world’s population. But in cyber, Israel in 2014 was
punching 100 times above its weight. That sounds impressive. But in 2015, that
number jumped to 20%. That means Israel is punching 200 times above its weight.
So in cyber, do not think of Israel as a small country of 8.5 million people. In
cyber, Israel is a China.
And as the
United States looks at the top cyber powers, the only one that is a potential
ally is Israel.
people seem to appreciate the hasbara value of Israel being branded the
start-up nation, fewer seem to fully appreciate the strategic significance of
the technology ecosystem that has been created in Israel. America’s leading
technology companies — the Intels, Microsofts, Apples, Googles and dozens of
others — are not in Israel because they are Zionists. They are here because
they want to tap into our remarkable culture of innovation and position
themselves to continue to lead the world into the next century. That is why the
BDS movement will ultimately fail, and that is also one of the reasons why
Israel’s alliance with America will continue to grow stronger.
In fact, I
believe that for these two reasons alone – security and technology – Israel
is likely to be America’s most important ally in the 21st century. I know
that’s a strong statement. But if an Israeli Ambassador would have stood here
thirty years ago and said that Israel would become a global technological power,
it would have sounded no less far-fetched. But that happened. And if that same
Ambassador would have also told you that Israel would one day be selling gas to
its neighbors that would have sounded downright crazy. But that’s going to
happen as well.
In fact, the
significant energy resources we have discovered — and may yet discover —
will not only enhance Israel’s strategic position in the region, it will
affect our relationship with the United States as well by turning Israel into an
even more powerful ally.
security and technology, my confidence in the future of the US-Israel alliance
also comes from my appreciation that our alliance is rooted in things that run
much deeper. It is rooted in our most cherished values and in a shared sense of
destiny. The idea that all are created equal in the image of God, that no one is
above the law, that compassion for the most vulnerable is a sacred obligation
— ideas which have been a moral compass for generations of Americans — were
ideas first championed thousands of years ago by the prophets of the Jewish
people and which today are fused into the national identity of the Jewish state.
As so much of
the Middle East continues its descent into chaos and barbarism, as our values
come under further attack in a region where women are treated like chattel,
Christians are beheaded en masse, minority populations are decimated, and gays
are hanged in town squares, Israel will increasingly stand out as a beacon of
humanity and decency. This will inevitably bring America and Israel closer
But there is
something even beyond interests and values that goes to the very core of the
unique alliance between Israel and America. You see, both America and Israel are
not merely countries. They are
also causes. America has
long been what Lincoln called the last best hope on earth — a beacon of
opportunity for people across the world, carrying the torch of freedom for all
humanity and entrusted by history with securing liberty’s future.
Israel is the
hope of the Jewish people, offering opportunity for all its citizens — Jewish
and non-Jewish alike — safeguarding freedom in the darkest region on earth and
entrusted by history with securing the Jewish future.
imbue each country with a deep sense of purpose – and because these purposes
are not at odds with each other but rather compliment and reinforce one another,
they also imbue the two countries with a deep sense of solidarity. That is why I
believe tens of millions of Americans support Israel in a way they support no
other country in the world and why Israelis mourn America’s tragedies and
rejoice in America’s triumphs as perhaps no other country in the world does.
That is why from New York to California, from Alabama to Montana, Israel
resonates with Americans in a way no other country does and why so many Israelis
fly American flags on our own Independence Day.
that to truly appreciate the unique alliance between America and Israel, you
must appreciate what having such a sense of purpose means to both countries.
Those who don’t share this sense of purpose or who are too cynical to even
believe in a sense of purpose will never truly appreciate the power of the
friendship between America and Israel. But this sense of purpose is bigger than
any leader or any issue. It is the DNA of both countries and it lies at the
bedrock of our unique alliance.
That is why
the real danger to this alliance will not come from disagreements over policy,
demographic changes, or the numerous other reasons that are routinely cited as
potential signs of trouble. The real danger would be for either America or
Israel to lose its sense of purpose, for either country to no longer believe in
its own exceptionalism. It would come if those who work day in and day out to
tear down that sense of exceptionalism succeed.
they won’t succeed. I believe that the sense of purpose of both countries will
continue to remain strong. In fact, it may even get stronger in the face of a
fanaticism that is lashing out across the world, from San Bernadino and Orlando
to Paris and Brussels to Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Hebron. And with that strong
sense of purpose buttressed by common interests and anchored in shared values, I
believe that the alliance between Israel and America will become stronger than