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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum (As Delivered)

Well, thanks for that great introduction and good morning, everybody. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this morning.

It is so great to see so many friends here today. I want to thank Senator Collins for her leadership.

And let me thank all of you for showing up, and for engaging in the policy process, and for making your voices heard, and for everything that you do to strengthen America's partnership with Israel.

You know, that relationship is rooted in more than just shared interests. It's rooted in the shared values of democracy, and freedom, and the rule of law. 

So let me be clear from the very start. 

America's commitment to Israel's security is ironclad. 


It is not negotiable.

And it never will be. 

Now, I'd like to talk today about how we're helping Israel meet its security challenges, and about the strategic power of partnership, and about the values that make the U.S.-Israel relationship special. 

And that's all especially important at this moment in history. 

As President Biden has said, we are in "a decisive decade." 

And the United States stands determined to strengthen democracy and defend the rules-based international order. 

And so we can't afford to let this moment pass. 

These next few years will determine whether our children and grandchildren inherit an open world of rules and rights—or suffer in an era of emboldened tyrants who seek to dominate by force and fear.

So we're strengthening our coalition of like-minded allies and partners around the world and employing a truly integrated deterrence to ward off conflict and deter potential foes in any region or any domain. 

And as we bolster our 21st-century deterrence, we're fortified by allies and partners who share our commitment to a free and open international system.

And that's because of one simple military truth. 

And that truth is that our allies and partners are a phenomenal force multiplier.

Our network of alliances and partnerships is one of America's core strategic strengths. And no other country on Earth has anything like it.

And that's especially important in today's Middle East. 

You know, I've served and fought for decades in the region, and I'm convinced that it can be more stable and more secure. 

And my brief, 41-year career in uniform—

[Laughter and applause]

—taught me a clear lesson: we can do so much more when we come together than when we let ourselves be split apart. 

So in the Middle East, we will continue to stand up for our interests, our principles, and our friends. And as we work to strengthen our coalition in the region, Israel's involvement is key.

This year, we will celebrate 75 years since the founding of the State of Israel. 


And the ties between our two democracies run proud, and they run deep. 

As John F. Kennedy said in 1960, "Friendship with Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment." 

And it still is. 


So ladies and gentlemen, let me say proudly: America's commitment to Israel's security has never been stronger. 


You can see it in our actions. 

You can see it in encounter after encounter.

And you can see it in our determination to ensure that Israel will always, always be able to defend itself.


You know, I chose to travel to Israel in my very first months as Secretary of Defense. 

I was struck by the beauty of the country, by the depth of its history, and by the warmth of its people. 

I was deeply moved to have the chance to go to mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 

And I told the Israeli officials that I met with on that trip that working with them felt just like dealing with family. 

Because it is. 


And I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that President Biden feels exactly the same way. 

You know, he still talks fondly of meeting Prime Minister Golda Meir on his first trip to Israel as a young senator. 

And as President Biden put it when he visited Israel last July, "The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone-deep. It's bone-deep. And generation after generation, that connection grows."

And so ladies and gentlemen, it's our duty to reinforce that bond—to keep it bipartisan, vigorous, and strong.


And I made that clear again last Wednesday when I spoke to Israeli Minister of Defense Gallant, and that was my first conversation this year with one of my foreign counterparts. 

Israel's security is a core interest of the United States. That's held true under both Democratic and Republican presidents. 

And we're going to keep it that way.


At the President's direction, we are working each and every day to ensure that Israel can protect itself and its citizens.

And thanks to President Biden's leadership, we have the Jerusalem Declaration, which reinforces our commitment to Israel's long-term security. The United States is providing Israel with $3.8 billion annually. Now that's divided into $3.3 billion per year in foreign military financing, and another $500 million in funding for Israeli missile defense. Now that's the highest that it's ever been. 

And all that is in keeping with the Memorandum of Understanding that the Obama-Biden Administration forged with Israel in 2016. 


And as you know, that was the largest security assistance package in U.S. history. 


And in the Jerusalem Declaration, President Biden has affirmed his commitment to implement the memorandum fully. 

So that means upholding Israel's qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

It means strengthening Israel's ability to defend itself against terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizballah, groups that deliberately target Israeli civilians. 

It means regular U.S.-Israel military exercises to improve our interoperability and increase our military cooperation—and this year, we have the most robust exercise schedule ever. So we're really proud of that.


It means joint research and weapons development. 

It means working together on cutting-edge defense systems—including U.S. support for Israel's new laser-enabled Iron Beam. 


It means regular strategic dialogues. 

It means vigorous diplomacy to reinforce Israel's security and legitimacy. 

