Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Speech to the National Defense College

(Communicated by the Defense Minister’s Media Adviser)

Following is the text of Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s speech to the National Defense College on Thursday, August 12, 1999:

Before I begin, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides for pardoning two Israelis who had been sentenced to imprisonment in Cyprus.

This act of the President’s, which was carried out on recommendation of the Cypriot Prosecutor-General, has been received with great appreciation by the Israeli public and will serve to promote the good neighborly relations which exist between Israel and Cyprus.

Almost my entire adult life has been spent in olive drab uniforms. I belong to the same generation of fighters which was educated according to the refrains of Natan Alterman’s poem, from which I quote:

"In the mountains, in the mountains shines our light, we will climb up to the mountain. If the way is difficult and treacherous, even if more than than one falls a casualty we will love you, land of our birth, forever, we are yours, in battle and in toil."

Climbing the mountain of wars took determination, persistence and endless determination. Those same exact qualities are demanded of us today, in climbing the mountain of peace and security, as we are at a fascinating point in Jewish history:

* at the beginning of the second 50 years of Israel’s independence;
* at the beginning of the second century of the Zionist idea;
* and on the threshold of the 21st century and the third millennium.

The Middle East, including Israel, is currently at a crossroads, which constitutes a "window of opportunity." This historic opportunity must not slip our grasp.

We are charged with the political and moral obligation of taking the political process to its conclusion, within a comprehensive, balanced and sagacious strategy, in order to bring peace, prevent war and strengthen the security of the State of Israel and the economic well- being of the entire region.

The government that I head has set for itself the main goal of resuming the momentum in the peace process on all tracks. Our objective is to achieve peace treaties with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon in order to bring about a comprehensive and stable peace between us and all of our neighbors, and end the 100 year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

From this dais, today, I appeal to the leader and builder of modern Syria, President Hafez el-Assad, and call on him, in light of the historic opportunity, to set aside the disagreements of the past and come together, given the "window of opportunity", and march on the path to peace and security for the two peoples, in mutual respect and genuine listening.

I call on President Assad to find together, forthwith, the proper path towards resuming the talks between us, which were interrupted, in order to begin the urgent journey which will turn the vision of peace in the Middle East into reality. My government believes that a peace agreement with Syria is vital for a comprehensive and stable peace in the Middle East.

To our Palestinian neighbors, I say in all sincerity: We want to work with your leaders, first and foremost Chairman Yasser Arafat, in full partnership and respect, in order to assure a hopeful, free and prosperous future for the coming generations which will live alongside each other in this land.

I am convinced that together, we will complete the implementation of the Wye Agreement in all its parts and that the negotiations that will be opened between us will indeed advance us toward concluding a framework for a permanent agreement. The first challenge of Zionism establishing a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was realized by the founding generation.

The challenge before us is to realize the second stage of Zionism and that is establishing the existence of the State of Israel as an outstanding member and the center of the Jewish People’s existence, determining its borders and ensuring its long-range security while maintaining all of the State’s vital interests.

In another 50 years, a Prime Minister or Defense Minister will stand here in this place and speak to the graduates of the College. I want to make certain that he will be able to say then that we, the members of this generation of the year 2000, fulfilled our historic obligation to our children and grandchildren and realised the chance to bring peace, security and a better future for the people of Israel.

The starting point for any peace process is the strength and might of the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can enter into peace negotiations. Only an Israel that is secure in itself will be able to make hard, even painful, decisions in order to reach a peace of the brave in a region which has known suffering, blood and wars.

Our links with the United States have been and are the central anchor of not only the strengthening of Israel, but also in advancing the peace process with our neighbors. Therefore, we will continue to foster and enhance all aspects of this relationship. And from here today, I would like to thank President Clinton and through him, the entire American people, for consistently supporting Israel.

The peace treaties with our neighbors Egypt and Jordan are strategic assets, which we must strengthen and expand, and infuse them with civil and security content at the proper pace. Moreover, the two partners, especially Egypt, are fulfilling an important role in creating an atmosphere of trust and in facilitating progress on the various tracks of the peace process.

We will make a special effort to build new bridges to the countries of North Africa and the Persian Gulf, which have, in the past, opened links with Israel, also in order to create a sympathetic regional atmosphere which will aid the political negotiations, and also in order to expand the State of Israel’s circle of political and economic ties.

Israel’s strength, at the center of which is the strength of the Israel Defense Forces, is the true guarantor of the peace agreements, to their being honored by our partners and Israel’s security after peace is achieved.

We live in a difficult region and environment which do not resemble North America or Western Europe. There is no pity or respect for the weak in the Middle East; whoever is incapable of defending himself does not get a second chance.

Israel is confronted with a series of challenges in three main circles:

In the first circle, we must contend with the threats of terrorism and guerrilla warfare; we have recently experienced concrete examples of this.

