We all want to see the success of freedom and democracy in the Arab world. We do not want to see it usurped by an even greater despotism, one that would trample all human rights.
President Shimon Peres: "Israel supports the strengthening of democracy and peace in the Middle East. The younger generation of the Middle East demands freedom, equality, and the opportunity to live honorably."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Egypt that is anchored in democratic values, would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger the foundations of peace… We all want to see the success of freedom and democracy in the Arab world. We do not want to see it usurped by an even greater despotism."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman: "Our expectation is that our neighbors will respect all agreements that we signed in the past, and it is our hope to see more stability and security as soon as possible."
* * * *
PM Netanyahu (24 May 2011):
An epic battle is now unfolding in the Middle East, between tyranny and freedom. A great convulsion is shaking the earth from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar. The tremors have shattered states and toppled governments. And we can all see that the ground is still shifting. Now this historic moment holds the promise of a new dawn of freedom and opportunity. Millions of young people are determined to change their future. We all look at them. They muster courage. They risk their lives. They demand dignity. They desire liberty.
These extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo, evoke those of Berlin and Prague in 1989. Yet as we share their hopes, but we also must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out as they were in Tehran in 1979. You remember what happened then. The brief democratic spring in Iran was cut short by a ferocious and unforgiving tyranny. This same tyranny smothered Lebanon’s democratic Cedar Revolution, and inflicted on that long-suffering country, the medieval rule of Hizbullah.
So today, the Middle East stands at a fateful crossroads. Like all of you, I pray that the peoples of the region choose the path less travelled, the path of liberty. No one knows what this path consists of better than you. This path is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.
PM Netanyahu (23 May 2011):
Events in the region are opening people’s eyes to a simple truth: The problems of the region are not rooted in Israel. The remarkable scenes we’re witnessing in town squares across the Middle East and North Africa are occurring for a simple reason: People want freedom. They want progress. They want a better life.
For many of the peoples of the region, the 20th century skipped them by. And now 21st century technology is telling them what they missed out on. You remember that desperate food vendor in Tunis? Why did he set himself on fire? Not because of Israel. He set himself on fire because of decades of indignity, decades of intolerable corruption.
And the millions who poured into the streets of Tehran, Tunis, Cairo, Sanaa, Benghazi, Damascus, they’re not thinking about Israel. They’re thinking of freedom. They’re yearning for opportunity. They’re yearning for hope for themselves and for their children. So it’s time to stop blaming Israel for all the region’s problems.
Let me stress one thing. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital interest for us. It would be the realization of a powerful and eternal dream. But it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East. It will not give women in some Arab countries the right to drive a car. It will not prevent churches from being bombed. It will not keep journalists out of jail.
What will change this? One word: Democracy – real, genuine democracy. And by democracy, I don’t just mean elections. I mean freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, the rights for women, for gays, for minorities, for everyone. What the people of Israel want is for the people of the Middle East to have what you have in America, what we have in Israel – democracy. So it’s time to recognize this basic truth. Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.
PM Netanyahu (16 May 2011):
The Middle East is changing rapidly and drastically. Hundreds of millions of people around us yearn for political and financial freedom and are fighting to obtain these freedoms. These are inevitable changes. It is very possible that in the long term, these changes will be for the best, and I hope they will, for the good of these people and because at the end of the day, if this struggle is successful, it will promote the chance for peace and the peace’s resilience. But in the short term, in the interim, our situation could possibly worsen, be more problematic and more challenging. We can see what is happening in Egypt, in Syria and in Lebanon. Lebanon is now controlled by Hizbullah, under the sponsorship of Iran, when only five years ago there was such great hope for freedom and progress.
FM Liberman (10 May 2011):
There are those who have always felt that Israel was the ‘black sheep’ of the Middle East and international politics. They suggested that Israel was the source for all the wars and challenges in the Middle East. Recent events have certainly ended this fantasy once and for all.
The repression that has met the demonstrations in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere in the region cannot possibly be justified. However, it remains confusing why the international community intervenes in Libya, but not in Syria or Iran. What conclusions are we to draw from this seeming inconsistency? These inconsistencies send a damaging message to the people of the Middle East and further erode the path to peace, security and democracy for our region.
