Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Israeli journalists in the Prime Minister's office today (Monday, June 20).
"We are in a period of numerous opportunities and threats, but I must say there are more opportunities than I expected. The State of Israel is growing stronger in the big picture. We're gaining rapidly in the economic, political, security, and technological spheres," he said.
Regarding the Iranian threat, Bennett said that President Biden's upcoming visit will present an opportunity to coordinate joint action with regard to the Islamic Republic. "Joint cooperation with the United States to halt Iran's nuclear program [is of utmost importance]," pointed out the Prime Minister.
"You're well aware of my stance on Iran. There are two dimensions to it - the regional terrorism and the nuclear [threat]," he continued. "Most of our security threats originate with Iran's proxies. I want to avoid skirmishes with the tentacles of that octopus, instead focusing the larger part of our effort on striking its head."
Addressing Iran's attempted attacks in Turkey following Israel's purported assassinations of IRGC commanders and leading scientists over the past weeks, Bennett said the threat was "hovering over Israelis in the country." "We are working on numerous levels to guarantee the security of our citizens. Along with appealing to Israelis to avoid traveling to Turkey, with an emphasis on Istanbul, we are also working closely with Turkish government officials to thwart attempts to harm Israelis and Jews," he explained.
"I can tell you that operational efforts alongside Turkish security officials have borne fruit and that in recent days, in a joint Israeli-Turkish effort, we have foiled a number of terrorist attacks and arrested a number of terrorists on Turkish soil."
"We are continuing the joint operation, with my goal being a return of Israeli tourism to the country."
"There is close cooperation between Israel and Turkey at all levels," continued Bennett. "We have a common interest in preventing attack[s], thwarting the killing squads on the ground, and restoring the peace. I personally thank President Erdogan and his aides for their countless efforts in the area."
"As for Iran - it must know that the rules of the game have changed. We will lay our hands on anyone trying to harm us - starting with the planner and ending with the executioner. We will continue to expose Iran's true face and respond as necessary. We have plenty of room to maneuver. Gone are the days when a state finances, equips, trains, and sends out terrorists, leaving unscathed. Even those sending them will end up paying the price. We will get them wherever they are."
"The US recently decided not to remove the Revolutionary Guards from the terrorist list. You are probably aware of the vote of the IAEA Board of Governors from about two weeks ago. [It was] a very strong decision that has not been seen in a long time. The world is waking up to the reality of Iran, and we continue to operate on two levels."
"The first is in the short term: We want make sure Iran puts a stop to its continued enrichment and nuclear development using political and other tools at our disposal. Iran understands that at the moment we have succeeded. We had a goal to prevent the signing of an agreement. A year has gone by without one in place, which signifies a 'stop' sign for Iran."
"The second level is the long run: We are trying to reach a reality that will permanently prevent Iran from getting their hands on nuclear weapons. The long term will take time to achieve. The short term is urgent."
"We're also working to strengthen regional cooperation among the more moderate players in the area. Israel's regional status continues to improve. We have a policy of good will..."
With regards to relations with the EU, Bennett said he is working to change the atmosphere that has existed for many years. "The idea is to make the connection much broader, setting it aside from the Israeli-Palestinian issue. While this issue cannot be ignored, Israel is much more than just that. Our administration has recently met a number of European leaders. The atmosphere is changing for the better."
"There is a change of attitude in Gaza, which has lead to positive results," he said. "This has not only been the quietest year for the residents of Sderot and the surrounding areas, with the fewest rockets since the Disengagement took place."
"But there is something else that is no less important. Hamas' rate of armament is also the slowest it has been in years. Sometimes you buy short-term quiet at a price of having a stronger enemy [in the next war]..."
Regarding Israelis held by Hamas, Bennett said that, "The issue of prisoners and missing persons continues to be a core mission, and we're trying to make progress on all levels."
"I can tell you that Israel is stronger than we were in the past. We have a lot of problems, a lot of complexity, but overall the country on most levels is making good progress."