Israel has learned in its own prolonged campaign against terror, that the ultimate source of our ability to vanquish terror lies in our reverence for the sanctity of human life and our fierce conviction to do battle with any and all who strive to defile it.
Mr. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Foreign Minister Lavrov, distinguished ministers:
I would like to thank the Russian Government for initiating this important debate on a topic which is deeply troubling to all peace-loving countries and people.
The scourge of terror is not new to Israel. Since before our establishment and throughout our existence, we have been contending with an ongoing terror campaign.
The Middle East and Africa are witnessing a broad expansion of terror throughout the region. Terror groups such as ISIS, Houti militants, Hamas and Hezbollah have a territorial dimension, having set up terror quasi-states which pose a particular challenge. Moreover, terror inspired by groups such as Al Qaeda or ISIS has struck as far afield as Australia, Belgium, France and elsewhere.
If some thought at first that the so-called Arab Spring would give rise to a newly democratic Middle East, the vast spread of terror regimes throughout the region has been an alarming wake-up call.
Israel is flanked by terror groups on all of its frontiers: Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra in the north, ISIS-Sinai in the south and Hamas in Gaza.
Last year we were starkly reminded of the magnitude of the threat we face when Hamas launched thousands of missiles against Israeli civilian targets, while tunneling under the border to strike at innocent Israeli civilians. Israel dealt with this huge security threat while scrupulously abiding by international humanitarian law and in many cases going well beyond its strict requirements. Perhaps this explains why many democracies have expressed an interest in learning from our experience.
One of the greatest challenges is the fact that terror groups often exploit and misuse the principles of international law in order to advance their aims. Thus, we see non-state actors cynically inverting the purpose of humanitarian legal principles in order to inflict maximal harm on civilians on both sides of a conflict.
For example, in the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas turned the principles of international humanitarian law on their head in its attack on Israel, making massive use of human shields and launching indiscriminate attacks at innocent civilians from UN facilities, playgrounds, hospitals, mosques and schools.
In a further act of cynicism, Hamas is diverting construction materials – desperately needed to reconstruct the homes of the thousands of Palestinians it exploited last summer as human shields – for the expansion of its terror tunnel network. Clearly, Hamas sees their plight as an asset.
Since its last missile assault against Israel in 2006, Hezbollah has similarly embedded massive armaments throughout hundreds of villages in southern Lebanon. The time for the international community to act against this looming danger is now, before this powder keg once again ignites.
Like a crime syndicate, Middle Eastern terrorism would be nothing without its ‘godfather’. Iran – emboldened and empowered in the wake of its agreement with the P5+1 – has made no secret of its intention to use the sanctions relief to expand its funding of its terror proxies in the region and world, in particular Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza – two groups which make clear their goal of wiping Israel off the map.
To defeat Iranian-backed terror and the parallel threat of Al Qaeda, ISIS and their many affiliates, the moderate states in the Middle East must act together in confronting extremism and in addressing its real root causes: poverty, absence of democracy and rule of law, absence of women’s rights and the lack of education towards tolerance.
Palestinian society – where Hamas and other terror groups maintain strong support – exemplifies the effects of a deeply entrenched veneration of violence and extremism. Any society in which public squares are named for mass-murderers and children are encouraged to become martyrs will be fertile ground for extremism and terrorism.
Terror has two main goals: to maim and kill; and to dispirit. Thus, of the many things needed to vanquish terror, one thing in particular stands out: clarity. Clarity of purpose and clarity of moral conviction.
United, the democratic world is capable of defeating the tidal wave of terror sweeping the Middle East and threatening the international community at large. To do so effectively, international norms and law need to be adapted to the changing nature of the 21st century battlefield and especially to the unique challenges that arise in asymmetric conflicts against rivals that deliberately blur the traditional distinction between military personnel and non-combatants.
In this regard, Israel is eager to continue playing an active role in the work of the UN bodies tasked with mounting a comprehensive international counter-terror strategy.
It has long been said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We might similarly say that the price of victory in the fight against terror is unapologetic clarity.
The fight of democracies against terror will always involve a balancing act between civil liberties and national security. Israel’s commitment to the rule of law and to democracy means that our struggle to combat terrorism is more difficult but as expressed by our Supreme Court – “…a democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back. Even so, the democracy has the upper hand.”
Israel has been contending for decades with these dilemmas and has succeeded in protecting its civilians from terrorism within the confines of the rule of law. All countries facing the threat of terror today are dealing with similar challenges.
Yet, terror groups have always underestimated democracies. They tend to confuse the democratic commitment to human rights and rule of law with weakness. They do not understand that these ‘weaknesses’ are actually strengths. And they will ultimately fail because of this error.
As Israel has learned in its own prolonged campaign against terror, the ultimate source of our ability to vanquish terror lies in our reverence for the sanctity of human life and our fierce conviction to do battle with any and all who strive to defile it, even when they cynically try to use our own principles against us.
It is this conviction, ladies and gentlemen, will which ultimately ensure that the democratic world will prevail.