PM Netanyahu (4 May 2011):
We have had an enormous convulsion in the Middle East and there is a great struggle now underway between the forces of democracy and moderation and the forces of tyranny and terror. I think the fate of the Middle East and the fate of peace hangs in the balance. Which force wins out? You [British PM Cameron] have taken a resolute stand against tyranny and terror in such places as Iran and Libya. We respect that and appreciate it, and we think that moral clarity and political clarity can ensure that these voices win out and that peace wins out.
FM Liberman (8 Apr 2011):
We are currently witnessing popular uprisings in our region motivated by the desire for freedom. We hope that these changes will open new horizons, both for the peoples of the region and for Israel’s relations with those peoples.
PM Netanyahu (30 Mar 2011):
We’re all on the same side – America, Israel, the democratic world, we all want to see the triumph of democracy. It’s clear that peoples of the Arab world and Iran where it all began, this actually began not in Tunis, but in Teheran a year and a half ago where people stormed the streets because they had a fake election. They stole the election from them. So we all want to see people from Iran to Tunis and in between, have democracy because democracy is a friend of peace, but we’re all concerned I suppose that the democracy will be hijacked by radical regimes or militant Islamic regimes. This happened five years ago in Lebanon. In Lebanon there was the Cedar Revolution. All these people wanted to see a liberal, open, tolerant Lebanon, and a million of them walked in the streets of Beirut – five years later we don’t have that kind of democracy in Lebanon. We have a theocracy; we have Iran and Hizbullah controlling Lebanon. So clearly we want real democracy – we don’t want a militant theocracy – that’s the side we’re on. And if democracy triumphs, then it’ll be good for peace and good for our security. If Iran and radical regimes triumph, it’ll be bad for our security, bad for your security too in the United States.
We’d like to see everywhere, including in Syria, genuine reforms for democracy, genuine emergence of democracy. That’s no threat to any of us, but one thing I can say is that is common to this entire region – the reason you have this extraordinary turbulence, this earthquake from Pakistan to Morocco, is because the Arab peoples and the Iranians there and others have basically had the 20th century skip them by and now 21st century technology, like the internet and television is telling them what they missed out on. And so they’re rebelling. And as I said, I hope they succeed in creating stable, democratic structures. But there’s one place you noticed in this entire vast part of the globe – there’s only one country in the heart of the Middle East that has no tremors, no protests, and that’s Israel because we’re the only genuine democracy – the only one where we respect human rights, the only one that respects the rights of Arab citizens. Twenty percent of our population are Arabs and they enjoy full civil rights in Israel. It’s the only place in this entire expanse where Arabs and Muslims enjoy complete freedom and complete equality before the law.
If you look at it now you see this turmoil in Tunis, in Libya, in Egypt, in Bahrain, in Syria and elsewhere. In all these places – in Tehran, of course – so what are people demonstrating? Are they saying: oh Israel is the problem, we have to solve this problem, the Palestinians? That’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying we want freedom. We want progress. Some of them are saying we want to see a free country in our own state like the one the Israelis have.
PM Netanyahu (28 Mar 2011):
We’re going through a period of turmoil that can only be called historic. It is akin to the great revolutions that have taken place in modern times, but the question is which revolution is it. Is it 1989 in Europe? Or is it 1979 in Tehran? Or is it 2005, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon?
Remember, there were great hopes. A million people went into the streets of Beirut. A million people. That’s equivalent to 20 million Egyptians, it’s a fourth of Lebanon’s population, and there were great hopes for a modern, progressive, liberal and tolerant state, Lebanese state. Now, five years later, we find Hizbullah and Iran have taken over Lebanon. So which is it to be? Is it going to be 1989, the great revolution that unleashed the forces of liberalism and freedom in Central and Eastern Europe? Or will it be 1979, the revolution that brought the night of darkness, of Iranian militant Islamic darkness over the people of Tehran and then their proxies elsewhere who deny freedom and trample human rights, trample the rights of women and hang gays in public squares. Which is to be? Well, that’s not clear yet. We’re still in the midst of things, and of course we know which outcome we want, but we can’t be sure that we will have it.
