Joint Press Conference with Secretary Hagel and Israeli Defense Minister Ya’alon in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 22, 2013

Tel Aviv, Israel–(ENEWSPF)–April 22, 2013.

MODERATOR:  We will start with a statement by the minister of defense, Mr. Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, followed by a statement by the secretary of defense, Mr. Chuck Hagel.  Please, questions will be afterwards. 

ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER MOSHE YA’ALON:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Shalom.  I was delighted and honored to host my friend, secretary of defense of the United States, Chuck Hagel.  I was very moved, Chuck, that after visiting your troops in Afghanistan, you made Israel the first destination of your term as the secretary of defense. 

Before we begin, I wish to express my condolences for the deadly Boston Marathon attack.  This attack, which once again displayed the brutality of terrorism, took the lives of innocent people and wounded many others.  As a nation, we have a great deal of experience, unfortunately, with the suffering that terrorism causes.  We deeply sympathize with American people’s grief. 

We had today friendly, constructive and substantive talks on a wide range of issues vital to both countries.  The United States and Israel face common threats and challenges in our tough neighborhood, the Middle East, above all from Iran. 

Iran not only threatens the security and stability of the Middle East, but of the entire world.  Iran threatens to wipe Israel off the map.  It backs Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  And it is assisting the Syrian regime to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians.  Iranian regime is involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and more.  And Iran is developing nuclear weapons. 

Today’s talks were a continuation of the intimate dialogue between the United States and Israel on the best ways to meet these challenges.  In every case, Israel prefers diplomatic solutions, though as President Obama stated, Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself against any threat. 

Secretary Hagel, your visit follows the historic visit of President Obama to Israel and his reaffirmation of America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.  And we are thankful for that.  This commitment is demonstrated in America’s generous support for Israel’s defense and President Obama’s pledge to continue that support on the coming future. 

We see your commitment in Iron Dome and other anti-missile systems that save lives.  We see your commitment in the Joint Strike Fighter program and the presidential approval of other advanced capabilities, such as the V-22 for Israel.  We see your commitment in our joint military maneuvers and our extensive intelligence-sharing, all part of our comprehensive strategic cooperation and dialogue.  We see your commitment in your determination to uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge.  We see it all, Mr. Secretary, and we are deeply grateful. 

The United States of America, as a great democracy, and the state of Israel, as the only democracy in this region, share a common interest and common values.  Our relationship reflects it.  I want, Chuck, to express my personal appreciation for your friendship and for your solid and powerful support for our country.  Toda raba.  Thank you. 

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  Bogie, thank you.  Minister Ya’alon, thank you.  It has been my personal pleasure to be here again in Israel and to renew friendships and to build a new working partnership with Bogie Ya’alon.  He was very generous to me yesterday, and in our meetings today, as he noted, we have had some very clear, direct conversations.  And I’m grateful for his time and his leadership at this important time in this relationship between our countries and our people.  And thank you, Bogie, for your own personal commitment, as well as your professional leadership. 

As I noted, I personally — and I know President Obama and our country very much appreciates the strong working relationship between our two countries and the commitment to continue to strengthen and deepen U.S.-Israel relationships.  

Our countries share values, common interest, and an unbreakable bond that grows stronger over time.  These common interests include security for our citizens, a peaceful and stable Middle East, countering terrorism, countering nonproliferation, particularly our efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  The United States has made clear to the Israeli people that we have a commitment to Israel’s security.  That includes our iron-clad pledge, reinforced by President Obama during his visit here last month, as Minister Ya’alon has noted, to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge. 

We are committed to providing Israel with whatever support is necessary for Israel to maintain military superiority over any state or coalition of states and non-state actors.  Given the range of complex security challenges facing the United States and Israel in this region, the Obama administration has made not just maintaining, but enhancing and improving Israel’s qualitative military edge a top priority. 

The United States has always supported Israel’s security needs.  Despite fiscal pressures, President Obama has ensured that Israel receives an all-time high of $3.1 billion in foreign military financing this year.  Last month in Jerusalem, President Obama announced that the United States and Israel would begin work on a new multi-year memorandum of understanding (MOU).  This MOU would extend security funding for Israel beyond 2017, when the current agreement expires. 

The United States Department of Defense and Israel’s Department of — Ministry of Defense are continually working together to ensure that our militaries have the necessary capabilities in place to deal with changing security environments.  These include major advances in cooperative rocket and missile defense efforts between the United States and Israel, including Iron Dome, Arrow, and David’s Sling. 

