The names of the 16 people from our Foreign Service who were killed during their service are engraved in iron and stone on the wall of commemoration behind me. The acted bravely and with great dedication to bring word of Israel to the nations. Their lives were cut short by malicious hands. We do not only remember our loved ones through this physical memorial, but first and foremost in our hearts, in the nation’s consciousness, with gratitude to its emissaries for their contribution in strengthening the country’s position.
Our people here in Israel and abroad have for many years faced a dual front: first, on the public diplomacy front where they have been conducting a continual campaign to convince the world of the justness of our actions, deepen our international ties, gain public support and curb the many lies about the Jewish state.
The second front is that of their personal safety. As those who represent sovereign Israel, they themselves are a target for attack. Employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are under threat from parties that use every method available to undermine the relations between Israel and countries around the world. Our representatives stand guard to beat back political propaganda attacks, and because of this they may become victims of physical attacks.
I remember well the first incident. Edna Pe’er’s name is engraved here on the wall. I was a soldier in the Special Forces at the time, and I remember the great shock the Israeli public felt after what happened in Asuncion. Since ancient times it was customary that diplomats were off limits. Not only were they off limits, they were the limit, and it became clear that all-encompassing terror would strike at this foundation of our relations. My fellow soldiers in the unit and I felt at the time that we had to act vigorously against these terrorists who had no consideration for human lives.
Over the years, the State of Israel has had many significant achievements in its determined campaign against terror and against terror directed at diplomats. Warnings keep coming. Clearly, in most cases we are successful in stopping terrorist attacks in Israel and abroad. I say most cases because unfortunately we have experienced tragedies we were unable to stop, during which we lost the best of our people – in Turkey, in London, in Argentina – and every tragedy is burned into our skin.
We make efforts, mainly through the Mossad and the ISA, to defend ourselves and all our employees in the Foreign Service and our representatives abroad. This effort is large-scale, it is unique and it has saved many hundreds of lives, not only in our Foreign Service, but also in the Foreign Services of other countries.
Sometimes these efforts are successful by a hairsbreadth. Here, several years ago, in the situation room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we dealt with a siege that grew ever tighter around our people in the Israeli embassy in Cairo. A wild mob came to slaughter our people and that night we worked with all the tools at our disposal, including threats to extract them using the IDF, which finally tipped the scale and the Egyptian forces, then under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, together with tight coordination on our end from the situation room, and eventually led to a successful outcome in this instance.
The employees of the office and I spoke with the security officer in charge. He told me over the radio, "My name is Yoni". And I told him, "Yoni, the State of Israel will get you out of there". I regret that we were unable to do so in other cases that we commemorate today, but I do want to tell you that we spare no effort in defending you while you are defending our country.
Israel is in the eye of a storm. In many ways it serves as the vanguard in the ongoing fight against terror, including terrorism directed at diplomats. There are no compromises to be made with bloodthirsty extremists. We owe ourselves and the following generations a crushing victory by the forces of freedom and enlightenment. At the same time, we continue the mission of those who fell during their Foreign Service, and are expanding in an unprecedented manner, as you here know, the scope of our diplomatic ties – a tight net of relations with approximately 160 countries – and there is still more to be done.
Countries around the world are taking advantage of our capabilities in the fight against terror. They are also growing closer to us because of our proven technological innovation, and this is why Israel is courted and pursued, parallel to the various attacks that continue to be waged against us. I am certain that this accomplishment would make our lost loved ones very proud. Their lives were cut short, but their life’s mission, this mission, is being realized in an impressive fashion.
Dear families, bereaved families, we all bow our heads in memory of the fallen. Losing them left deep wounds on your hearts, all our hearts. The entire nation shares your pain, and of course so does the Foreign Service family from throughout its history. We will continue to pursue the realization of their last will and testament – safeguarding the strength, security, prosperity and well-being of our country. May their memories forever be blessed.