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Advancing U.S. Interests in a Changing Middle East

Remarks by Antony Blinken
National Security Advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden and Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama for National Security Affairs

To the Anti-Defamation League’s 2011 Annual Meeting
New York City           November 4, 2011

Let me start by saying to everyone in this room:  thank you.  Thank you for the work you do every day, through ADL, to uphold and defend the most fundamental American values.

For nearly 100 years, you’ve been on the frontlines of the freedoms we sometimes take for granted:  to say what we think, to worship as we choose, to live lives free of prejudice and bigotry.  These are the American birthrights that you have made your mission.

It is well known that combating anti-Semitism at home and worldwide is at the heart of what you do.  Less well known to some are the extraordinary actions you take on behalf of all those facing injustice. You have stood up to bullying.  You’ve combatted hate crimes. You’ve defended the right to build mosques in the face of anti-Muslim bigotry.  Every day, you chip away at discrimination through actions big and small.

And of course, no organization does more than the Anti-Defamation League to defend the security of Israel.  Never has this cause been more important.  And that’s what I would like to talk about today, from the perspective of the Obama-Biden administration.

For more than 60 years since Israel's founding—during periods of war and peace, calm and crisis—U.S. administrations of all stripes have worked to safeguard Israel's security.

But I would maintain that no administration – and no President – has done as much as ours with Israel and for Israel’s security.

Just over a month ago, President Obama's personal intervention helped avert catastrophe when a violent mob stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

Afterward, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the president:

"I requested his assistance at a decisive—I would even say fateful—moment. He said he would do everything possible, and this is what he did. He activated all of the United States' means and influence—which are certainly considerable. I believe we owe him a special debt of gratitude."

That influence was only the most recent manifestation of our administration's iron-clad commitment to Israel's security, a commitment that has led to a level of cooperation that Mr. Netanyahu himself has rightly called "unprecedented."

That commitment starts with President Obama’s profound understanding of Israel’s predicament. 

Here’s how the President put it this September, speaking to the countries of the world at the United Nations General Assembly:

“Let us be honest with ourselves.  Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it.  Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.  Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.  Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map.”

When it comes to Israel’s security and maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge, our actions speak loudest of all.

Since coming to office, we have launched the most comprehensive and meaningful strategic and operational consultations, across all levels of our governments, in the history of this relationship.

These interactions, from our heads-of-state on down, are what averted tragedy in Cairo—and they only exist between the closest of allies.

In October 2009, our nations' armed forces conducted their largest ever joint military exercise, Juniper Cobra.

In 2010, nearly 200 senior-level Department of Defense officials visited Israel, and similar numbers of senior Israeli officials visited the U.S.

And this year, despite tough fiscal times, President Obama secured full funding for Israel in our 2011 budget, including $3 billion in military assistance—the most ever.

On top of that historic commitment, we added $205 million to help produce Iron Dome.

This short-range rocket defense system has been a godsend for besieged communities along Israel's border with Gaza, and it has now been installed in the north, along the Lebanon border, as well.

Already it has intercepted dozens of rockets that might otherwise have struck homes, schools or hospitals. It is providing some peace of mind for people, like the residents of Sderot whom President Obama visited in 2008, living every day in the line of fire.

To guard against more distant, but also more dangerous threats, we have worked with Israel on the Arrow weapons system, to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, and David's Sling, for shorter-range missiles.

And we have collaborated on a powerful radar system linked to U.S. early warning satellites that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of a missile attack.

We know that Israel sees the threat posed by Iran as existential. And make no mistake: An Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose a direct and serious threat to the security of the U.S. as well.

That is why President Obama is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. 

We have backed up that commitment by building an unprecedented coalition to impose the most far-reaching sanctions Iran has ever faced.  As a result, Iran finds itself increasingly isolated from the international community.  It finds it harder than ever to acquire materials for its nuclear and weapons programs and to conduct transactions in dollars and euros.  And it has struggled to buy refined petroleum and the goods it needs to modernize its oil and gas sector.

Already close to $60 billion in Iranian energy-related projects have been put on hold or shut down.  World-leading companies are deciding to stop doing business there, including: Shell, Total, ENI, Statoil, Repsol, Lukoil, Kia, Toyota, Siemens and the foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms such as GE, Honeywell and Caterpillar, among many others.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Here’s what Iran’s President, Mr. Ahmadinejad, said about sanctions to Iran’s parliament this week:

“The West has imposed the most extensive and dastardly sanctions ever… Every day, all our banking and trade activities and our agreements are being monitored and blocked.  This is the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history…”

Standing up for Israel's security also means remaining ever vigilant against attempts to delegitimize Israel in the international arena.

As President Obama has said, including in the speech he gave in Cairo, Israel's legitimacy is not a matter for debate.

That is why we stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza War was issued.

That is why we refuse to attend events that endorse or commemorate the flawed 2001 World Conference Against Racism, which outrageously singled out Israel for criticism.

And that is why we are working literally around the clock and around the world to try to prevent steps taken at the U.N. or its agencies from further isolating Israel or undermining efforts to reach a secure, negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Our administration is justifiably proud of this record. And we are confident that none of our predecessors has done more for Israel's security than we have.

That does not mean we will always see eye to eye on everything. Even the closest of allies disagree – just as Israelis do amongst themselves -- and when we do, we make our views clear. That is a sign of our mutual respect and of a relationship robust and mature enough to overcome our differences.

What could actually harm U.S.-Israeli relations, and the security of the Jewish state, is subjecting either to the vagaries of partisan politics or turning them into election-year talking points.

That’s why I so appreciate the ADL and AJC “Unity Pledge” initiative on Israel.  This is not about stifling discussion, disagreement or dissent.  It is about a simple proposition:  when it comes to discussing U.S. policy toward Israel in our political arena, by all means we should question each other’s judgments – but not each other’s motives.

For generations, Israel has been a bastion of bipartisan consensus. The stakes are too high—for us, and for Israel—to let that change now.

Now, I’m anxious to hear your comments and questions.  Thanks for everything you do.  And thanks for listening.




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