The full text of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at a conference organized by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, September 11, 2014:
There’s no meaningful power without responsibility. Well, you could have it but it’s worthless or worse, it could be very dangerous. So all of us entrusted in power, with power, have responsibility and I’ll talk about that later – what our responsibilities entail at this moment.
But I’d like to say a few words before that not only to you, our host, Dr. [Boaz] Ganor [head of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism], who I remember from our youth, and the many guests here from abroad, but most especially to Ambassador [Dan]Shapiro of the United States of America. As you know, Ambassador Shapiro speaks perfect Hebrew, but I want to say a few words in English to you and to the people of the United States.
We remember that day thirteen years ago and we mourn with you on this day for the thousands who lost their lives in that horrific attack. All of Israel mourned on September 11th. In Gaza, they were dancing on the roofs. They were handing out candy. That’s the moral divide. We mourn; they celebrate the death of thousands of innocents. And then when the US took out [Osama] Bin Laden, I speak for virtually the entire country, congratulated President [Barack] Obama. In Gaza, Hamas condemned the US and called Bin Laden a “holy warrior,” a holy warrior of Islam. That’s the moral divide. We celebrate; they mourn the death of an arch-terrorist.
Now that moral divide has never been clearer than it is today because Hamas, like al-Qaeda and its affiliates al-Nusra [Front] or its new growth ISIS (a name for the Islamic State which stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] or Boko Haram, al-Shabab, Hezbollah supported by Iran – all are branches of the same poisonous tree. All present a clear and present danger to the peace and security of the world and to our common civilization.
I believe that the battle against these groups is indivisible and it’s important not to let any of these groups succeed anywhere because if they gain ground somewhere, they gain ground everywhere. And their setbacks are also felt everywhere. If they gain ground, if they were to succeed, they would return humanity to a primitive early medievalism. I say early medievalism because my father, my late father was a great historian of the Middle Ages and I’d be giving them too much compliment – early medievalism, primitive early medievalism where women are treated as cattle, as property and gays are stoned and minorities persecuted if they’re left alive at all.
And these groups must be fought, they must be rolled back and they must ultimately be defeated. That’s why Israel fully supports President Obama’s call for united actions against ISIS. All civilized countries should stand together in the fight against radical terrorism that sweeps across the Middle East, sweeps across the world. And we are playing our part in this continued effort. Some of the things are known, some things are less known. We have always viewed it as our common battle for our common future.
Now the fight against Islamist terrorism has created new alliances in the Middle East because many Sunni Arab states recognize that the threat of Iran’s aggression and its radical Shiite proxies pose a fundamental danger to them, as does fundamentalist Sunni terrorism. And as a result of this, these twin threats of radical Shiism using terrorist tactics, radical Sunnism using terrorist tactics – as a result of this, they’re reevaluating their relationship with Israel and they understand that Israel is not their enemy but their ally in the fight against this common enemy. And I believe this presents an opportunity for cooperation and perhaps an opportunity for peace.
I think it’s crucial not to let the fight against Sunni extremism make us forget the danger of Shiite extremism. They are two sides of the same coin. We don’t have to strengthen one to weaken the other. My policy is: Weaken both. And most importantly, don’t allow any of them to get weapons of mass destruction.
And that’s why the arrangement that was achieved in Syria to disband and take out the chemical weapons and chemical materials was so important. And I think President Obama had a very important achievement there. We understand what it would mean that any of these sides would have weapons of mass destruction because all you have to imagine is what would have happened if on 9/11 al-Qaeda had nuclear weapons. You know they would have used them against New York and against Washington. It’s unassailable.
These groups have absolutely no moral or other impediment to their mad desires. Once they have massive power, they will unleash all their violence, all their ideological zeal, all their hatred, with weapons of mass death. And all you have to imagine is what would have happened if al-Qaeda today had access to chemical weapons in Syria. Well then, project that: What would happen if the terrorist regime in Iran will have weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons? They control themselves today. They’ve put up a good front. But they have tremendous, tremendous ambitions. Not for Iran; for Shiism from Iran. And those ambitions would be unleashed once they have nuclear weapons in their capacity. They must not have it.
