NEWS CONFERENCE WITH SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM PERRY AND SHIMON PERES, PRIME MINISTER OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL, FOLLOWING THE SIGNING OF A STATEMENT OF INTENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND ISRAEL ON THEATER-MISSILE DEFENSE
SUBJECT: U.S.-ISRAEL COOPERATION IN DEFENSE SYSTEMS
SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 1996
SEC. PERRY: I am delighted to welcome Prime Minister Peres here, at the start of his three-day visit. I’d also like to take the opportunity to say how offer my personal appreciation and gratitude to Secretary Christopher for the outstanding work he has done for the country our country for Israel, and indeed for world peace, by the very capable and the very dedicated work he did to mediate that cease- fire agreement. I have said before, and I would like to say again to this group and publicly, that I am committed to maintaining the qualitative edge of the Israeli Defense Forces. The president is committed to that, and all of our programs are dedicated to be sure that that edge is maintained. And the prime minister’s visit today has been dedicated to our reviewing the programs necessary to make that happen. We have focused our discussions on three particular programs, one of them having to do with ballistic- missile defense. We have agreed on extending the cooperation in that area to include enhanced early warning for the ballistic-missile defense systems.
We’ve also had significant discussions about providing defense against Katyusha rockets. We have agreed on a joint program called the Nautilus, wherein we will provide a prototype development, joint prototype development, which will be available for test in Israel by the end of ’97. We will have a team going over to Israel next week to work jointly with them to get this program established. This team will also be looking at ways of providing an interim capability, a near- term capability to defend against Katyusha rockets until such time as the Nautilus system is deployed. And we also discussed today the anti-terrorist program, for which funding was recently approved. And we have programs underway to work out the details of how that program is to be conducted.
Prime Minister Peres and I have agreed that we would work together jointly and even more cooperatively than in the past to accelerate and ensure the success of these programs. And the teams we have going over there next week will, over the period of the next month or two, put together the specifics, the details by which these programs will be successful. I’d like to turn the microphone over to the prime minister now. Shimon?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Thank you very much, Bill. May I say that the relations between the United States and Israel are at their best, and the cooperation between the defense establishment of the States and Israel are as good as one can hope for or think of. I would like to thank full-heartedly Secretary Perry for really trying not only to meet our demands, but coming with some suggestions so intercept the danger of terror. Let’s face it, fighting terror means enabling the peace process to go ahead. These are two sides of the same coin. And I think some of the thoughtfulness of Secretary Perry and his staff surprised us in a very welcomed way because we can really shorten the time of being terrorized or the scope of the terrorists endangering the peace process. So I would like to offer my thanks to you, my dear friend, and to your staff and to the Army, the Air Force, the Navy.
And may I say that I shall go back home reassured that the world is not in the hands of the ones who want to stop the peace process in the Middle East. The visit of Secretary Christopher during the last week to our region and the meeting today in the Pentagon are really opening again the road to peace. And the friendship between the United States and Israel is, among other things, a real attempt to promise peace to the whole region and to stop the attempt to stop it by minorities in the region. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
SEC. PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary, are you getting closer to a day when you will have to consider a preemptive strike on nuclear, biological, or chemical sites in Libya, Iran, or Iraq? And is it a clear and present danger even today?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I hope that this day will not come. I think any danger the earlier day you mean it, the least effort you have to make to stop it. I don’t want to make any comparison, but, for example, if the danger of Hitler would be realized at the early stages, millions of lives would be stopped they would be saved. And I think the same is in our region. The best way to handle a danger is before it becomes a greater danger, and that is what we are trying to do, I believe, together.
Q Secretary Perry, I wonder if I might ask, will this increased intelligence cooperation that you’re talking about, including satellites will that include instant, real-time warnings for Israel of rocket and missile attacks against the Jewish state?
SEC. PERRY: Yes.
Q In what way? Could you elaborate a little more?
SEC. PERRY: During Desert Storm, Charley, we had a provisional arrangement we put together for relaying data from our early-warning satellites, whose purpose it is to detect ballistic missiles as they are launched, to relay those data to Israel so that they could be an input both to the defensive systems there and to the civil defense. And that worked very well during the time of Desert Storm. What we are planning to put together here is a way of making that information available in a systematic and a timely basis. And so warning will be given in a matter of seconds to any ballistic missile launch that in any way would threaten Israel. And over the weeks ahead, we will work out the specifics of how we’re going to do that.
Q Secretary of Defense, what is the impact of this agreement and the other one between Israel and Turkey on the strategic plans in the Middle East? And how those two agreements are going to affect aggressive countries like Iraq? Thank you.
SEC. PERRY: I think it should be clear to all countries that a provision to provide warning data and a provision to provide for the defense of the country is not an aggressive action, it’s an action to help provide the defense. It should therefore be stabilizing, on the one hand. On the other hand, it should reduce any incentive for any country to launch a missile because they would see it would be ineffective. Mr. Prime Minister?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, I would like to add to it. I think basically we are going over from a world of enemies to a world of dangers. Enemies are basically national, territorial. They have borders, they have flags, they have armies, they have fronts. Dangers don’t have any of those indications. For that reason, we have to go over from a world of nations to a world of coalitions. Since there is a coalition that produces dangers, we need a coalition that will counteract the dangers. So, I mean, the problem is not Turkey or Israel or Egypt or Jordan. In the Middle East I see two camps only, more than nationalities: a camp for peace and a camp against peace. So whoever joins in the camp of peace is welcome. It is not against anybody, it is against any danger.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, many Lebanese civilians are returning to their homes and villages and seeing the damage that has been done. Are you not concerned about how much sympathy might end up being generated for Hezbollah among people who would otherwise not support their cause?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Why sympathy, not anger? If it wouldn’t be for the Hezbollah, nothing would be damaged. We didn’t wake up one morning and started to attack Lebanon. Israel was attacked day after day without any provocation, and the Hezbollah was hiding among civilians, something that forced us to separate between the two of them so not to hit civilian people as much as we could.