We can’t be sure that we will have it because the traditions of liberal democracy have not been prevalent, to put it mildly, in the great swath of land from Afghanistan to Morocco. It’s only been prevalent there in one place. You know which place that is. Right here, that’s right, in Israel. There is no turbulence, there is no instability because we’re a free, prosperous democratic country. But we’re the only one. And so the turmoil and the convulsion hit everybody else, deprived of political and economic enfranchisement. The 20th century really skipped over the peoples of all these areas, this vast area, and now the 21st century information technology is telling all these people what they’ve missed out on. But can they cut the time? Can they shortcut the process to modernity and progress and pluralism? We don’t know. We hope so.
Now it seems to me that there are three things that we have to do. The first thing is to advance as quickly as possible – economic progress in the pivotal countries. The two pivotal countries that I think are important are those that have created the anchor of peace in the heart of the Middle East, and that’s Egypt and Jordan.
I think what is required is a Marshall Plan by the concerned international powers, and also the public sector, to assist in the concrete development of these two economies. Their per capita income was small – it’s not high – and their growth rates for such a low per capita income are not high enough. Israel has been growing roughly the same rate that they’re growing, sometimes a little more. We grow at 5% a year, but we’re a $30,000 dollar per capita income economy. Not for long, we’ll get higher and higher. We’re not $2,000 or $3,000 per capita economy. We have to lift these economies to give economic opportunity to the peoples there.
That means not giving out cash handouts. That’s not going to do it. It’s to build roads, electricity, sewage, communications, health clinics. These are the things that build up a society. And that’s the first thing that should be done.
The second thing is to avoid the worst pitfall imaginable. Now, where did this convulsion begin? Can you tell me? In Tunisia? No, it didn’t. It didn’t begin in Tunis; it began a year and a half ago in Tehran. There the multitudes – just endless number of people – stormed the streets protesting, demanding freedom after a fake election, after the election was stolen from them. They wanted basic human rights; they wanted freedom from tyranny and from corruption. That’s where it began. Then it bounced to Tunis; and then it bounced to Egypt; and then it bounced to other parts: Yemen, Libya, Syria and so on, Bahrain. But it began in Tehran.
What happened in Tehran is that the Ayatollah regime used brutal suppression to squelch the protests. The same is true of its proxies in Lebanon and in Gaza. They use brutal powers to squelch protest, to prevent it from materializing or expanding. So what is happening, what could happen, is that all the other countries are going through this process of turmoil and change, but the one stable power will be the place where it all began, which is meddling in all the other places, because that is what Tehran is doing now.
PM Netanyahu (24 Mar 2011):
None of us know how the shock, which has struck the entire Arab world and a considerable portion of the Islamic world, will end. I think that we have a common desire that there should be stable, progressive and modern governments that aspire toward peace.
Israel, Russia and the entire modern world must prevent the establishment here of radical, perhaps radical Islamic, regimes that could threaten the peace of the region, of Israel and of Russia.
One such regime aspires to this result and that is the radical regime in Iran, which is not only seeking to arm itself with nuclear weapons but is threatening to use them against us, and is threatening to wreck not only any peace agreement but any modern regime that arises. It wants to return us to the ninth century. We have an interest in stopping the bad and advancing the good.
PM Netanyahu (17 Mar 2011):
MORGAN: Let’s turn to the reason I’m here; the winds of change in the Middle East. You have not given a major TV interview since all this began in December in Tunisia. Let me take you back to December and the events of Tunisia. Did they take you by surprise? What was your immediate reaction? And did you ever imagine that it would create the kind of domino effect that we have been seeing?
PM NETANYAHU: First, it didn’t begin in Tunisia. It began in Tehran a year and a half ago. Millions went to the streets and called for freedom, for democracy, from this repressive regime and they were put down brutally. And then it, you know, it came back in Tunis. And then from Tunis it went to Cairo, and then from Cairo it is going everywhere.
Did I expect it at this time? No. Did I expect it at one time, at sometime? Yes. Because the spread of information technology creates an inevitable conflict; that is, in many ways, the 20th century passed by a lot of the Arab world and the Muslim world. And in comes the information technology of the 21st century and it is telling all these people what they missed out on. And this creates the turbulence. Will it end quickly? I doubt it. I think each country is different but they are all-they all suffer the same gap between people’s expectations and the performance of their societies up to now.