Now the world powers are now negotiating with Iran and I hope they make a good deal because a bad deal should not be made. I’ll tell you what a good deal is: The one that was made in Syria, because what that deal said was take the chemical weapons and the materials, the chemicals themselves and the means to make the weapons, out of Syria. They didn’t say to Assad, “Keep them, store them and we’ll put an inspector. You know, we’ll lock it with a padlock and we’ll put an inspector next to it”, because at any point Assad could kick out the inspector – I’m not saying that’s Inspector Clouseau… a good inspector. But the whole idea of breakout is you throw away the inspector and you rush, once you unlock the storehouses, you rush to make the weapons. That’s what Iran is seeking.
Iran is seeking to keep the enriched nuclear material, to keep the centrifuges, to keep the means to make nuclear weapons in short order – we’ll put a padlock on it and we’ll put an inspector, inspectors there. And then at a certain point when there are international crises that consume our attention, and you know these never happen these days, right? Kick out the inspectors, break the lock, you break out. Within weeks, a few months, they have nuclear weapons. That’s a bad deal.
And if Iran has nuclear weapons, you will see a tremendous pivot in the world. No, not in the Middle East – in the world. You will see things you never imagined could be possible, horrors that you couldn’t even contemplate, come to fruition. The ultimate terror: A terrorist regime with the weapons of the greatest terror of them all. We must not let that happen.
So we have no shortage of threats and they have come about as a result of the collapse of the old order. It collapsed about a hundred years ago. It collapsed rather in a way that has not happened in the last hundred years, the so-called Arab Spring, which has not materialized as some people had thought. I think it’s now clear that the forces of democracy have not come to the fore and if anything, what we’ve seen is old regimes collapse and Islamist forces come to the surface, old hatreds – Shiite against Shiite, but primarily Shiite against Sunni, Sunni against Sunni – all come bursting from subterranean layers of history and frustration. And they all have one common goal. The goal is [to] establish a new Islamist dominion, first in the Middle East and in their warped thinking, throughout the world. They all agree on that. They are not limited in their scope to a territory. They’re not limited to borders. They are basically… they may be pivoted in a state, they may be anchored in a particular place, but their goal is to take the entire world, to cleanse it of infidels – first their own people, Muslims, and then everyone else. Madness.
They all agree that they have to establish a caliphate. They all disagree who should be the caliph. That’s the nature of their disagreements. And they all use essentially the same tactic and that’s unbridled violence, fear – fear – terror. And the terror is first of all imposed on their own peoples. That’s the number one target before anyone else. If your people want to rise up against you as they did in Iran five years ago, you kill them. You send out your troopers to the streets, besiege and just shoot them on the sidewalks. You steal millions of votes, people protest – you shoot them. But it’s not enough to shoot them one time. You constantly shoot them or to be more precise, in Iran you hang them.
Anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people are annually executed, executed in Iran. I’m not talking about criminals; I’m not talking about people who have broken the law – people who have the temerity to have a different view, question the regime. And they’re hung in public squares and sometimes they’re hung from cranes. They don’t have enough scaffolds. And you see the same thing, the same thing – it doesn’t receive the same prominence – from ISIS, same technique. You take over a population. The first thing is, yes, you lop heads off in this tragic barbarism that we witness, but you also take people to the burial pits and you shoot them by the hundreds and thousands.
And we’ve just seen the same in Gaza. During the fighting, there was a lull. Gazans went out to look at their surroundings, started protesting at what Hamas did to them and Hamas had a very simple thing in response – they shot them. These aren’t the executions you heard about. These are the executions you didn’t hear about. And then towards the end of the fighting, just to make sure that everybody gets the message, as in Iran, as in Iraq today, so in Gaza – they take out 25 people from the jails, Fatah people who have been there for years, and they accuse them – listen to this – they accuse them that they are the ones who gave Israel real-time intelligence for our military actions. Kind of hard to do. I don’t know. Maybe we dug a tunnel underneath, came to their jail cells, received… That’s not funny. They take them out into the public squares and they put a bullet in their heads for everyone to see.
