|The Threat and the Strength|
Address to the Knesset
14 August, 2006: Ceasefire in Lebanon
We have experienced trying days of agony and mourning, sorrow and sacrifice, devastation and destruction, but also days of a great spirit that unites the nation. Our hearts skipped a beat when our soldiers went to battle to defend us. We grieve with the families who lost their sons on the battlefront and loved ones on the home front. We pray for the speedy recovery of our wounded soldiers and for the safe return of our abducted servicemen Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser and Gilad Shalit.
My friends, this is a moment of unity but also a moment of reflection. I refer not only to the lessons that must be drawn from the recent conflict, which surely will be discussed at length. As we take stock of our situation, we must remember one basic truth. Every living creature, whether a biological organism or a nation, must do two things to survive: identify the threats to its existence and develop the capacities to thwart those threats.
A hundred years ago our people did not have such capabilities. One leader, Herzl, saw the burning coals of anti-Semitism and understood that they would ignite a great conflagration that would first consume European Jewry and then all Jewry. But Herzl also saw the great strengths that lay hidden within the dispersed Jewish people. He understood that if the Jews would gather in their ancestral homeland, they would be able to reestablish their sovereignty and thus thwart the threats to their survival and future.
Today I say: we stand before a grave danger, a new conflagration that threatens to consume our people. This is a threat not only to our soldiers, our citizens and our economy. It is a threat to our very existence.
Our sages taught us that in each generation new enemies arise who seek to destroy us. But not since Hitler has there risen such an arch enemy of our people like Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, who openly declares his intention to annihilate us, and who is developing nuclear weapons for this evil purpose. Until those weapons are ready, he uses Iran’s proxies to choke Israel in an octopus-like manner: in the south, the militant Sunni tentacle of Hamas, and in the north, the poisoned tentacle of Hezbollah, part of the Shiite crescent that extends from Iran to Lebanon. This is an existential danger that must be recognized now, while there is still time to act.
This war equally demonstrated the great strengths that our people possess. Against the backdrop of mishaps and logistic failings, our soldiers’ bravery and valor shine even more. We witnessed their purity of heart, their camaraderie and above all their sacrifice, as many fell while saving their brothers in arms. In the regular army and the reserves, on land, sea and air, in the various security and emergency forces – the strength of our fighting men and women was seen in all its might and no one should belittle it.
The second strength we witnessed was that of our citizens in the home fronts north and south. They endured their suffering stoically. Not only did they not call for the end of the war, they did the exact opposite: “Go on”, they said, “we are ready to stay in the bomb shelters for many more weeks, as long as you finish the job”. This extraordinary bottom-up message emanated from the common man in an attempt to stiffen the resolve of the leadership at the top. While visiting the north during the course of the war, my colleagues and I heard this message repeated by residents in bomb shelters time and again in a single powerful voice.
Third, the strength of our entire nation was revealed. People of all walks of life mobilized themselves to help those under rocket fire: businessmen, teachers, nurses, writers, artists, everyone. The citizens of Israel opened their hearts, their pockets and their homes, saying: “A time of trouble has befallen Israel. We are all brothers. We have one fate. All Jews are responsible for one another.” This is the people I have faith in. This is the people that has performed wonders and will perform them again, a nation that has defied the laws of history.
But for us to be able to meet the great challenges ahead, we must be frank: there were many failures - in identifying the threat, in preparing for it, in conducting the war and in dealing with the home front. Yet today I wish to emphasize three points that I believe are crucial for ensuring our security and our future. My first point: The concept of unilateral withdrawals has collapsed. This is not only my personal view but a growing realization that has trickled down to almost every part of this house. The policy of unilateral withdrawals has been shown to be weak and, no less important, to be perceived as weak by our enemies. It must be replaced with a policy of strength, deterrence, and reciprocity.
In 2000 we withdrew from Lebanon without any guarantees or security agreements. In Hezbollah's eyes, Israel was fleeing Hezbollah terror. This prompted Nasralla's "cobwebs" speech about Israel's weakness, which reverberated with Hamas and triggered the second Intifada. The result of this second Intifada led to a second Israeli unilateral withdrawal, and Israel was again perceived as fleeing before terror. This Hamas success in turn reverberated back to Hezbollah, and so on.