We will fight terrorism with determination and strength in order to ensure our citizens’ security. In all of my meetings with the Palestinian leadership, I have made it clear to them the supreme importance that Israel places on combating terrorism, our expectations that they will fight terrorism in all its forms, and the State of Israel’s determined stand that the peace process cannot tolerate violence and terrorist acts.

Regarding Lebanon, I say that in southern Lebanon there is continuous fighting against Hizballah. The determination and fighting spirit of the soldiers and commanders, and the operational ability that I witnessed yesterday during my visit to southern Lebanon, are what will enable the government to, from a position of self- confidence, lead the process to concluding the IDF’s presence in Lebanon.

The government which I head will withdraw the IDF from Lebanon by agreement over the course of the coming year and will position it to, from our international border, defend the peace of our northern communities. We will honor our commitments to the personnel of the SLA and the allied forces and I do not recommend that anybody test our response to attempts to harm Israeli citizens in the new situation that will be created.

In the second circle, we face the modern land, air and sea forces under the command of the countries which border us.

In the most distant circle, are countries like Iraq and Iran with ballistic missiles and which are vigorously striving to achieve, within a few years, a preliminary nuclear capability.

In order to deal with this series of dangerous challenges, and in order to provide a security umbrella for the state and the peace process, we must continue to strengthen the IDF’s deterrent capability and the building-up of its forces for the long term.

Therefore, we must continue strengthening the IDF, equipping it with the best modern systems, refreshing and updating its operative concepts and constantly advancing the quality of IDF commanders and soldiers. In a sentence in order to meet the challenges of the year 2000, we must see to the constant renewal and building up of the IDF 2000.

We attribute supreme importance to maintaining the IDF’s technological and qualitative advantage. I am happy to report that we have succeeded in enhancing the cooperation with the US against strategic and non- conventional war materiel, in developing new technologies, in a third "Arrow" missile battery and in additional innovations.

The submarine "Dolphin" and its two sister submarines add an important component to Israel’s long arm.

However, strength is not measured solely in terms of tanks, planes or submarines; strength is anchored, first and foremost, in personnel soldiers and commanders. Without them, no weapons system, advanced as it may be, will stand up for us on the fateful day.

In order to meet the challenges of the next decade, the IDF must emphasize: * quality and proficiency of command; * striving for professionalism and excellence in all spheres of activity; * military spirit and fostering motivation; * need to understand the missions and to cling to the objective until the end; * sensitivity to human life in battle, training and routine; * attentiveness to soldiers’ personal problems; * accurate reports and deep and pointed operational briefings; * an organizational culture of constant efficiency while making maximum use of existing resources.

I know that the IDF schools, especially the National Defense College and the Interservice Command and Staff College, give their opinions not only on purely military issues, but also enhance the education for values and excellence in light of these missions.

Today, we live in a world that is a "global village"; a world of mass media, the Internet, the computer, and constant cultural exposure.

The IDF does not operate in a vacuum, the IDF is an inseparable part of society. We must assimilate the recognition that reality has changed and that today, the IDF operates with a transparency that is greater than ever before, and there is a continuous, and sometimes painful, dialogue between it and the whole of Israeli society.

In the context of this mutual relationship, it is important that we all recognize IDF service as a supreme and crucial value that will form and foster the consensus of the IDF as a "people’s army" and that Israeli society knows to regard its defenders with feelings of appreciation and the gratitude that they so much deserve and, it seems to me, expect.

At the same time, the army and its commanders must understand that they are an inseparable part of Israeli society, they must see the comprehensive picture of the State its pain and its problems, and accept the order of priorities regarding Israel’s national goals and the allocation of appropriate resources to realize them.

Even the IDF knows that the State of Israel’s overall strength rests not only on its military might but also on its economic strength and the steadfastness of its social fabric.

I am sure that that the College’s program of studies has reflected this comprehensive picture of the State’s needs, and that its graduates leave here with an enhanced understanding of the link between them.

The poet Yehuda Amichai expressed this link very well in his poem Hulikat:

‘Remember that one departing for terrible battles also passes through gardens and windows and children playing and a dog barking. And don’t forget that even the fist was once an open hand and fingers.’

And I add that after achieving the hoped-for peace, it will again be not only a fist but also an open hand and fingers.

Dear graduates,

On behalf of the IDF and the security forces, on behalf of the Government of Israel, on behalf of the citizens of Israel, I wish to send all of you best wishes for the future and my hope that you will succeed in your new posts. May it be that you continue to contribute to the IDF and all of the other security services, and the entire State, wherever you go, and may the words of the Psalmist "they go from strength to strength," (Psalm 84:8) be realized in you.

Commanders and graduates, on behalf of the Government of Israel, I salute all of you.