So the tactics are uniform. Terror first of all against your own people. There’s a larger imperative. We know this. We’ve seen this before. There’s a master race; now there’s a master faith. And that allows you to do anything to anyone, but first of all to your own people and then to everyone else. And what do you do to everyone else? For that you use new techniques. And the new techniques involve first of all taking over civilian populations, putting yourself inside civilian areas contravening the laws of war and the Geneva Convention; using your people as human shields, the same people you execute; and then firing indiscriminately at civilians. You hide behind civilians, you fire on civilians. And you fire rockets and missiles. And this creates a whole new set of problems. And these problems are born of the fact that it’s much harder to fight this kind of terror – much harder. It’s much easier to fight an army: tanks, artillery, command centers, open spaces. You destroy that, you destroy the army. End of war.
But these people, because they’re forcing you to face up to the moral limits that democracies obey, are basically forcing you to fight a new war and that new war requires two things. It’s requires the ability to have precision-guided munitions to be able to target the terrorists who are targeting you from inside civilians areas, but to try to limit the damage – what is called collateral damage or the incidental civilians casualties that accompany any war. Here they’re placed right in there, deliberately, by the terrorists. So you need precision weapons. You also need very precise intelligence. But the second thing – and that’s very, very expensive. I’m going to say that in Hebrew in a second. We have defense budget discussions. That’s very expensive. It’s much more expensive than dealing with tanks or artillery or regular armies.
And the second thing you have to do is defend yourself against the missiles that they pour on your own population, what we call the rear but in this case it’s the front because your cities are targeted. Well, we figured out, with the help of the United States for which we’re deeply grateful, we developed a system to protect ourselves against this terror, these terror attacks from the sky. And that too is very, very expensive.
So dealing with this new type of war actually is more difficult than dealing with the old type of war. But that’s the war that we’re facing. That’s the terror war that we now face. We face Islamist terrorists who take entire communities, cities, populations, hostage; who execute dissenters; who hide among civilians; and fire on civilians. That’s the new war. We have to make sure that they don’t have weapons of mass destruction because they have no inhibitions. But we also have to make sure that we have the capability to attack them and to defend against their attacks. And that requires weapons, defensive and offensive, but above all it requires, I believe, clarity and courage – clarity to understand they’re wrong, we’re right; they’re evil, we’re good. No moral relativism there at all. These people who lop off heads, trample human rights into the dust – are evil and they have to be resisted. Evil has to be resisted. And the second, it requires courage and responsibility. It requires courage because all the other qualities that we could bring to bear in the battle against terrorism are meaningless if you don’t have courage.
I think we have reservoirs of both, but I think that we have to also recognize that we are in a great historic juncture. I may surprise you when I tell you that I think militant Islam will be defeated. I think it will be, I think it will ultimately disappear from the stage of history because I think it’s a grand failure – it doesn’t know how to manage economies, it cannot offer the young people to which it appeals any kind of future. It can control their minds for now but ultimately the spread of information technology will obviate that, will give people choices. But this may take a long time. And we’ve been able to predict in the past that radical ideologies – which inflame the minds of millions – set their sights on minorities, usually starts with the Jews, it never ends with the Jews. They ultimately fail too. That happened in the last century. But before they failed, they took down tens of millions with them and a third of our own people. That will never happen again.
Clarity and courage, alliances as broad as we can make them with those who understand that we’re in a common battle, and courage to see this through, to roll back an ultimate victory. I’m confident that militant Islam will perish, but we must not allow anyone to perish with it before it goes down. That’s our task.
I think there’s a potential for a regional and international alliance against the forces of tyranny and terror that threaten all of us, but our experience, the experience of the Jewish people, has said that you always seek alliances because every nation needs alliances. A super-power like the United States of America needs alliances and certainly a small country like Israel needs alliances. But ultimately the only guarantor of our existence and the ability to form alliances depends on our internal strength. Nobody seeks your alliance if you are weak. You have to be able to protect yourself and if there’s one change that has been brought about in the history of the Jewish people since the establishment of the Jewish state, it’s our ability to defend ourselves, by ourselves, against any foe. That was and remains the basis of our policy.
Thank you very much.