Netanyahu: ‘If Israel Wasn’t Here, the Middle East Would Collapse’
In his opening statements, Bismuth, who was the first foreign journalist to interview US President Donald Trump after his election victory in 2016, hailed the president for “keeping every promise he has made” to the State of Israel.
The US-Israeli alliance “has always transcended partisan lines,” Bismuth added, before welcoming Netanyahu to the stage.
After a short film highlighting key points in US-Israeli cooperation since 1948, which included the US investment in the Iron Dome air defense system in 2010; Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, Bismuth asked Netanyahu if there were “new peaks” he was hoping for.
Netanyahu answered that US-Israeli cooperation was always growing.
“I’m being very careful, but the cooperation now is something we have never had,” said Netanyahu.
“You’ve heard of the ‘5 I’s’ in US defense? Well, there is a sixth “I,” and that is Israel. Israel not only receives intelligence from the US, but gives the US intelligence that is second to none. Israel is a tremendous ally of the US,” said Netanyahu.
The prime minister added that Israel did not seek “American boots on the ground.”
“We don’t ask America to fight for us. Can you name any other [US] ally that categorically says that? Israel is the best ally the US has,” said Netanyahu.
“Israel makes technology that services not only intelligence at the government level, but in every field of human endeavor. We are in the middle of a technological revolution,” he added. “If Israel wasn’t here, the Middle East would collapse.”
Israel ensures that “the entire region remains pro-Western, pro-American,” insisted the prime minister.
Netanyahu noted that he was happy with the direction the region was going and that he’d like to “see more of the same, but to also institutionalize the [growing] alliance [between Israel and moderate Arab states] in such a way that it would withstand the winds of change.”
Iran ‘used money to realize its terrorist ambitions’
Regarding the rising tensions with Iran, the prime minister said the Islamic republic “received a huge gift in the nuclear deal without having to change any of its behavior.”
He continued: “Within a matter of years, it will be able to enrich uranium without limitations, and therefore in exchange for a temporary freeze of enrichment it would have been able to become a global nuclear power with hundreds of nuclear warheads.”
“Iran also received hundreds of billions of dollars in cash and in credit, immediately after signing the deal,” the prime minister added, “in the assumption that it would become a peace-seeking country and moderate its behavior. The exact opposite happened. It used the money to realize its terrorist ambitions.”
Touching on previous President Barack Obama, who signed the nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu said, “It’s always difficult to challenge the policies of an American president, but I felt compelled to do so. I spoke to two candidates, Trump and Hillary Clinton, both of them heard me out. Trump said, ‘This is the worst deal in the world.’ I’m paraphrasing, he used different language. He won the election and walked away from the deal.”
Netanyahu called the current American diplomatic team of Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman “very strong.”
Turning to the issue of Iran, Netanyahu said that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran was as important as his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
“When Trump walked away from the plan, Iran tried to do two things. First, to plant themselves militarily in Syria. We refused to let that happen. We do what is necessary to prevent that,” he said.
At the same time, Netanyahu explained, Trump is waging a “very forceful confrontation with Iran economically.”
“The Iranian regime is suffering. It’s trying to use its proxies to ‘pin prick’ in the Persian Gulf and escalate the situation in Syria,” he said. “We have to resist.”
Netanyahu said that the US decision to increase sanctions on Iran was the right one, and that his decision to keep Iran from entrenching itself in Syria was “also right.”
“We have to keep up the pressure, not relent,” he said.
‘They must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons’
Bismuth asked Netanyahu if he was worried that nine out of the 10 participants in the US presidential debate on Wednesday favored the nuclear deal.
“When the Arabs and Israelis agree, maybe you should pay attention,” quipped Netanyahu.
“We know something about this region. Iran single greatest threat on the horizon; they must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons. Going back to the JCPOA means giving Iran nuclear weapons. I will not let that happen.”
When asked what Israel must do to maintain bipartisan support in the United States, Netanyahu pointed out that historically, Democrats had been more supportive of Israel than the Republicans. “It was [Republican President Dwight D.] Eisenhower, and the Russians, who forced [David] Ben-Gurion out of the Sinai,” answered Netanyahu.
As far as growing anti-Israel feeling in America, Netanyahu said that there was still considerable support for Israel in the Democratic Party, but the reason sentiment was changing had to do with America—not Israel.
Stressing the need for historical perspective, Netanyahu said that this week’s historic tripartite summit in Jerusalem between Israel, the United States and Russia was “one hell of a change in our international standing.”
With the strongest alliance Israel has ever had with the United States and good relations with Russia, Israel is in a position to speak to both and discuss ways of removing Iran from Syria, the prime minister said.
Bismuth asked Netanyahu if he believed a solution could be found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We must address the root of the conflict. The root remains the Palestinians’ stubborn refusal to recognize the Jewish state along any borders,” he said. “Secondly, I think it demands a political solution. Just because a political solution is hard or must be done in stages, it shouldn’t delay the important Bahrain summit. An economic basis [for peace] is important. It doesn’t exempt the Palestinians from ideological change.”
Netanyahu said that the economic plan rolled out in Bahrain was “very strong” and aimed to change the Palestinian economy from a welfare-based economy to one based on investment.
“It’s a brilliant idea. We did it in Israel, and it worked,” said Netanyahu. “As far as the US and Israel, I truly believe, Israel has no better or greater ally than the US, and the US has no better ally than Israel.”
“It’s not a slogan,” he said. “It’s true.”