National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon addressed the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s 2011 Soref Symposium on May 12, 2011.
During his remarks, Donilon declared that the fundamentals of the security relationship between the United States and Israel are “stronger than they have ever been.” Donilon also spoke about the Obama Administration’s efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and the impact that sanctions are having on Iran’s access to the global economy.
Donilon’s full remarks can be read here.
This fact sheet can be downloaded as a pdf here.
Donilon affirmed the Obama Administration’s “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security:
[W]e have no closer friend and ally than the state of Israel.
The U.S.-Israel relationship is a close friendship, rooted in shared values and cultural common ground. But it has also evolved into a multilayered strategic partnership, to advance shared interests and counter common threats.
Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. We understand the threats that Israel faces. We have to understand them, because those who threaten Israel also threaten us.
He characterized the fundamentals of the U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation as being “stronger than they have ever been”:
Our multi-layered dialogue has produced concrete steps that enhance Israel’s security. While some are focused on noise and distraction, we are focused on fundamentals. And let me say this as plainly as I can—the fundamentals of this security relationship are stronger than they have ever been.
Donilon spoke about the deep security cooperation that takes place on a daily basis between the United States and Israel:
This starts at the strategic level, where our nations have worked together from the certainties of the Cold War to the uncertainties of the Arab Spring to forge a conception of the strategic landscape. We have differed at times about the exact contours of the landscape, but through sustained and very open dialogue we have enriched each others’ understanding of the security challenges we both face.
We have shared our best thinking about the most effective ways to match our resources to the requirements that flowed from our strategic worldview. At the highest level, there are regular meetings and phone calls between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They will meet again next week at the White House.
We also conduct these discussions through an array of channels: The strategic dialogue, the Joint Political-Military Group, and many more. These channels have been ongoing and have proved their worth at every level of our governments.
The enduring relationships our senior leaders have forged with their Israeli counterparts have produced a rock-solid foundation of trust between the Pentagon and the Israeli Ministry of Defense. In 2010 alone, there were nearly 200 senior-level DoD visitors to Israel; and Israeli defense officials visit us just as often.
He spoke about Obama’s efforts to secure funding for the Iron Dome missile system, which has prevented rockets fired by Hamas in the Gaza Strip from killing Israeli citizens:
For more than two decades, the United States has also been working to improve the protection of Israel’s population from the very real and urgent threat of rockets and missiles by partnering with Israel to develop an extensive missile defense architecture. We cooperate across the continuum of development, deployment, and operation of these systems. Our financial and technological support was essential to the Arrow and David’s Sling systems to defend against long and short-range ballistic missiles.
A recent example of the President’s commitment to protect Israel from the scourge of rockets and missiles is our support for Iron Dome- an advanced short-range rocket defense system that has recently been deployed. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then Senator Obama visited Sderot, where he saw firsthand the damage from waves of rocket attacks. So, last year, the President requested that Congress provide Israel with an additional $205 million, on top of the FMF support Israel already receives, for the production of Iron Dome. Throughout its development, the U.S. cooperated closely with Israel, and the additional funding for Iron Dome requested by the President will allow the IDF to deploy additional systems throughout Israel in the years to come.
Already the Iron Dome has proven its worth by intercepting 8 out of 9 rockets fired at Beersheva and Ashkelon in one day.
We are proud to stand by this project. It is imperative that we do so, because there can be no peace without security. The relationship between peace and security is both intricate and reciprocal. There will not be peace until Israel is secure, but Israel can never be fully secure in the absence of a credible peace.
Donilon also listed just some of the other concrete steps being taken by the Obama Administration to support Israel’s security:
Everyone in this room knows that we are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and back that commitment with about $3 billion of foreign military financing every year, regardless of the budget environment. This has helped Israel secure its future in a tough neighborhood. At the same time, we have made our own best technology available, such as the Joint Strike Fighter and sophisticated standoff weapons, so that Israel can defend against evolving threats.
He also spoke about the conditions necessary for peace between Israel and the Palestinians:
[T]here can be no peace without security. The relationship between peace and security is both intricate and reciprocal. There will not be peace until Israel is secure, but Israel can never be fully secure in the absence of a credible peace.
That is why from day one, President Obama has been committed to a process that can lead to two states-a Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state-living side by side in peace and security.
An enduring two state solution can only be achieved through negotiations. There are no short-cuts. But no one should take comfort in the status quo. As we have learned in the Middle East, the status quo is never static. There are demographic and technological clocks that keep ticking. There is a new generation of leaders who will emerge in the region as a result of the changes that are now taking place. And it is in everyone’s interest that they see that peace is possible.
Donilon devoted a significant portion of his speech to explaining President Obama’s efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran:
President Obama has long understood the regional and international consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons’ state. That is why we are committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. From his first days in office, he has made clear to Iran that it has a choice: it can act to restore the confidence of the international community in the purposes of its nuclear program by fully complying with the IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions, or it can continue to shirk its international obligations, which will only increase its isolation and the consequences for the regime. There is no escaping or evading that choice.
He explained the impact that the sanctions are having on Iran as well as specific companies seeking to do business in Iran:
Already, Iran is facing sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before. As a result it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure-and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued. Other sectors are clearly being affected as well. Leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran - and are choosing to no longer do so. These are companies you’ve heard of: Shell, Toyota, Kia, Repsol, Deutsche Bank, UBS, and Credit Suisse, to name just a few. The impact is real.
Donilon said that unless Iran adheres to its international agreements, the Obama Administration will pursue more sanctions against Iran:
Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure. As the President has said: “Iran can prove that its intentions are peaceful. It can meet its obligations under the NPT and achieve the security and prosperity worthy of a great nation. It can have confidence in the Iranian people and allow their rights to flourish. For Iranians are heirs to a remarkable history.”
Like all NPT Parties, Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. But it also has a responsibility to fulfill its obligations. There is no alternative to doing so.
That is why—even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East—we remain focused on ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
Donilon emphasized that Iran has to make a choice between resuming serious diplomatic negotiations with the United States over its nuclear weapons program or face more sanctions:
I want to be clear: the door to diplomacy remains open to Iran. But that diplomacy must be meaningful and not a tactical attempt to ward off further sanctions.
These choices remain available to the Iranian government. In the meantime, America and our partners will keep the pressure on by continuing our current sanctions efforts and seeking new lines of activity to target.
We will continue the hard work of building a regional security architecture, maintaining a strong military presence, equipping our friends with early warning and missile defense systems-including our phased, adaptive approach.
We do all these things because they are profoundly in our national interest. And we do them because America stands by its friends and allies.