US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on the US-Israel Relationship

“Too Important to be Anything Less Than a Top Priority”

— by David Streeter

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro addressed The Jerusalem Post’s Diplomatic Conference and proudly affirmed the Obama Administration’s support for Israel. Shapiro said:

First of all, the cornerstones of the special relationship between Israel and the United States are our common strategic interests, our shared values of two democracies, and our broad and deep people-to-people ties. And, as recently demonstrated in our national elections – this partnership is historic, bi-partisan, and multifaceted. It is based not on any one political party or Administration, but on the commitment of the American people to support a flourishing, secure, Jewish, democratic State of Israel here in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

Throughout our U.S. presidential campaign, we saw evidence of this widespread support as both candidates articulated in their platforms their positions in strong support of Israel, our closest ally in the region. As President Obama prepared to begin his second term, he has recommitted himself to continuing the policies of an unshakeable support Israel’s security and a deep commitment to its future as a Jewish, democratic state.

More after the jump.
The recent escalation in Gaza showed the world what Israelis have known and lived with for years: the terrible reality of rockets fired by Hamas and other terrorist organizations, deliberately targeting innocent civilians. As Israel acted to bring an end to the rocket fire, the strong U.S. response also made clear our commitment to ensure Israel’s right of self-defense.

Reflecting on those eight days, I am tremendously proud, as an American, and as U.S. Ambassador, of the U.S. efforts made to support Israel when it was under attack and to de-escalate the crisis in a way that has brought a measure of quiet in the south.

First, from the beginning, the U.S. response could not have been clearer. President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and our Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, made strong and direct public statements on our unequivocal support for Israel’s right of self-defense – statements that were critical in shaping international perceptions of the conflict, in securing the support of other countries, and in keeping the focus where it needed to be: on stopping the rocket fire from Gaza.

Second, despite President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton being in the midst of a historic trip to Asia, they never took their eyes of the Middle East and engaged in close coordination with Israel on international diplomatic efforts and the details of proposals for a ceasefire. President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu several times to receive updates and offer advice and counsel and support. Secretary of State Clinton took every spare moment to call her counterparts around the world to urge them to support Israel’s right to defend itself and pressure Hamas to stop firing rockets.

Third, America and Israel both conducted direct engagement with Egypt throughout the Gaza crisis, including multiple conversations between President Obama and President Morsi and Israeli delegations traveling to Cairo, to ensure that Egypt could play its unique stabilizing role in influencing Hamas to settle on an agreement. The ceasefire is not a perfect or a permanent solution. Now, Egypt and Israel must continue, and are already continuing, to work together to preserve Israel’s security, crack down on weapons smuggling, and advance the legitimate needs of the people of Gaza. President Morsi’s government has consistently reiterated its adherence to the Peace Treaty with Israel, and we remain encouraged by that commitment….

As someone close to the events that took place, in fact, the best seat in the house, I want to tell you that the close U.S.-Israeli coordination to de-escalate was impressive, and demonstrated that our partnership is not only evidence of a strong and deep bond between our countries- but also a productive and constructive one, which furthers national interests on both sides.

In addition to our diplomatic support during the Gaza crisis, U.S. security assistance was also evident. ‘Iron Dome’ has become a household phrase no longer just among defense experts, but in Israel and the United States, and around the world. The story of American support for the Iron Dome system goes back a few years.

Back in 2008, I was privileged to accompany President Obama, at the time a Senator and presidential candidate, on a visit to Sderot. He met with families whose homes had been destroyed, as well as children who had been injured by rocket and mortar attacks. He saw – in person – how the ongoing threat deeply affected people. He understood that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security included an obligation to help Israel protect itself from this threat. That is why, as President, he ensured U.S. funding above and beyond our regular military assistance for Iron Dome. Last month, we saw just how important that support was. Israelis are rightfully proud of this magnificent, Israeli-developed technology. And Americans are proud that the $275 million in American funding to accelerate the development and deployment of this missile defense system. With over four hundred intercepts during the recent conflict, in both the south and in the Gush Dan region, Iron Dome helped save lives and prevented untold injuries and damage to homes, to schools, to communities. If there is a more meaningful example of America’s commitment to Israel’s security, I don’t know what it is.