MORGAN: I mean, the big question that everyone has been asking, repeatedly, in the last two months is, what does this mean for Israel? If you are the Israeli prime minister and you have been watching what has been going on in the region. Are you fearful of what this means for your country? Are you partly excited by the spread of democratic freedom? What is the reality of being Benjamin Netanyahu, watching this?
PM NETANYAHU: Well, you know we all have our hopes and we all have our fears. You are looking at this and two places cheered what was happening in Cairo. One was Washington, and its allies. The other one was Tehran, and its allies. You know they weren’t seeking the same outcome. You know there is a fundamentally different outcome that each was seeking. We had all hoped, and we still hope, that you will have a democratic transformation. That the, you know, the Google kids, the Facebook kids, you will create a Google heaven and a Facebook paradise, and all these people will come to power. That is obviously what people in the West, and people in free societies would like to see. It is not clear that that would happen.
MORGAN: What is the nightmare scenario for you?
PM NETANYAHU: That you get another Iran. That you get-you had a revolution. Five years ago in Lebanon a million Lebanese, that is the equivalent to 20 million Egyptians, walked in the streets of Beirut, chanting for freedom, chanting for secular reformist, a liberal Lebanese state. Five years later Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, which is controlled by Iran. That is what we don’t want to see. We don’t want to see this stark Medievalism that represses women, that crushes the rights of people, that holds us back a millennia. That fosters violence. That does everything that we abhor. That it would take over. And I think that these are the two poles. One is real democratic change and the other is a descent to militant Islamism that squashes all freedoms and threatens the peace of everyone.
MORGAN: I remember watching the scenes from Tahir Square, in Cairo, when they were jubilant at the thought of Mubarak going. And then we cut to scenes from Gaza, where there were equally wild celebrations. And as you say, they were not celebrating the expansion of democratic freedom in Egypt. They were celebrating the overthrowing of Mubarak and the possibility, perhaps, for them to do a similar thing potentially in Israel.
PM NETANYAHU: Well, look, Mubarak kept the peace. Egypt kept the peace for over 30 years and it should be remember and appreciated. The people in Gaza, and those who are affiliated with Hamas, want to see the collapse of the peace and the eradication of Israel. They are supported by Iran, that has given them tens of thousands of mortar shells, rockets. They fired already 6,000 rockets and missiles on Israel. So clearly that is not a force for peace or for progress. There are other people in Gaza, but they are in fact subjugated by Hamas. They are not given any choice, any more than the people in Iran were given a choice. They are not given a real choice for freedom. They are knocked down.
You know, if you can give me a deal. If God came down from heaven and said, here, I’ll give you a choice. OK, this revolution from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar, that is shaking everything in place, except us, because we are an open, democratic, prosperous society. But everybody else is suffering this groundswell, this earthquake, this sandstorm, volcanic eruptions, OK? But it also includes the place where it started, Tehran. And Tehran is transformed into a democratic society. I would say it is worth it. Because the Middle East would have a brilliant future.
But the worst is that Iran, where this all started, stays immune to it, continues its repressive, brutal regime, develops nuclear weapons, exports terrorism everywhere. And meddles in the other places and transforms them into so-called Islamist republics. I would say that is the worst nightmare.
MORGAN: There could be no doubt that Ahmadinejad and the Iranians will be looking at the situation, looking for opportunity. There can be no doubt about that. They have made their intentions re Israel very clear. You must have been pretty disconcerted by loosing Hosni Mubarak. I mean, to other people he may be a dictator. To Israel, he’s been a pretty good friend, hasn’t he?
PM NETANYAHU: Egypt under Sadat, and then under Mubarak, kept the peace and I think that is something extraordinary valuable. And I think the first order of the day is to make sure that any future government in Egypt maintains the peace. The fact that we had these 30 years with Egypt, 20 years with Jordan, of a real peace, is something that I can appreciate. Our main concern is to make sure that it continues in peace. If it gets to an open reformist democratic society we’ll be the first to cheer, because a genuine democracy is a friend of peace. A genuine democracy, with all the institutions, and the checks of balances of a democracy, and a free press and a magistrate. That is peace.
