PM Bennett speaks to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
PM Bennett speaks to the Foreign Affairs and Defense CommitteeHaim Zach (GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday spoke to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, summarizing his first year in office and expanding on the security situation and the policy of the State of Israel in the various sectors.

According to Bennett, "The first year of my government was the quietest that residents of the south – Sderot, Ashkelon and the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip – have experienced since the Disengagement. This is a major achievement by our government."

"The numbers are clear: In 2019, 1,291 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2020, there were 176. In 2021 (Operation Guardians of the Walls), there were 3,250. In 2022, so far, there have been only six, with no injury or loss of life."

Bennett claimed, "This is not a coincidence but is the result of a clear and determined policy – decisiveness for every balloon and a steadfast stance in the face of blackmail and violence. We also saw this during the flag parade when we did not capitulate to Hamas's threats. In the face of terrorist threats, we held the parade despite Hamas's attempts to threaten us and get the better of Israel once again."

"This year we took the fight to our enemies. We do not allow them to get stronger and are taking action. We are always ready, of course, and the security establishment is prepared for various scenarios."

Regarding Iran, Bennett said, "On the Iranian front, the past year saw a turning point in the Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Iran. We see the brave Iranian people going out into the streets in Iran and demonstrating against the repression and tyranny of the regime, against the hunger and against the corruption that is afflicting them."

"In the past year, the State of Israel has taken action against the head of the terrorist octopus and not just against the arms as was done in previous decades.

"The days of immunity, in which Iran attacks Israel and spreads terrorism via its regional proxies but remains unscathed – are over. We are taking action, everywhere, at any time, and will continue to do so."

He added, "In recent years, Iran has crossed a series of red lines, especially in enriching uranium at a level of 60% -- without a response and the world goes on. Israel cannot – and will not – accept such a situation."

"Last Friday, I met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi and we discussed this. He came for a snap visit and I clarified Israel's position which is that we are acting, and will continue to reserve the freedom to take such action against the Iranian nuclear program as may be necessary, at any time, with or without an agreement. Nothing will tie our hands. We are not just saying this but are also upholding it.

"We expect that the IAEA Board of Governors will send a clear warning signal to the regime in Iran and clarify to it that if it continues with its policy of defiance in the nuclear sphere, they will pay a painful price for it."

Bennett also insisted that domestically, "the past year, I can say, was a year in which the Government of Israel took action against crime and violent nationalism in the Arab sector, and this was after a decade of neglect."

"We entered with the full force of the Israel Police. Yes, I made the decision to bring in the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) into the domestic security situation as well, to the worlds of terrorism, worlds that could harm the national security of the State of Israel.

"Those who have gained the most from all of these moves are – first and foremost – the Arab sector. The Arab sector has suffered terribly and it is telling us in simple Hebrew: 'With all of the budgets that you want to give to education, the economy and unemployment, it does not help us if they are shooting at our children in the streets. Come in and deal with it.'

"So this year the government came in and dealt with it, with outstanding results. Murders, shootings and crime in the Arab sector declined considerably in one year," he claimed.

"And finally, for as long as I can remember, we have criticized Israeli public diplomacy. For many years, the public diplomacy staff was directed to other needs. We have established the Public Diplomacy Directorate. It has been doing outstanding work and coordinating between the various government ministries with a lot of energy. In all recent events, as difficult as they were, we were there to deal with them, to provide facts in rebuttal quickly, and deal with dozens of incidents that without quick public diplomacy efforts we might have paid a heavy price for.

"Israel is in good hands. The security of the State of Israel is improving and there is much work," Bennett concluded.