Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here for hours, listening and enjoying myself. It is just like the reception at AIPAC. MK Wilf was there, as well as MK Dalia Itzik and Minister Yossi Peled. I missed this place, the praise, the compliments, the manners, and above all, Israeli understatement. In short, I missed you.
I am not being sarcastic when I say this. I appreciate the purpose for this meeting, hearing specific problems which allows me, at the very least, to try to address various problems bothering us in a practical manner. However, before I begin, I would like to thank the residents in the South and the heads of local authorities there, the IDF commanders and soldiers and the Israel Security Agency.
It is said that the job of Prime Minister of Israel is one of the most complex ones in the world. I can tell you from experience: there is truth to this statement, but even during difficult hours, there are moments that give one small comfort and warm the heart. This was the case this week when I met with the Iron Dome soldiers, men and women who are protecting all our homes.
By the way, in the age of missiles this statement is very accurate. They are protecting our homes. There were soldiers there who were from the area, from Ashdod, but also from the Galilee. They are protecting all our homes. I felt the same way when I met with the residents of the South and their heads of the local authorities. They are an important component in our national resilience. Therefore, I am certain that I speak for all the members of Knesset when I say that I salute them all. They certainly deserve it.
I would like to clarify that there is no such thing as hermetic defense and there never will be. The combination of offensive readiness, defensive readiness and national resilience is a winning combination and we must nurture it.
I would like to say something to my colleagues, the Ministers and members of Knesset. During my recent visit to Washington, I set two goals: the first goal was to clarify that Israel has the right to defend itself by itself against any danger. The second goal was to raise the threat of Iran's nuclear armament to the top of the international community's list of priorities.
With regard to the first goal, the recognition of
Israel's right to defend itself – there are those for whom this right seems self-evident. However, we had a previous Prime Minister, important and wise – Menachem Begin – who said that sometimes it is important to restate that which is self-evident. So I decided to do that, forcefully. Israel has the right to defend itself and, if necessary, to realize that right. This position was positively received in the United States, I would even say in the most profound way.
This position has earned absolute support from the American people. It has earned resounding approval in the Congress. I heard it from the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Democratic leadership, the Republican leadership – from everyone. And it has also earned official recognition from the White House.
President Obama told me very explicitly during my visit, and I quote, "Israel must have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat". He also added, "Israel has the sovereign right to make its own decisions with regard to its security".
I appreciate the President's statements, and I appreciate the deep and staunch alliance we have with the United States of America. As I said in Washington, in light of what is occurring in our region, in the Middle East and even beyond, this alliance between Israel and the US is prominent. However, there is something even more prominent and that is our right, our duty, to be the masters of our own fate.
Israel has never left its fate in the hands of others, not even in the hands of our best friends. This is the supreme duty I am charged with as Prime Minister of Israel. It is the supreme duty all Prime Ministers of Israel are charged with. It was this duty that David Ben-Gurion upheld when he declared the establishment of the country in 1948.
The American then-Secretary of State, the legendary George Marshall – and I say legendary because he was a World War Two hero – asked Ben-Gurion to wait. He said that there was time. However, Ben-Gurion did not wait, he decided to declare the establishment of the country. Prime Minister Levy Eshkol also upheld this duty during the waiting period in 1967, when the stranglehold around Israel grew tighter. On the eve of the Six Day War, he sent Abba Even to the White House to ask the United States to fulfill the written commitment they gave Israel when it withdrew from the Sinai in 1956 and open the Straits of Tiran. President Johnson asked Abba Even to wait. He was told that it was not the time. More than that, they told him, "If you act alone – you will stay alone". However, Eshkol upheld his duty and he acted.
Finally, in 1981, that same duty guided Menachem Begin as he faced the question of the Iraqi nuclear reactor. He was well aware of the international criticism that would come, including, by the way, from our friend, the United States and President Reagan. He knew there would be such criticism if we acted to destroy the Iraqi reactor. However, he did his duty and acted. Let me tell you, my friends, with time it became clear that our relations with the United States not only were not harmed, they grew even stronger.
We would prefer that Iran abandon its nuclear program peacefully. Everyone prefers this, and of course, so do I. However, the duty I am charged with is to defend Israel's independent ability to defend itself against any challenge.