PM NETANYAHU: Gadhafi is no friend of Israel. He’s not friend of the Jewish people. And I think his people can see now, he’s no friend of the Libyan people. This is a man who helped explode civilian airlines in the skies. He’s fostered terrorism. He’s done a lot of terrible things. So I don’t think anybody would be sorry to see him go. I wouldn’t.
I think the case of Libya is an interesting place where values and interests cohere. You know, as a leader you often have a situation where you want to advance a set of values, free democratic societies, and at the same time you may have overriding interests that force you to think otherwise. I don’t see that conflict in the case of Libya. I think he could be done away with and I think everybody would benefit.
MORGAN: Moving to Saudi Arabia, some fascinating developments in Bahrain. It would appear that Saudi forces have been in there and that is a pretty surprising development, isn’t it? What do you make of that?
PM NETANYAHU: I don’t think it is surprising at all. I mean, I think they are concerned with a possible Iranian take over of Bahrain, which would put Iran, effectively within spitting distance of the Arabian Peninsula.
Now, Saudi Arabia is working to protect its own interests. But there is a very large global interest in making sure the world’s oil wells, that the largest reserves of the world’s oil supply do not fall into Iranian or pro-Iranian hands. So here is an issue-here is a place, where, you know, theoretically values and interests could contradict. If the possibility is that Saudi Arabia is governed by the current regime, or Saudi Arabia is governed by Iran, I don’t think there is much of a problem in people making up their minds what they want, of these two alternatives.
FM Liberman (9 Mar 2011):
In order to influence Middle East states to get closer to democracy and the West, instead of going the way of the 1978 Iranian revolution that led to the rule of the ayatollahs, Europe must view recent events in the region realistically, not romantically, and deal with them in a practical way. A comprehensive plan must be formulated to strengthen the middle class in Arab states and reduce the rising unemployment and poverty. This is the only way to achieve stability and calm and to minimize the danger of these states turning into fundamentalist states ruled by the radical Islam.
PM Netanyahu (8 Mar 2011):
The most basic premise that everyone is talking about has to do with the upheaval in the Arab and Islamic world. One thing we do not see. We still do not see a revolution in the status of women in most of the countries around us. In at least one of them, women have been stoned; women are used like merchandise that passes from hand to hand, without any rights, fairness or ability to demand their rights in genuine courts of law. I think that Israel is exceptional in a very sharp way in this entire region. While it stands out in many respects, it is especially prominent in that it is a democratic state in which women have equal rights. What we see here is also equal obligations, not just rights.
PM Netanyahu (6 Mar 2011):
We see the world changing around us rapidly. There is an earthquake and a sandstorm seizing the entire area from Afghanistan to Gibraltar. There is one stable country in between and that’s Israel, because we are firmly anchored in democratic values, and we hope for the best in our region.
We want to see the Arab world and many of the Islamic countries transform into real, stable democracies. This is good for peace, providing that it happens.
PM Netanyahu (6 Mar 2011):
Until recently, Libya was a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the same Council that condemned Israel for its actions during Operation Cast Lead, in the Goldstone report; thus the absurdity, the lies and the hypocrisy ran amok. Today, the true faces of Libya and its ruler have been revealed. They all understand that Gadhafi is massacring his people. Perhaps they all do not yet recall what would have happened if Gadhafi had not given up his nuclear weapons project. I try to describe a world in which the Libyan ruler, the one who is massacring his own people and does not respect human rights, would be armed with nuclear weapons; who knows what might have happened.
PM Netanyahu (1 Mar 2011):
Libya is a systematic violator of human rights and does not deserve any immunity. I think that Iran is also a systematic violator of human rights that does not deserve any immunity. If the international community exerts special pressure on Libya and warns its rulers and soldiers against human rights violations, the same exact warning must also be directed to the rulers and troops of Iran. If the international community is considering very assertive steps against Libya, the same steps must be directed against Iran as well. While Gadhafi slaughters his opponents, the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran is systematically executing its opponents. Therefore, the West’s response must be very resolute towards both places. I believe that such a vigorous response will send a very clear message of hope and encouragement to the Iranian people, that they have not been forgotten and that we are all cognizant of their struggle for freedom and liberty.
