The United States and Israel face common threats and challenges in the Middle East, above all from Iran. Iran not only threats the security and stability of the Middle East but of the entire world.

 Defense Min Ya'alon meets US Defense Secy of Defense Hagel


Copyright: Ariel Hermoni

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon: "I was delighted and honored to host my friend Secretary of Defense of the United States, Chuck Hagel. I was very moved, Chuck, that after visiting your own troops in Afghanistan, you made Israel the first destination of your term as Secretary of Defense. Before we begin, I wish to express my condolences for the deadly Boston Marathon attack. This attack, which once again displayed the brutality of terrorism, took the lives of innocent people and wounded many others.

As a nation with a great deal of experience with the suffering that terrorism causes, we deeply sympathize with the American people’s grief.

We had friendly, constructive, and substantive talks on a wide range of issues vital to both countries. The United States and Israel face common threats and challenges in the Middle East, above all from Iran. Iran not only threats the security and stability of the Middle East but of the entire world. Iran threatens to wipe Israel off the map. It backs Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and it is assisting the Syrian regime to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The Iranian regime is involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and more. And Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Today’s talks were a continuation of the intimate dialogue between the United States and Israel on the best ways to meet these challenges. In every case, Israel prefers diplomatic solutions, though, as President Obama stated, Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. Secretary’s Hagel visit follows the historic visit of President Obama to Israel and his reaffirmation of America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security. This commitment is demonstrated in America’s generous support for Israel’s defense and in President Obama’s pledge to continue that support in the future. We see our commitment in Iron Dome and other anti-missile systems that save lives.

We see your commitment in the Joint Strike Fighter program and the Presidential approval of other advanced capabilities such as the V-22, for Israel. We see your commitment in our joint military maneuvers and our extensive intelligence sharing – all part of our comprehensive strategic cooperation and dialogue. We see your commitment in your determination to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. We see it all, Mr. Secretary, and we are deeply grateful.

The United States of America – as a great democracy – and the State of Israel as the only democracy in the region, share common interests and common values. Our relationship reflects it. I want to express my personal appreciation for your friendship, Chuck, and for your solid and powerful support for Israel.

Todah rabah – Thank you."

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: "Minister Ya’alon, thank you. It has been my personal pleasure to be here again in Israel and to renew friendships and to build a new working partnership with Bogie Ya’alon. He was very generous to me yesterday and in our meetings today, as he noted we had some very clear, direct conversations. And I am grateful for his time and his leadership at this important time in this relationship between our countries and our people, and thank you Bogie for your own personal commitment, as well as your professional leadership.

As I noted, I personally and I know President Obama and our country very much appreciates the strong working relationship between our two countries, and the commitment to continue to strengthen and deepen US-Israel relationships. Our countries share values, common interest and an unbreakable bond that grows stronger over time. These common interests include security for our citizens, a peaceful and stable middle east, countering terrorism, countering non-proliferation, particularly our efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The United States has made clear to the Israeli people that we have a commitment to Israel’s security. That includes our iron-clad pledge reinforced by president’s Obama during his visit last month, as minister Ya’alon has noted, to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge. We are committed to providing Israel with whatever support is necessary for Israel to maintain military superiority over any state, or coalition of states and non-state actors.

Given the range of complex security challenges facing the United-States and Israel in this region, the Obama administration has made not just maintaining, but enhancing and improving Israel’s qualitative military edge a top priority.

The United States has always supported Israel’s security needs. Despite fiscal pressures President Obama has insured that Israel receives an all-time high of 3.1 billion dollars in foreign military financing this year. Last month in Jerusalem President Obama announced that the United States and Israel will begin work on a new multi-year memorandum of understanding. This MOU will extend security funding for Israel beyond 2017 when the current agreement expires.

The United States Department of Defense and Israel’s Ministry of Defense are continually working together to ensure their militaries have the necessary capabilities in place to deal with changing security environments. These include major advances in cooperative rocket and missile defense efforts between the United States and Israel including Iron Dome, Arrow and David Sling.