As I mentioned, funding for Iron Dome is actually in addition to an even larger amount-the $3.1 billion dollars in annual military assistance from the United States, which upholds Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge – that is, Israel’s ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from an individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actor, while sustaining minimal damages or casualties.

Preserving Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge is a much broader and multi-faceted endeavor. It involves building operational capabilities through exercises, training, and personnel exchanges. It involves ensuring Israeli access to the most advanced U.S. military systems, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft. It involves supporting further missile defense systems to counter long-range ballistic threats. It involves close bilateral ties, maintained through constant consultations at the highest levels of our militaries and intelligence services. This close coordination is ongoing and growing-just last month, we conducted the joint ballistic missile defense exercise, Austere Challenge. With over 1,400 U.S. troops on Israeli soil, and thousands of participants overall, this was the largest joint exercise in the history of the longstanding military relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Austere Challenge allowed us to make great strides in improving our tactics jointly, but more importantly, it reinforced our already strong military-to-military relationships, from our most senior commanders to our junior enlisted troops. All of this assistance reflects the United States’ commitment to preserve Israel’s right and ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat it may face.

As part of our commitment to Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state, we firmly believe that Israel’s security depends on a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian conflict….

There is no substitute for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve this vision. It cannot be resolved by unilateral measures by either side, which serve only to undermine trust and confidence, and which will not lead to a lasting peace….

I would like to take just a few more moments to discuss another area where the U.S. and Israel are strong partners-which is our shared commitment to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. President Obama has stated unequivocally that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that the U.S. will use all elements in its power to achieve this objective.

Over many months, through extraordinarily close, high-level coordination, the United States and Israel have developed a common understanding of the threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, a common intelligence basis on which to judge the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and a common strategy – together with many other nations – to use unprecedented sanctions and economic pressure to induce Iran to change course. We have a shared preference to try to resolve this issue diplomatically, but also a shared principle that no options are off the table.

A nuclear-armed Iran is not just an existential threat to Israel. It would pose a grave threat to the security of the United States, our allies, and the world. It would heighten the possibility that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. It would spark a nuclear arms race in this volatile region. It could collapse the global nuclear non-proliferation system. And a nuclear umbrella would embolden Iran in its support for terror by Hezbollah, Hamas, and other groups, and threaten freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.

As Secretary Clinton recently said, Iranian-made missiles and rockets launched from Gaza at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem only drove home what we already know: America, Israel, and the entire international community must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. This is a regime that already exports terrorism to Israel’s doorstep, brutalizes its own people, threatens chokepoints in the global economy and risks opening the floodgates on nuclear proliferation around the world. So when it comes to Iran’s nuclear threat, the United   States does not have a policy of containment. We have a policy of prevention, built on the dual tracks of pressure and engagement, while keeping all options, including the military option, on the table.

We have mobilized the international community around this issue, and together, we have put in place the strongest sanctions that the Iranian government has ever faced, to include sanctions on Iran’s banking, shipping, and petroleum sectors. As Secretary Clinton has said, we worked to convince all 27 nations of the European Union to stop importing Iranian oil and all 20 major global importers of Iranian oil – including Japan, India, South Korea and China- to make significant reductions. Iran today exports at least one million fewer barrels of crude each day than it did just last year. And Iran’s currency is worth less than half of what it was last November. The pressure is real, and it is growing.

We remain committed to working with the P5+1 on a dual track approach to persuade Iran to come into compliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. Our message to Iran is clear: the window remains open to resolve diplomatically the international community’s concerns about your nuclear program, and to relive your isolation, but that window cannot remain open indefinitely. It is up to Iran to follow through and to demonstrate it is serious. Until Iran complies with all its international nuclear obligations, we will further increase the pressure. We will not let up until we achieve our goal.

In closing, I want to emphasize that the Obama Administration’s commitment to Israel is more than just a continuation of existing policies- it has cultivated new ways to ensure Israel’s security, and to advance our overall bilateral relationship through cultural, economic, and commercial ties. The partnership between the U.S. and Israel is mutually beneficial, and has thrived for many years, and many administrations, and will continue to thrive over many more. Indeed, the U.S. – Israel relationship is too important to be anything less than a top priority. At every level of our government, these words are supported by concrete actions, and our relationship will always receive the time, attention, and focus that it deserves. Allies look out for each other’s interests. That has defined, and will continue to define, the United   States’ approach to this relationship.

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