Since its deployment, the Iron Dome system has saved many lives.  And we are continuing to build on the program’s success.  To date, the United States has provided more than $460 million to support the Iron Dome program.  And we are requesting another $220 million in our fiscal year 2014 defense budget request for Israel to acquire additional Iron Dome batteries.  

Today, we took another significant step in the United States-Israel defense relationship.  Minister Ya’alon and I agreed that the United States will make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities, which he has noted, including anti-radiation missiles and advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft, and most significantly, the V-22 Osprey, which the U.S. has not released to any other nation. 

The new radar and anti-radiation missiles, along with Israel’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program, ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation.  The introduction of the V-22 into the Israeli Air Force will give the Israeli Air Force long-range, high-speed, maritime search-and-rescue capabilities to deal with a number of threats and contingencies.  

These decisions underscore the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever.  And that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future.  

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem.  That sacred living memorial is a reminder of the full potential of human evil, but also the strength and resilience of the Jewish people.  For 65 years, the state of Israel has embodied that strength, and it has had no better friend or ally than the United States of America.  President Obama and I are committed to a strong and secure Israel and to deepening the historic security cooperation between our nations.  Thank you very much. 

Bogie, thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Now there will be a few questions, only four questions, two from the Israeli press and two from the American press. 

Q:  Alon Ben-David from Israeli Channel 10.  Mr. Secretary, during his visit, President Obama extensively presented his position vis-a-vis Iran, and I wanted to ask you about your own position, because you’ve been quoted in the past as saying that you see no — and I quote — “viable, feasible, responsible military option” against Iran.  And I wanted to ask whether you still think that there isn’t any viable military option. 

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I’ve also said over the years one consistent thing, that all military options and every option must remain on the table in dealing with Iran.  That’s been a consistent position of mine, regardless of the positions I’ve held as United States senator and civilian. 

I support the president’s position on Iran.  And it’s very simple.  And I have stated it here, and I’ve said it many times, as the president has.  Our position is, Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, the prevention of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, period.  Thank you. 

GEORGE LITTLE:  Thom Shanker of the New York Times? 

Q:  Thank you.  Mr. Minister, Israeli officials have often warned about what you have termed a “zone of immunity,” a time in which Iran might so deeply bury its nuclear facilities that you would be unable to strike them successfully.  Has the new arms package you described today removed your concerns about this zone of immunity?  And if not, what other weapons would you need from the U.S.? 

And, Mr. Secretary, on the flight over, you acknowledged that there are some modest disagreements between the U.S. and Israel in your assessment of the timeline of the Iranian nuclear threat.  Have you done anything during your talks today to remove those modest disagreements, to synchronize the clock, so to speak?  And if not, would it be advisable for Israel to strike Iran alone?  Thank you both. 

MIN. YA’ALON:  Thank you.  Without going into operational considerations, the Israel strategy regarding the military nuclear aspirations of this Iranian regime is very clear.  By one way or another, the military nuclear project of Iran should be stopped. 

Having said that, we believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort anyhow.  I believe this way regarding any conflict.  And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted, whether it is diplomacy, economic sanctions, or even more support of the opposition in Iran. 

But without a credible military option, there is no chance that the Iranian regime will realize that he has to stop the military nuclear project.  And in certain circumstances, the military option should be exercised.  So this is our very clear policy.  And, of course, we keep our right and capabilities to defend ourselves by ourselves. 

SEC. HAGEL:  As to your question, Thom, regarding your point about whether Israel should strike Iran, as I said on that trip over here, Israel is a sovereign nation.  Every sovereign nation has a right to defend itself.  That calculation has to be made by the sovereign nation. 

As to your question regarding any minor disagreements about timing, what I was referring to is intelligence agencies always are within ranges of their positions based on measurement of intelligence on all issues.  And that doesn’t necessarily always come out exactly the same way or in the same time schedule. 

But I also believe I said that there was no question about our intelligence agencies working very clearly and closely together on this issue, and we are not only in complete agreement on the policy about Iran, but also we are in total agreement on — if a time should get to a point here, where we will then have to develop other strategies or other options, and I don’t think there’s any daylight there or any gap. 

MODERATOR:  Ilil Shahar, Galei Tzahal [Galatz Radio]. 

Q:  Hi to both ministers.  Watching what’s going on in North Korea, don’t you think we — that the West should rapidly increase their sanctions against Iran and even before the coming election in Tehran on June?  