Unilateral withdrawals not only eroded our deterrence, they also gave our enemies improved positions from which to shell and rocket our cities and towns. The concept of unilateral withdrawal has vanished, and if it hasn’t – it should!
My second point: The root cause of the conflict has been finally exposed. This is not a conflict about a particular piece of land. We withdrew from every inch of Lebanon, yet we were attacked. We withdrew from every inch of the Gaza district, yet we were attacked. Our enemies tell us that even if we give up every last inch of Judea and Samaria and return to the pre-1967 borders, this would make no difference to them. As Nasrallah said: “We launch our missiles at the enemy’s occupied settlements”, i.e., Tiberias, Safed, Acre, Haifa - all in pre-1967 Israel. At its core, this is a conflict about Israel’s very existence, whatever our borders may be.
Here is a simple truth: If our enemies lay down their arms, there will be no more war. But if Israel lays down its arms, there will be no more Israel. For the crux of the conflict is their desire to destroy us.
But our enemies wish to destroy not only us. And this brings me to my third point: The need for alliances, and our ability to build new alliances in a volatile world. Every country needs alliances. This is true of a superpower like the United States, let alone a small country like Israel. We can establish alliances today precisely because the threat of militant Islam is not directed at Israel alone but is also directed at many other nations. I see a potential for alliances within the Arab world - and most certainly in the Western world, which is experiencing this same militant Islamic threat in diverse ways, such as the recent plot to blow up airliners in the sky.
Alliances are based on common values and common interests. Such a partnership surely exists between Israel and the United States. We expect President George Bush to stand by his promise not to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. We unreservedly support his goal of protecting humanity from the greatest threat of all.
Yet values and interests are but two of the three components of alliances. The third vital component is power. My friends, within this house you know this all too well: No one sides with the weak. You side with the strong. The same is true in international affairs.
Our top priority, therefore, must be to nurture and develop our military, political, economic, social and spiritual strength. That is the key to ensuring our future.
This war caught many of us sleeping, and we received a wakeup call. It summons us to return to reality and to return to ourselves, to those values and principles that guaranteed our survival in the past and will guarantee it in the future.
A final point about the home front: Sometimes the citizen does for the country, and sometimes the country does for the citizen. This is one moment when both kinds of giving are dramatically intertwined. The residents of the northern and the southern fronts surely gave our country their sacrifice and anguish, and now is the time for the country to give back to them. To this moment I haven't been able to get an answer to a simple question: why was a state-of-emergency not declared? If there ever was a real need to declare such an economic emergency state, it is now. In none of Israel's previous wars – ’56 ’67, ’73, ’82, or even the War of Independence – were our cities savaged by such attacks. We must immediately declare a state of civilian emergency to help those Israelis in dire need. This is not just about homes destroyed but also about lives lost and families torn asunder, and children who live in unremitting anxiety and trauma. What is needed is not merely direct material compensation, but increased aid that must be generously provided. Thank God we have the ability to provide it, since Israel’s economy is robust as a result of our policy in the last three years. If we do what is needed, the Galilee will once again turn from black to green. And turn it we must!
During the five weeks of the war my colleagues and I served as a responsible and loyal opposition. We helped fight the battle for public opinion and in other matters. All the opposition members acted in exemplary fashion. Our public duty includes telling the truth, and I tell it here: Regrettably, there will be another round of confrontation. This appears unavoidable because the just goals put forward by the government were not achieved – not the return of our kidnapped soldiers, not the disarming of Hezbollah, nor the removal of the rocket threat.
What we have today is a respite between the battle ended and the battle ahead. We will use this respite to rebuild our strength, but we must understand that our enemies will do the same. They too will rearm and refortify their positions, because frankly there is nothing to prevent them from doing so – not any political agreement nor any UN resolution.
Therefore, as we prepare for the days ahead, I say this to Nasrallah and his Iranian patrons: You will not defeat us! This nation has triumphed over greater terrorists and tyrants, and we will overcome you as well.
I believe that the day will come when a new Cyrus will emerge in Persia to replace the genocidal Haman of our day. But until that day comes, Israel’s enemies must know: This nation is strong! This army is strong! And even if more challenges and struggles lie ahead, with God's help, "Judea will rest assured" and the people of Israel shall dwell in their land for eternity.