PM Netanyahu (24 Feb 2011):
Regarding the events in Libya, I think it is horrible. I think that when a regime takes its army and security forces and maliciously fires on its people, indiscriminately, and slaughters hundreds, this is a horrible thing. I also think that this obligates the strong condemnation of all civilized countries, certainly civilized democracies, and we strongly condemn it. We know that we saw a similar sight on the streets of Tehran when the Iranian regime turned to its security forces and commando units and fired with malice and cruelty into the crowd and left Iranian citizens lying on the sidewalks, choking on their own blood. This is horrifying; it is horrifying in Libya and it is horrifying in Tehran as well. It obliges and demands strong and clear condemnation in both cases.
PM Netanyahu (23 Feb 2011):
our earthquake is covering a very large area of the world, from Afghanistan to the Maghreb; from the Khyber Pass to the Strait of Gibraltar the earth is shaking. It is pulling down buildings in some areas, undermining their foundations in others. And the tremor continues; it will not cease.
We saw it in Tunisia, then in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and it is still far from over. But there are differences; each country is different, but there is one thing in common to the entire region. It is an extremely volatile region.
Where does this instability stem from? It stems from the fact that the progress and the political and economic reforms that spread across the world during the 20th century largely skipped the Arab world and much of the Muslim world. Come the 21st century, with all the new technological power and information, not only with Al-Jazeera, through the internet and social networks that we are familiar with; and it hits these societies with a harsh blow; it exposed the citizens of these countries to what they had been missing. This caused a huge turmoil as these changes did not occur gradually, allowing for economic and political liberalism…
We are in a period of transition, and this transition, and the instability it brings can go on for many more years. We hope for the best and we do the best we can, and hope that the Arab world, as well as Iran, becomes true democracies. If we reach that point, we have the foundations for stability and peace.
But there are other possibilities. We must prepare ourselves for any scenario. This instability that we are living in is already being abused by negative forces and a dark despotism, trying to sway the outcome into something none of us want. Such results would not be agreeable to anyone who strives for progress and for peace.
… Most of the world has been telling us that the reason for instability in the Middle East, the epicenter of the earthquake and cause of insecurity is the Arab-Israeli conflict. That’s what they have been saying.
We said otherwise: we have a problem and we want to solve it. But we also know that this region is not stable, and I have said that here from this podium and so have my colleagues. I have said that as we search of a solution, we must take this instability into account, the extreme Islamist forces that enter every location, including places that we have left or might leave.
… This reality requires of us to accept the fact that we are in a volatile region, and all we can rely on is our own strength, our unity and our resolve to protect ourselves. We are willing to make compromises for peace, but we will not compromise our security. If we are told to agree to a peace accord that disarms us from our defenses, I tell you there will be no peace and no security. And we are adamant about that.
President Peres (23 Feb 2011):
Israel supports the strengthening of democracy and peace in the Middle East. The younger generation of the Middle East demands freedom, equality, and the opportunity to live honorably.
PM Netanyahu (22 Feb 2011):
We have nothing to fear from genuine democracies. We have everything to gain from them – from genuine democracies. And like you, we all want to see the success of freedom and democracy in the Arab world. We do not want to see it usurped by an even greater despotism, one that would trample all human rights; one that would thwart democratic reform; and one that would endanger peace. Nothing would please us more, than the advance of genuine democracy in our region.
Nothing would be better for peace and prosperity and security. Genuine democratic supporters should be supported not only in the Arab world, but also, and especially, in Iran. Because Iran seeks to exploit the earthquake that is now possessing the great swathe of earth from Afghanistan to the Murgab and is seeking toi bring down democratic reform; it is seeking to prevent it; it is seeking to shut down the lights and to create another era of darkness like the one we have in Tehran or the one that is seeking to impose in Lebanon which had the Cedar Revolution of close to a million people in the streets of Beirut, only 5 years ago.
Would we have wanted to see a democratic, peaceful, liberal , democratic government in Lebanon? Of course we would. Would it have been good for peace? Extraordinarily good for peace. Would it have been good for the Lebanese people? Yes. Would it have been good for the Israeli people? Yes. Five years later we see something else.
We want freedom. We want genuine democracy. We want genuine reforms. They’re good for peace but they can be usurped and this is the great test, the great contest of our times, of our immediate times.