And my question to Mr. Secretary, President Obama told — said when he was here a month ago that he would like to discuss with Israel the defense add, after the recent package will expire in 2017.  What would you — sorry — how much money do you anticipate being able to provide?  And over what time of period — what period of time? 

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, as to the second part of your question, that is being explored and will continue to be explored, the new memorandum of understanding, which obviously will include funding. 

As to your first question, I wasn’t sure what exactly it was that you wanted from me on North Korea.  

Q:  Don’t you think it is the right time to increase sanctions on Iran, because of what’s going on in North Korea? 

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, the sanctions on Iran are, I believe, as potent and deep and wide set of international sanctions that we’ve ever seen on any country.  And those will continue to increase, but I — I believe — and there’s a rather significant metrics and measurements that give you this information, that those sanctions are causing a tremendous amount of difficulty for Iran. 

It is the policy of the United States that — and many of our allies — to work many tracks in dealing with Iran, and certainly international sanctions are one.  And they are having an effect.  Whether it leads to an outcome that we desire remains to be seen. 

But in any event, that’s why you use all the different tools that nations have working together.  And as I said, the military option is always an option, and it is always on the table. 

MIN. YA’ALON:  Regarding North Korea and the Iranian threat, first of all, it might be that the Iranian regime might look at the North Korean case as a precedent to go — to become nuclear.  Having said that, from our point of view, the Iranian threat is more significant than the North Korean regime’s threat. 

The North Koreans use the nuclear capabilities to defend themselves, to blackmail the region and entire world.  This regime doesn’t have aspirations like the Iranian regime, actually to export the revolution, to gain hegemony and influence, first of all, in the region and even the entire — on the entire globe.  And actually even without a nuclear capability, this rogue regime in Tehran is using rogue activities to undermine certain regimes in our regime, as I mentioned, is the main generator and instigator for instability in the region, by being involved in negative manner in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere. 

And thinking about this kind of rogue regime, non-conventional regime, have non-conventional capabilities, is going to be a nightmare not just for the region, but for the entire globe.  So in this regard, we consider the Iranian threat as more significant than North Korean one. 

MR. LITTLE:  And for the last question, we’ll turn to Bob Burns from the Associated Press. 

Q:  Thank you.  A question for each of you on chemical weapons in Syria.  Minister Ya’alon, how extensive does your government believe the chemical weapons use has been in Syria?  And what do you think ought to be done about it? 

And for Secretary Hagel, we’ve heard differing assessments from different governments about whether it’s been used or not.  The Israeli government and some other U.S. allies have said yes; the U.S. government has said we don’t know.  You yourself have called chemical weapon use in Syria a game-changer.  My question is, how can it change anything if you can’t tell whether they’ve used it or not? 

MIN. YA’ALON:  I’ll take it.  We put very clear red lines to the Syrian regime.  The first one, not to allow sophisticated weapons to be delivered or to be taken by rogue elements like Hezbollah and other rogue elements who are operating now in Syria.  We proved it.  When they crossed this red line, we operated.  We acted. 

The second red line is keeping our border on the Golan Heights secured, and in any case that we absorb shots, mortar shells in our side, intentionally or incidentally, we respond, and we did it.  We don’t allow any element, whether it is Syrian armed forces or opposition elements, to cross with fire our sovereignty. 

The third red line that we — our prime minister put is not to allow any rogue elements to put their hands on chemical weapons from the Syrian chemical arsenal.  Now, it is well known that there is a chemical arsenal in Syria, and this is a red line for us.  It hasn’t been tested yet, but we are ready to operate if any rogue element is going to put his hands or any chemical agents are going to be delivered toward rogue elements in — in the region.  It hasn’t been tested yet. 

SEC. HAGEL:  As to your question, I believe that my point was — and what I said was — that currently, our intelligence agencies are assessing what happened and what did not happen.  I also said, as you correctly noted, that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer.  President Obama has said it is a red line. 

We, the United States — along with Israel — have options for all contingencies.  And certainly, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons would — would be a game-changer and cross that red line. 

Q:  And a follow-up.  What would change?  Am I on?  What would change if they did use them? 

SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I’m not going to discuss contingency options and what would change and what wouldn’t change here.  But suffice to say, the president, I think, has made it very clear and my statements have supported what the president said.  And, again, our intelligence agencies are assessing that issue about the use of chemical weapons. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you, Minister. 

SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Just please remain seated until they leave. 

MIN. YA’ALON:  Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.