Q For both gentlemen. A senior U.S. military official confirmed to Jane’s earlier this week that you now have evidence Iran is building tunnels along its gulf coast for the emplacement of ballistic missiles, and he confirmed this on the record. I’d like to ask both of you whether or not you feel these tunnels are a threat to Israel and what you think the United States ought to do about them.
SEC. PERRY: I will not confirm the report which you’ve given, Barbara. I will say that we take very seriously the fact that Iran already has short-range ballistic missiles and already poses a threat with those short-range ballistic missiles, and we believe that they are trying to develop longer-range ballistic missiles. We take that threat very seriously. And our program for dealing with those threats is complex, and I don’t have time to go into it in detail now. But the first phase of it is preventive action. The second phase of it second line of defense is deterrence; that is having means that we can retaliate and strike back. And the third line of defense is defensive systems. Indeed, we were discussing with the prime minister this morning some of all of those phases, but particularly were discussing the defensive systems that might be used.
Q May I ask the prime minister; sir, do you feel these tunnels pose a threat to Israel?
PRIME MIN. PERES: More than the tunnels and more than the missiles, it is the fundamentalism which endangers not only Israel but many Arab countries. It is an evil movement, following the old the Machiavellian story that goals justify means. So, the Iranians permit themselves to cheat; to finance, arm and press terroristic groups to cause troubles wherever they can; to try and acquire nonconventional weapons. You know, there are two problems: the nature of the weapons and the nature of the holders of the weapons. The nature of the holders of the weapon is the real story that worries us about Iran.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, shalom and salaam. North Korea is selling Scud-Cs to Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria. And a longer-range Nodong missile is either being sold or will soon be sold. What is the weapon system, specifically, that poses the greatest danger to Israel’s security? And the follow-up to that is will what you and Secretary Perry are doing and have done today, be a giant step toward solving that threat?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Again, I would repeat that the greatest danger are policies, even more than weapons. But belligerent policies, combined with long-range missiles and nonconventional weapons, is a terrible combination that human experience has hardly known in the past. I mean, there were always evil or extreme movements, but never did they possess either missiles or nonconventional weapons. And I, personally, feel, if I may say so, that we are at the race toward the end of this century, in the coming four years: Who will win, the convoy of fundamentalism or the convoy of peace? We feel ourselves as participating in the convoy of peace, which is being led by the United States of America.
Q But, today, just specifically what you’re doing with the ballistic-missile systems will this, as you see it, solve your problem against the long-range missiles, the Arrow and the Nautilus?
PRIME MIN. PERES: It’s always good to have a defensive weapon, not just a pressure against the wrong policies. And I think it will surely help, to a very great extent, to defend ourselves against those threats.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, would you mind for a moment I know Israel is watching the American elections with great interest. Assess how these are going and how your own campaign at home is going, just briefly, for us.
PRIME MIN. PERES: You know, a campaign is like a weather forecast; it’s good just for 24 hours. Until now, we’re the fair weather in Israel, from an electoral point of view. Before the bomb explosions in Israel, I have had a very impressive edge. And clearly, there is an intervention from outside in our elections I’m referring to the terroristic organizations but we have recovered. And the plan that I have is to win the elections in clear terms.
Q And in the United States?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I’m not so sure that I’m the man, holding a non-American passport, to refer to an American election.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, you noted your fear of outside intervention in the election. Israel Army Radio today reported that suspected Hezbollah guerrillas were apprehended on the border between Paraguay and Argentina. I was wondering if you could comment, one, on this incident, since it would seem to be related to the attacks and to the peace agreement, seems to come after the peace agreement. And two, there were also in the last two weeks twice suspected suicide bombers in East Jerusalem, I believe, blown up planting bombs, police said. Do you expect more suicide attacks inside Israel as well?
PRIME MIN. PERES: On the first question, we got some information that the Hezbollah and the Iranians were planning to attack Israeli or Jewish targets abroad, outside Israel. In our judgment, the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina and the Jewish Center in Argentina was done by the Hezbollah. So we are not surprised that a group like it was arrested in Latin America, as another group was arrested, apparently, in Europe as well. We got many warnings of attempts to send more suicidal terrorists inside Israel. I begin my breakfast with a warning almost daily about such an attempt. But I do believe that we are today much better organized than ever before because Israel took the precautionary measures and because the Palestinian Authority started really to stop terrorists from continuing their hostile acts, and also very much because of the initiative taken by President Clinton in having the anti- terror conference in Sharm el- Sheikh. These are three attempts in order to achieve the same goal, namely, to stop the killing of innocent people. You know, I think we were attacked in two fronts in the south by the Hamas and the Jihad, and in the north by the Hezbollah. And I believe that the visit of the secretary of State helped us also to stop, at least for the time beginning, the intervention of the Hezbollah in the Israeli attempt to make peace.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, what do you believe are the chances that the truce that you have signed, that that truce will hold? And are you concerned about how any renewed violence might affect your chances of election?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I would rather have my election without violence, to tell the truth. I don’t need it for my campaign. I think there is a fair chance that the truce will hold on for the following reasons: the Lebanese government has expressed a clear will to bring an end to those setbacks, because finally the real victims are the Lebanese. The Hezbollah launches the Katyushas, but the Lebanese people are losing their normal life. It’s not our interest at all. And then also because for the first time the Syrians joined in the understanding that Secretary Christopher has introduced. May I say one word about the Syrians in that case? It is extremely difficult to reach with them an agreement, but one may say once we reach an agreement they usually respect it.