Since its deployment, the Iron Dome system has saved many lives, and we are continuing to build on the program’s success. To date, the United States has provided more than 460 million dollars to support the ‘Iron dome’ program and we are requesting another 220 million [dollars] in our fiscal year 2014 defense budget request for Israel to acquire additional Iron Dome batteries.

Today we took another significant step in the united states Israel’s defense relationship: Minister Ya’alon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities which he has noted including anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft  and most significantly the V-22 Osprey, which the US has not released to any other nation.

The new radar and anti-radiation missiles, along with Israel’s participation in the joint strike fighter program, ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation. The introduction of the V-22 into the Israeli Air Force will give the Israeli Air Force long range, high-speed maritime search and rescue capabilities to deal with a number of threats and contingencies.

These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the US and Israel is stronger than ever and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem.

That sacred living memorial is a reminder of the full potential of human evil, but also the strength and resilience of the Jewish people. For 65 years the State of Israel has embodied that strength, and it has had no better friend or ally than the United States of America. President Obama and I are committed to a strong and secure Israel and to deepening the historic security cooperation between our nations.

Thank you very much."

Questions and answers:

Channel 10, Alon Ben-David: "Mr. Secretary, during his visit, President Obama extensively presented his position vis-à-vis Iran and I wanted to ask you about your own position, because you’ve been quoted in the past as saying that you see no and I quote ‘valuable, feasible, responsible military option against Iran’…  I wanted to ask whether you still think that there isn’t any valuable military option."

Secy. Hagel: "Well, I’ve also said over the years one consistent thing: that all military options and every option must remain on the table when dealing with Iran, that’s been a consistent position of mine regardless of the positions I’ve held as United States senator or civilian. I support the President’s position on Iran, and it is very simple and I’ve stated here and I’ve said this many times as the President has; our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon: The prevention of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, period. Thank you."

The New York Times, Tom Shaker: "Mr. Minister, Israeli officials have often warned about what you’ve termed a ‘zone of immunity’, a time in which Iran might so deeply bury its nuclear facilities that you would be unable to strike them successfully. Has the new arm package you described today removed your concerns about the zone of immunity? And if not, what are the other weapons you would need from the US? And Mr. Secretary, on the flight over, you acknowledged that there are modest disagreements between the US and Israel in your assessment of the timeline of the Iranian nuclear threat, have you done anything during our talks today to remove those modest disagreements, to synchronize the clock, so to speak, and if not would it be advisable for Israel to strike Iran alone? Thank you both."

Minister Yaalon: "Thank you, without going into operational considerations, Israel’s strategy regarding the military nuclear aspirations of this Iranian regime is very clear: By one way or another, the military nuclear project of Iran should be stopped. Having said that, we believe that the military option which is well discussed should be the last resort anyhow. I believe this way, regarding any conflict, and there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted whether it is diplomacy, economic sanctions  or even moral support of the opposition in Iran. But without a credible military option, there is no chance that the Iranian regime will realize that he has to stop the military nuclear project. And in certain circumstances the military option should be exercised. So this is our very clear policy, and of course we keep our right, and capability, to defend ourselves by ourselves."

Secy. Hagel: "As to your question Tom, regarding your point about whether Israel should strike Iran as I said on that trip over here, Israel is a sovereign nation. Every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself. That calculation has to be made by the sovereign nation. As to your question regarding any minor disagreements about timing, what I was referring to, is intelligence agencies always are within ranges of their positions based on measurement of intelligence on all issues and that doesn’t necessarily always come out exactly the same way or in the same time-schedule. But I also believe I said that there was no question about our intelligence agencies working very clearly and closely together on this issue. And we are not only in complete agreement on the policy about Iran but also we are in total agreement on if a time should get to a point here where we will then have to develop other strategies or other options, and I don’t think there is any  daylight there, any gap."

Galei Tsahal Radio, Ilil Shahar: "To both ministers, watching what’s going on in North Korea, don’t you think that the West should rapidly increase the sanctions against Iran, and even before the coming elections in Teheran in June? My second question to Mister Secretary: President Obama said when he was here a month ago that he would like to discuss with Israel the defense aid after the recent package will expire in 2017. How much money do you anticipate will be provided to Israel and over what period of time?"