FM Liberman (22 Feb 2011):
We never interfere in the internal policy of our neighbors. It is, first of all, their domestic dispute and not an international dispute. We will respect every government and every choice of our neighbors. Our expectation is that our neighbors will respect all agreements that we signed in the past, and it is our hope to see more stability and security as soon as possible.
Today it’s clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very important issue, but it’s not the main reason and it doesn’t lie at the heart of the Middle East conflicts and problems. I don’t see any linkage between our dispute with the Palestinians and unrest in Tunisia, in Algeria, in Yemen, in Egypt or in Bahrain. As I mentioned, the main reason for instability in our region, it’s poverty, it’s misery, it’s inefficient governments.
PM Netanyahu (16 Feb 2011):
Leaders and policymakers in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin were voicing strong support for the protesters in Cairo. But at the same time, these same protesters were supported in Tehran. Now, there is one thing I can assure you: the leaders in the West and the leaders in Tehran do not want the same future for Egypt. American and European leaders want an Egypt that is free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous. They want an Egypt that is looking forward and forward-looking into the 21st century. They want an Egypt that is at peace with its neighbors and that promotes stability throughout the region.
On the other hand, the leaders in Tehran: they want to see an Egypt that is ruled by that same iron despotism that has crushed human rights in Iran for the last three decades. They don’t want an Egypt that looks forward to the 21st century. They want an Egypt that looks back to the 9th century. They want an Egypt that will break the peace with Israel – that will join Iran in supporting terrorism and promoting bloodshed throughout the region and in many parts of the world.
Changing the status quo can definitely lead to a better outcome. This happened two decades ago in Berlin, in Prague and in Bucharest. In 1989, the great change in Eastern Europe we can now say for certain was definitely for the better.
But change can also lead to worse outcomes – worse for freedom, worse for human rights, worse for peace.
Five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese poured into the squares of Beirut. That’s close to one fifth of that country’s population, equivalent to tens of millions of Egyptians. The calls for freedom that they chanted there, spearheaded by the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, were no less authentic than the calls for freedom that are now heard in Cairo.
Those protesters also had the support of the free world. They seem to herald a new day for Lebanon, a new dawn, a new beginning, new possibilities. This is what everybody in the democratic world, and even beyond the democratic world, dreamed for Lebanon. But this is not what Iran planned for Lebanon, and they worked very hard in these past five years to ensure that Lebanon has a different future.
Five years later, Hizbullah, a terror organization that respects no human rights, that crushes human rights into the dust, that brutalizes its own people, that spreads terror throughout the Middle East, that rockets Israel – five years later, after that great promise of the Cedar Revolution, five years later Lebanon has been taken over – de facto – by Hizbullah: a proxy of Iran.
Israel wants Egypt to succeed in its quest for genuine and lasting democracy. If there is a gap between Israel and the rest of the democratic world, it is certainly not in our shared hopes that the calls for reform in Egypt will be met.
But I cannot simply hope for the best. I must also prepare for the worst. Part of that preparation is to alert the leaders and policymakers around the world to the possible dangers that may lie ahead. Israel cannot profess a neutrality as to the outcome. Because above all, we want the Egyptian government to remain committed to the peace with Israel.
What the protests in Tunisia, in Egypt and elsewhere have shown us in the Middle East is that the main concern of peoples in this region is not the Israeli-Palestinian issue but the policies of their regimes.
President Peres (13 Feb 2011):
"We bless the Egyptian people in anticipation that its desires for freedom and hope be met. A regime went away, and a new generation arrived."
PM Netanyahu (7 Feb 2011):
The sands between Pakistan and Gibraltar, they’re shifting. A few weeks ago, the ground moved in Tunisia, and then the earthquake hit Egypt, and we still don’t know how far and how deep, and where the tremors will reach, but I think one thing has been brought into very sharp relief by the events of the past few weeks. Israel is an island of stability in a very unstable region. Between the great swathe of earth west of India up to the Atlantic Ocean, going from North Africa through the Middle East, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and all that vast land, Israel is the one true and certain place of stability.
While we all hope that every country succeeds in walking down the path of reform, history teaches us not to assume that any destination is inevitable. In the case of Egypt, there are many possible outcomes beyond the liberal, democratic models that we take for granted in our own countries.
