Thanks so much, Roger! As you just heard, Roger accompanied me on my first trip to Israel back in 2002, and he and Linden have become dear friends to my wife, Sandy, and me.
I want to thank Roger, Howard Kohr, Marvin Feuer, and all my other good friends at AIPAC for inviting me to speak here tonight. I'm especially grateful given the latest approval ratings for Congress.
In all seriousness: I understand why many Americans look at Washington, D.C., and shake their heads. It often seems that every single issue has been turned into a political football.
However, I want to assure you, on the issue of U.S. support for Israel, we've been able to maintain an overwhelming bipartisan consensus.
But that should come as no surprise. We all know that the strong support for Israel on Capitol Hill reflects the strong support for Israel in cities, towns, and communities across America. We know that Americans feel a kinship with Israel because our countries share common values, such as liberty, equality, and human rights. America and Israel have stayed true to these values even as we have responded to murderous attacks by some of the most ruthless terrorist organizations on the planet.
I'll just mention a quick anecdote that's always stuck with me: Back in February of 2001—when the Second Intifada was raging, and Palestinians were launching frequent terrorist bombings against Israeli civilians—the famously conservative Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister. Shortly before his government was sworn into office, Sharon addressed the Israeli parliament. And as one news story reported: "He was interrupted several times by heckling from Arab legislators."
Less than a year later, just seven weeks after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis at a Passover seder, Prime Minister Sharon once again addressed the Israeli parliament—and once again, he was heckled by Arab legislators.
I've always remembered that because it told us something very significant about the nature of Israeli society: Despite the numerous wars that Arab nations have launched against it, and despite living under the constant threat of Arab terrorism, Israel remains a country where Arabs can serve in parliament and heckle the prime minister.
Can anyone in this room imagine Jewish legislators being allowed to heckle a Palestinian prime minister? Me neither. And that, to me, goes a long way toward explaining why Americans stand with Israel.
A few moments ago I mentioned the Second Intifada. My first trip to Israel actually took place at the height of the violence in 2002.
Among other places, we traveled to the site of the Dolphinarium discotheque bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed 21 Israelis, almost all of them teenagers. I remember thinking, "You know, my daughters could've been in that disco," and I'll bet Roger had the same thought, too, about his own daughter. It's something I will never forget.
During our trip, I also had the chance to meet with Ariel Sharon and discuss a wide range of issues related to Israel and the broader Middle East. It was three years later that Prime Minister Sharon made a controversial decision, and perhaps the biggest concession in the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict: He unilaterally withdrew all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip and also dismantled a number of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
In many ways, Israel's withdrawal from Gaza offered the Palestinians a test: They would be free to build political, civic, and cultural institutions without any interference from Israeli settlers or Israeli troops. The hope was that Palestinian reformers would seize the moment. Sadly, that is not what happened.
Instead, Gaza has become a terrorist haven run by Hamas; a place where short-range rockets and long-range Iranian missiles have been fired at Israeli civilians; a place where children are indoctrinated in a culture of death; a place where suspected "collaborators" are brutally murdered in the streets.
I realize that some U.S. officials have in the past called for greater "engagement" with Hamas. But a terrorist group that promotes genocidal violence against Israelis and Americans is never going to be reformed by dialogue or concessions. Anyone still harboring illusions about Hamas should consult an August 2012 sermon delivered by one of its senior leaders, the deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who openly prayed for the murder of every single Jew and American on earth.
I don't know how anyone could listen to that sermon and still conclude that Israeli settlements are the biggest obstacle to a Middle East peace agreement. In reality, the biggest obstacle is the lack of a credible negotiating partner on the Palestinian side.
After the 2012 Gaza war and the subsequent United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood, Hamas is more popular and powerful than ever in the Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to posture as a "moderate." But is he, really?
We have to remember that President Abbas is the same man who once published a doctoral dissertation that denied the Holocaust. He is the same man who in September 2011 told the U.N. General Assembly that Israel had been occupying Palestinian land for "63 years." In other words, he believes that the 1948 founding of Israel represented an act of "occupation." Is it any wonder that many Israelis don't trust him?
By the way: According to a 2011 report, Abbas's doctoral dissertation "is the basis for Holocaust studies" in the Palestinian Authority. I find it repugnant that young Palestinians are being fed such poisonous lies in their schools.
I also find it deeply disturbing that the world's number-one state sponsor of terrorism is so close to acquiring a nuclear weapon.
In American politics, we sometimes talk about "game changing" events. Well, if Iran goes nuclear, it could be the ultimate game ender for the Middle East. If you think the region is dangerous now, just wait until Iran triggers a nuclear arms race. Just wait until it blockades the Strait of Hormuz. Just wait until it annexes Iraq. Just wait until it becomes even more aggressive in promoting global terrorism.
In short: Stopping the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons is not optional. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher: There is no alternative.
After all, even without nuclear weapons, the Iranian regime has orchestrated numerous assassinations on foreign soil—including American soil. It has blown up embassies and Jewish community centers in Argentina. It has facilitated the murder of U.S. troops in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And it recently plotted to blow up a crowded restaurant right here in Washington, D.C.
Henry Kissinger famously asked whether Iran was satisfied with being a country or determined to be a cause. I'm afraid the answer is now quite clear: Iran is not content to be a rational state-actor; instead, it seeks to destroy Israel, dominate the Middle East, and fuel anti-Western jihadism.
Our only hope for a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis is to combine debilitating sanctions with the credible threat of military action. The key word in that sentence is "credible." The mullahs will never abandon their nuclear efforts unless they genuinely believe that America is serious about keeping all options on the table.
In order for the United States to maintain credibility with Iran, we must also maintain credibility with Israel.
Just this past week, I helped introduce a Senate resolution that reaffirms both our commitment to defend Israel and our commitment to prevent a nuclear Iran.
As you know, virtually all U.S. aid to Israel is military aid. This aid is critically important to Israeli security, which is why I'm so disappointed that our delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft keeps getting delayed. The F-35s are remarkably sophisticated planes that will dramatically enhance Israel's security. I've seen these aircraft up close and personal at their assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas, and I'm tremendously proud that my state is doing its part to fortify the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Of course, you can't talk about Israeli security these days without mentioning "Iron Dome," the country's world-class missile-defense system. The 2013 defense-authorization bill, which President Obama signed in early January, includes $211 million dollars in funding for the Iron Dome system. As the Wall Street Journal noted during the recent Gaza war, Iron Dome has "managed to make Tel Aviv and other cities nearly impregnable to missile attacks."
At the same time, Iron Dome is only one element of our bilateral security relationship, and we must continue to expand that relationship, especially given the current volatility in the Middle East. As if Iran weren't a big enough problem, we are now witnessing a deadly civil war in Syria.
Rather than go quietly for the good of his country, Bashar Assad has instead chosen to murder tens of thousands of his own people. Western efforts to arm and support the Syrian rebels have been complicated by uncertainty about their ultimate aims, and also by concerns over WMD. Al-Qaeda and other extremists have joined the fighting, and it would be truly calamitous if they got their hands on a massive stockpile of chemical weapons.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, we see a Muslim Brotherhood leader attempting to create a new dictatorship in Egypt; we see rising sectarian violence in Iraq; and we see a substantial al-Qaeda presence in countries such as Libya and Yemen.
In the face of all these security challenges, the U.S.-Israel alliance remains a symbol of democracy and resilience. It is an alliance based on common values and a common determination to defend freedom against terrorists and dictators alike. Now, more than ever, America needs a strong Israel, and Israel needs a strong America.
Thank you very much.