Jerusalem, 2 February 2003

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), February 2, 2003:

1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the following remarks:

"Yesterday, at 16:00 local time, contact with the space shuttle Columbia was lost. Seven astronauts – including the first Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon – were aboard the shuttle. From the moment that we were notified about the loss of contact, we – along with the rest of the world – monitored the updates about the situation that we received from NASA with hope, trepidation and prayer, until the bitter moment when it became clear to us beyond all doubt that the seven astronauts had perished in the shuttle explosion.

From here, on behalf of the government and people of Israel, I would like to send our sincerest condolences to the families of the American astronauts, to US President George W. Bush, and to the American people. It is at times like these that we feel our common fate, identity and values, and shared vision, which we realized during Col. Ilan Ramon’s journey into space.

I regret that I did not know Ilan personally, not as well as I would have liked. But I was familiar with his record as a daring fighter pilot and an excellent commander.

I spoke with Ilan before he lifted off on his last mission and I also spoke with him during the flight. In my conversations with Ilan, I became acquainted with a man of values, who deeply loved this people and this land, a man who should not have been taken from us so suddenly – along with the hopes, dreams, history and future of all of us – to a place higher than we can realize.

Last night, I spoke with Ilan’s father, Eliezer, and with his wife, Rona. I am sure that everyone will join me in conveying our condolences and support to this wonderful family, a family that we are all proud of.

The seven astronauts who perished yesterday in the space shuttle Columbia disaster are part of the heavy price that the human race must pay in its quest for knowledge and in its desire to explore other worlds. Their deaths will not be in vain. Mankind’s journey into space will continue. US-Israeli cooperation in this endeavor will continue as well. The day will come when other Israeli astronauts will be launched into space. I am certain that the memory of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first space pioneer, will be etched in our hearts.

All Israelis bow their heads in memory of Col. Ilan Ramon and the crew of the shuttle Columbia, heroes of our journey into space."

US Ambassador to Israel Daniel C. Kurtzer made the following remarks:

"Mr. Prime Minister and distinguished members of the Cabinet:

Seventeen days ago, Americans and Israelis turned their eyes towards the heavens with pride and anticipation as the Columbia space shuttle lifted upward carrying seven brave astronauts. Our two nations shared joy and admiration for the heroism and bravery of the crew. We shared hopes and dreams of the advances that this mission promised for the betterment of humankind.

Today Americans and Israelis come together again to mourn those seven astronauts: Col. Rick Husband, Commander William McCool, Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, Capt., Dave Brown, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, Dr. Laurel Clark, and Col. Ilan Ramon.

In paying tribute to these heroes, our two nations can draw on deep reservoirs of courage, character and fortitude. As we share triumphs, we also share misfortune. But even during this period of mourning and reflection our gaze is drawn inexorably towards the same aspirations that drew Ilan Ramon and his colleagues into space. Just last week, Col. Ramon said from space, "The world looks marvelous from up here – so peaceful, so wonderful and so fragile." His words evoked thoughts of an American poet, who said after an earlier Apollo flight "to see the earth as we see it now – small and beautiful and blue in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together; brothers on that bright loveliness in the unending night; brothers who see now that they are truly brothers."

Americans and Israelis are brothers indeed – on earth and in space. As President Bush told the American people last evening, "the cause in which these [brothers and sisters] died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

May the memories of the fallen astronauts be blessed."

2. IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon briefed ministers on ongoing security matters, commenting on methods employed by Israel in the face of the threat of Palestinian terror, the possible US attack against Iraq, and the situation on the northern border. Chief-of-Staff Ya’alon gave detailed information on IDF operations designed to prevent the launching of Kassam rockets, and operations aimed at disrupting the organizing of terror attacks.