I presented the example I just gave you to my hosts in Washington, and I believe that the first goal I set, to strengthen the recognition of Israel's right to defend itself – I think that goal was achieved.
The second goal of my visit, to raise Iran's nuclear armament to the top of the international community's list of priorities – I believe that goal was also achieved. I would like to clarify to you that this is not the result of one visit. I have been acting to this end, together with my colleagues here, methodically for over 15 years. I have always believed that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose an existential threat to Israel and a serious threat to the well-being and security of the entire world. I warned against this threat even when it was not popular to do so, and even when it was unacceptable – when many leaders in Israel and around the world preferred to ignore Iran's nuclear program and its repercussions.
There were those who believed, and probably still believe, that an agreement with the Palestinians is the solution, that it would lead to a solution of the Iranian problem. As if an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas would stop the centrifuges. Let's make a deal and the centrifuges will stop spinning. Whoever wants to believe this can do so, but he is simply burying his head in the sand.
There are many reasons to come to an agreement with the Palestinians: because we want peace; because we want calm; because I do not want a binational state. However, thinking that an agreement with Abbas will stop Iran and its satellite states – this is a dangerous illusion. I must admit that some people excel at illusions.
I had just returned from Washington, and I heard several members of Knesset and others say, "It is very good that you raised the issue of a nuclear Iran to the top of the international community's list of priorities. But look – it is the Palestinian issue that is exploding in our faces".
Understand, the dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza is not the Palestinian issue. The dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza is Iran.
Gaza equals Iran.
Where do the missiles come from? From Iran.
Where does the money come from? From Iran.
Who trains the terrorists? Iran.
Who builds the infrastructure? Iran.
I have said this many times: who gives the orders? Iran.
Gaza is a forward operating base for Iran.
I heard some people say that a third- or fourth-rate terrorist organization is acting against a million citizens in the State of Israel. That is not true. Iran is operating against us.
I hope that if not all, at least most members here and the public understand that the terrorist organizations in Gaza – Hamas and Jihad, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon – are taking shelter under an Iranian umbrella.
Now imagine what will happen if that umbrella becomes nuclear. Imagine that behind these terrorist organizations stands a country that calls for our destruction and it is armed with nuclear weapons.
Are you ready for this? I am not ready for this! And any responsible leader understands that we cannot let this happen – because of nuclear terror and the nuclear threat, but also because of the strengthening of conventional terror and the firing of missiles at us.
A Prime Minister of Israel cannot entrust the ability to act against this threat to others.
I know there are people who claim that I am terrifying people. I heard those same people say exactly the same thing when my colleagues and I warned them against the Disengagement, when we said that Gaza would become an enormous terrorist base – they said I was terrifying people then as well. I resigned from the government because I was not prepared to be a part of that Disengagement. When I said they would fire missiles from Gaza on Ashkelon, Beer-Sheva and Ashdod, they said we were sowing panic. They said a unilateral withdrawal would lead to a breakthrough in peace. Well, where is that breakthrough? What peace?
We dragged the entire country into the mud, and we are dealing with a situation that was created as a result of the Disengagement. We, unlike other people, are dealing responsibly and with discretion with this problem, and we will eventually resolve it, just as we are resolving the other problems we inherited. We will resolve them too.
They brought Iran into Gaza – we will remove Iran from Gaza. We did not bring Iran into Gaza – you brought Iran into Gaza!
Wherever we withdrew, Iran entered. We withdrew from Lebanon, Iran came in. We withdrew from Gaza, Iran came in. Some people suggest that we act in a similar manner in Judea and Samaria. Iran will come in there too. I cannot believe that there is anyone, despite your yelling, despite your objections and opposition, who does not understand that we cannot repeat this same mistake a third time.
I believe that perhaps all of you, with certain isolated exceptions, understand that we cannot repeat this mistake. If we come to an agreement with the Palestinians, we must ensure that our security foundations are sound and that Iran cannot enter the territory. We also know that when we warned that this would happen in Gaza and that a unilateral withdrawal would lead to this exact result, some people ignored those warnings, and today we know the results. We also know that we cannot agree to this for long.
Our enemies must know that, at the end of the day, Israel will not accept an Iranian base in Gaza. Sooner or later, Iran's terror base in Gaza will be uprooted.
Sources: Prime Ministers Office