PM Bennett: We will maintain our freedom of action

Read Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Remarks at the Security and Policy Conference of the Institute for Policy and Strategy Conference

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ,

Bennett at the Security and Policy Conference of the Institute for Pol
Bennett at the Security and Policy Conference of the Institute for Pol
Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

For three decades, Israel's single most significant enemy has been the Islamic Republic of Iran. The resources the country has invested in dealing with the Iranian threat—militarily, diplomatically, economically, technologically, covertly and overtly—are tremendous.

It seems that after such a long period of time, we need to look at what we've accomplished and examine if we need to recalibrate this vast effort. And the answer, if we look openly and reasonably, is yes.

The resources we have invested are at the strategic level. And the result in the nuclear arena has been a tactical delay. In the area of regional proliferation, it has been a failure.

Let us begin with the nuclear issue. When I arrived at the Prime Minister's Bureau less than half a year ago, I was amazed by the gap between rhetoric and action. There was a disturbing distance between statements like, "We will never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons," and what was passed down to me. To summarize the reality that we inherited in one sentence: Iran is further along in its nuclear program than ever before and its enrichment machine is more advanced and broader.

In addition, alongside the progress in its nuclear program, Iran has also been consistently and persistently successful in encircling Israel in rings of militias and rockets from every direction. Over the past decade, Iran is reflected in every window in the State of Israel. To the northeast, there are Shiite militias in Syria. To the north, Hezbollah. To the south, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The Iranians have surrounded the State of Israel with missiles while they sit safely in Tehran. They harass us, drain our energies, exhaust us, and they do all this while barely having to leave home. They bleed us without paying a price. It is a convenient arrangement, all told.

The necessary conclusion is that this method of chasing after the terrorist de jour, who receives his orders from the Al-Quds Force, does not make sense anymore. We need to get to those who send him.

Since my very frustrating days in combat during the Second Lebanon War, a question has haunted me like a shadow: How can it be that the late Roi Klein was killed by Iranian emissaries and Iran did not pay any price for it?

How have we accepted this asymmetry? How can it be that our sons were killed at Tehran's order in Bint Jbeil or Shuja'iyya while the Iranians sat in Tehran, protected from any harm?

The Second Lebanon War brought me to politics, and after a long journey, now that I am prime minister, I do not forget Roi, my good friend, Emanuel Moreno and all the other IDF soldiers who stood between the citizens of Israel and Iranian terror, which continually takes a different form.

When I became prime minister, one of the very first things that I did, in my second week on the job, was to start a policy review to reexamine Israel's policy on the Iranian issue, with an emphasis, obviously, on the nuclear issue, but also looking at the ongoing cold war between us and the Iranians in the region.

It was a long and informative process, and it had two dimensions: to understand the enemy as well as possible, and to understand us, what we had done so far, where we went wrong and where we succeeded.

Here are my conclusions.

One: The asymmetry is a strategic mistake on Israel's part. They send us proxies—from Lebanon, from Syria, from Gaza and from even further away—and we kill the messenger. This ongoing attrition only plays into their hands.

Two: We need to utilize our relative advantages against their aggression in a more effective manner than in the past—our strong economy, cyber capabilities, democracy, international legitimacy, mutual responsibility. That is how the United States defeated the Soviet Union.

Three: We need to increase the gap between us and our enemy—all together and each alone. The State of Israel is a strong country, but it needs to be even stronger. Much stronger. To that end, we must ensure a competitive and growing economy on a global scale, and the fruits of this prosperity must be invested in getting stronger: in missiles, in cyber, in lasers and in a range of technologies. This kind of fortification leaves no room for doubt and eliminates everyone's desire to try us.

The final conclusion stems from the previous conclusions and relates to the core of the Zionist ethos: initiative, action. No procrastination, just doing what needs to be done all the time. The State of Israel must maintain its capabilities to act and its freedom of action, in every situation and under any political circumstances.

I'd like to pause here and look around us, take a panoramic view at where Israel is in November of 2021. My friends, the country is going in a good direction.

We stopped the political turmoil, formed a government, passed a budget and restored stability. We are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in an excellent manner.

Our economy is open, and this allowed us to enjoy phenomenal growth of 7% per
year. We built tools that will allow Israel to live a normal life even in an extreme scenario of a decade-long pandemic, to live alongside the disease and not be dictated to by it.

Our foreign relations are flourishing with many countries around the world, near and far.

The conflict with our neighbors, which defined us since the beginning of Zionism, defines us much less.

I have had dozens of diplomatic meetings over the past several months. At each one, the leaders spoke to me almost exclusively about Israeli innovation, about the booster shots, about cooperation in nearly every area.

The State of Israel is strong, successful and open to the world.

Against this is the Islamic Republic of Iran—an enemy we did not seek, a people we have nothing against, a regime that, in order to justify its hopelessness, picked out a large Satan and a small Satan more than 40 years ago, and we were cast in the role of the small Satan.

Iran, and I am belaboring this point on purpose, because we have a tendency to inflate it and scare ourselves, is not the giant we make it out to be. They are much more vulnerable than people tend to think. The regime is at its most extreme point since 1979. The Revolutionary Guard Corps is the regime in practice.

Over the past several days, I have been looking closely at the demonstrations in Isfahan. This is a regime that cannot provide its citizens with water. Water. It is a regime with a weak economy, and the administration is corrupt and rules with violence and fear.

In general, and as opposed to their image, the Iranians are not eager to commit suicide. Life is precious to them. Iranian families have an average of two children. They will always prefer to find Lebanese, Afghan or Yemenite volunteers to commit violence in their name. We see this in Syria all the time.

We are at a significant point in this ongoing battle—Israel versus Iran—which is, in fact, the fight of the entire world against an extreme Islamist regime that undermines the entire region, all the time, on its way to achieving Shiite hegemony under a nuclear umbrella.

We hope the world does not blink, but if it does, we do not intend to.

We stand at the outset of a complex period. There may also be disagreements with the best of our friends. It would not be the first time. In any event, even if there is a return to the JCPOA, Israel obviously is not a party to the agreement and is not obligated by it.

The mistake we made after the first agreement in 2015 will not be repeated. Then, despite all the noise beforehand, once the agreement was signed, it affected us like a sleeping pill. The State of Israel simply went to sleep. We were occupied with other things.

We will learn from this mistake. We will maintain our freedom of action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since its very inception, the State of Israel has faced challenge after challenge. They do not allow us to live in peace here. But still, we live. Year after year, we build upwards and grow our roots ever deeper. We transformed from a few companies and battalions into a small army and then into a regional powerhouse. From a remote, poor Jewish settlement, we transformed into a country that absorbs immigrants, from national austerity, we transformed into of the most prosperous, energetic and innovative economies in the world.

These challenges shaped us, made us stronger, and to a large extent, made us who we are. So will it be with this challenge.



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