First, Egyptians may choose to embrace the model of a secular reformist state with a prominent role for the military. There is a second possibility that the Islamists exploit the influence to gradually take the country into a reverse direction – not towards modernity and reform but backward. And there’s still a third possibility – that Egypt would go the way of Iran, where calls for progress would be silenced by a dark and violent despotism that subjugates its own people and threatens everyone else. You just have to remember the brutal crackdown in Iran 18 months ago. In Tehran, there was no dialogue, no reform, no restraint, nothing. In the squares of Cairo, with all the turbulence and some tragedy, Egyptians read papers on the tanks of their soldiers. In the squares of Tehran, Iranians were gunned down systematically and left choking on the sidewalks on their blood.
I don’t know what will happen in Egypt. But from Israel’s perspective, our interest is clear. Our interest is to maintain the peace that we have enjoyed for three decades. That peace has brought quiet to our southern border and it served the strategic interests of both countries, and brought stability to the region, in fact to the entire Middle East.
PM Netanyahu (2 Feb 2011):
All those who cherish human liberty, including the people of Israel, are inspired by genuine calls for reform and by the possibility that it will take place.
It is obvious that an Egypt that fully embraces the 21st century and that adopts these reforms would be a source of great hope for the entire world, the region and for us.
In Israel, we know the value of democratic institutions and the significance of liberty. We know the value of independent courts that protect the rights of individuals and the rule of law; we appreciate of the value of a free press, and of a parliamentary system with a coalition and an opposition.
It is clear that an Egypt that rests on these institutions, an Egypt that is anchored in democratic values, would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger the foundations of peace. Peace among democracies is strong, and democracy strengthens the peace.
One possible scenario, which undoubtedly unites us all, is that these hopes for democracy and a gradual, stable reform process are realized in Egypt.
However, this is not the only possible scenario. Because far away from Washington, Paris, London – and not so far from Jerusalem – is another capital in which there are hopes.
In this capital, there are leaders who can also see the opportunities that change in Egypt could bring. They also support the millions who took to the streets. They too speak about the promise of a new day. But for the people in this capital, the promise of a new day is not in its dawn but in the darkness it can bring.
That capital is Tehran, and I assure you, that the leaders in Iran are not interested in the genuine desires of Egyptians for freedom, liberalization or reform, any more than they were interested in answering similar calls for freedom by the Iranian people, their own people, only 18 months ago. They too had demonstrations; multitudes filled the town squares. But, of course it progressed in a different way.
The Iranian regime is not interested in seeing an Egypt that protects the rights of individuals, women, and minorities. They are not interested in an enlightened Egypt that embraces the 21st century. They want an Egypt that returns to the Middle Ages. They want Egypt to become another Gaza, run by radical forces that oppose everything that the democratic world stands for.
We have two separate worlds here, two opposites, two world views: that of the free, democratic world and that of the radical world. Which one of them will prevail in Egypt? The answer to this question is crucial to the future of Egypt, of the region and to our own future here in Israel.
Our stand is clear. We support the forces that promote freedom, progress and peace. We oppose the forces that seek to enforce a dark despotism, terrorism and war. Should the forces that wish to carefully reform and democratize Egypt prevail, I am convinced that such positive change would also buttress a wider Arab-Israeli peace. But we are not there yet.
Recent history shows us many cases in the Middle East when extreme Islamist elements abused the rules of the democratic game to gain power and impose anti-democratic regimes. It happened in Iran; it happened in Lebanon; and it happened when the Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. Does Iran enjoy freedom? Is there a real democracy in Gaza? Does Hizbullah promote human rights? We must ensure that this does not happen again. We must do everything in our power to ensure that peace triumphs.
PM Netanyahu (31 Jan 2011):
Our most serious concern is that in a situation of rapid revolutions, and in the absence of the foundations of modern democracy, what could emerge, and has already emerged in a number of countries, including Iran, are repressive radical Islamic regimes that suppress human rights, allow no freedoms and no rights and also pose a terrible threat to the peace, stability and interests of all civilized people.
This is our concern. It is my concern. I think that many others share this concern. I assure you that I am constantly receiving reports, whenever necessary, given the circumstances and what’s at stake.