Secy. Hagel: "As to the second part of your question, that is being explored and will continue to be explored in the new memorandum of understanding which obviously will include funding. As to your first question, I wasn’t sure what exactly it was that you wanted for me on North Korea."

Galei Tsahal Radio, Ilil Shahar:  "Don’t you think it is the right time to increase sanction on Iran because of what’s going on in North Korea?"

Secy. Hagel: "Well, the sanctions on Iran are, I believe, as potent and deep and wide set of international sanctions that we’ve ever seen on any country. And those will continue to increase, but I believe that there is a rather significant metrics and measurements that give you this information that those sanctions are causing a tremendous amount of difficulties for Iran. It is a policy of the United States and many of our allies to work many tracks in dealing with Iran, and certainly international sanctions are one, and they are having an effect whether it leads to an outcome that we desire, remains to be seen. But in any event, that is why you use all the different tools that nations have working together and as I said the military option is always an option and it is always on the table."

Minister Ya’alon: "Regarding North Korea and the Iranian threat: first of all. It might be that the Iranian regime might look at the North Korean case as a precedent to go to become nuclear.

Having said that, from our point of view, the Iranian threat is more significant than the North Korean regime’s threat. The North Koreans use the nuclear capabilities to defend themselves, to blackmail the region, the entire world. This regime doesn’t have aspirations like the Iranian regime; actually to export the revolution, to gain hegemony and influence first of all in the region, and even on the entire globe. And actually, even without a nuclear capability, this rogue regime in Teheran is using rogue activities to undermine certain regimes in our region, as I mentioned to be the main generator instigator for instability in the region by being involved in a negative manner in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

Thinking about this kind of rogue regime, non-conventional regime, with non-conventional capabilities is going to be a nightmare not just for the region, but for the entire globe. So in this regard we consider the Iranian threat as more significant than the North Korean one."

AP Bob Burns: "My question for each of you on chemical weapons in Syria. Minister Ya’alon, how extensive does your government believe that chemical weapon use has been in Syrian and what do you think ought to be done about it? And for Secretary Hagel, we’ve heard different assessments from different governments about whether it’s been used or not, the Israeli government and some other US allies have said yes, the US government has said ‘We don’t know’. You yourself have called chemical weapon use in Syria a game changer, my question is how can it change anything if you can’t tell whether they’ve used it or not?"

Minister Ya’alon: "We put very clear red lines to the Syrian regime: The first one, not to allow sophisticated weapons to be delivered or to be taken by rogue elements like Hezbollah and other rogue elements that are operating now in Syria. We proved it when they crossed this red line, we operated, we acted.

The second red-line is keeping our border, on the Golan Heights, secured. And in any case when we absorb shots, mortar shells, in our side, intentionally or incidentally, we respond, and we did it. We don’t allow any element whether it is the Syrian armed forces, or opposition elements, to cross with fire our sovereignty.

The third red line that our Prime Minister put, is not to allow any rogue elements to put their hands on chemical weapons from the Syrian chemical arsenal. Now it is well-known that there is a chemical arsenal in Syria, and this is a red line for us. It hasn’t been tested yet but we are ready to operate if any rogue element is going to put his hands or any chemical agents are going to be delivered to rogue elements in the region; it hasn’t been tested yet."

Secy. Hagel: "As to your question, I believe that my point was, and what I said was that currently our intelligence agencies are assessing what happened and what did not happen. I also said, as you correctly noted, that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. President Obama has said it is a red line. We, The United States along with Israel have options for all contingencies and certainly the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons would be a game changer and cross that red line."

Q: "What would change if they did use them?"

Secy. HageI: "I am not going to discuss contingency options on what would change, what wouldn’t change here, but suffice to say that the President I think has made it very clear, and my statements have supported what the President said, and again our intelligence agencies are assessing that issue about the use of chemical weapons."