And it means working tirelessly to stand up for Israel's right to defend itself.


Now, we do all this because we understand clearly the dangers that Israel faces.

And going back to my days at U.S. Central Command, I have consistently said that the greatest threat to Israeli security, and to the region, is the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

We fully understand the dangers of the Iranian government's destabilizing actions—including its support for terrorism, its dangerous proxies, and its threats to wipe Israel off the map. 

Unfortunately, Iran has refused repeatedly to engage in meaningful diplomacy on the nuclear front, and now they are taking actions across numerous fronts that make diplomacy even harder.

We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  

But let me be clear. 

The United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. 

[Standing ovation]

And if Iran is unwilling to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure.


Now, the Iranian government's recent outrages have only deepened our conviction and concern. 

The regime has killed, and beaten, and jailed its own citizens for daring to speak out against its repressive rule. 

And we're deeply moved by the courage of the Iranian people in standing up for their basic rights. 

But Iran is also stoking instability across the region—including its support for terrorists and militias, and its proliferation of drones, and its menacing cyber activities, its maritime aggression, and its continued threats against foreign officials. 

So Iran's reckless actions don't just threaten Israel. They endanger the entire Middle East and beyond, including by supporting Russia's cruel targeting of civilians in Ukraine. 

And increasingly, U.S. partners understand the importance of a regional approach to this kind of shared danger. 

So we're working closely with Israel and our allies and partners to impose coordinated pressure on the Iranian regime.

And as we do so, we're determined to expand the Middle East's security architecture. 

That means bolstering Israel's security by deepening its relationships with its neighbors.

It means driving to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords and to forge other normalization agreements.


And it means mediating the talks between Israel and Lebanon that led to last year's historic agreement to establish their permanent maritime boundary and lower the prospect of violence.  

And it means working to embrace the possibilities in the new relationships that Israel is now forging with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and others. 

Those breakthroughs offer new opportunities for security cooperation, prosperity, and people-to-people ties. 

And they offer important new openings to Israel to further normalize its relationships with its Arab neighbors. 

You know, when I ran CENTCOM, Israel wasn't considered a part of my area of responsibility. It belonged to U.S. European Command, or EUCOM. 

But I always insisted that Israel's security was critical. And so my staff at CENTCOM exchanged liaison officers with the Israeli military, but I wanted to do even more. 

So I flew on a number of occasions to Europe to discuss regional security issues in person with both the head of European Command and with the Israeli Chief of Defense. 

And I went those extra miles because of the importance of Israel's security, and its place in the region. 

And I'm especially pleased that our Unified Command Plan has now, rightfully, shifted Israel into CENTCOM's area of responsibility.


That reflects our approach to the Middle East—and that approach is rooted in integration and interoperability.  

Just think of the 21st-century threats that we face. They include armed drones, global terrorist groups, pandemics, or the climate crisis. 

And those dangers cross borders as freely as a storm. And we can meet these common challenges only through common resolve. 

So we're strengthening our partnerships with countries that understand the importance of the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure. 

And we're building political, economic, and security connections among our partners, including through integrated air and maritime defense structures. 

And we're increasing our military interoperability with Israel and our other friends even as we work together on innovative new ventures. 

Now, normalization between Israel and its neighbors is profoundly important. But for Israel's long-term security, there is still no substitute for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  

As President Biden has said, "a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state—living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign, and democratic Palestinian state."

And anything that drives us further from that possibility harms Israel's long-term security.

So we will continue to stand up for the shared democratic values that have always anchored the deep friendship between the United States and Israel.

And that friendship has stood strong through countless elections and changes of government, in both of our countries.

Now, as everyone here knows, Israel recently held free and fair elections. 

And we again congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu.  

He has promised that his new government will, in his words, "work for the benefit of all residents of the State of Israel, without exception."

We welcome that commitment. 

And we expect the new Israeli government to continue to work with us to advance our shared values and interests, just as the United States has with previous Israeli governments.  

As my friend Secretary of State Blinken noted recently, we'll continue to evaluate this democratically elected government by its policies.

And we'll continue to work to prevent any parties from taking actions that could push the two-state solution further out of reach.  

And we'll work to speak with our Israeli friends honestly and respectfully, as partners should.

And we'll continue to oppose any acts that could trigger more insecurity.

That includes Palestinian terrorist attacks and moves to delegitimize Israel. 

It includes Israeli settlement expansion. 

It includes disrupting the historic status quo at holy sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere. 

And it includes any incitement to violence.  

Ladies and gentlemen, in today's interconnected world, we all need to steer together toward security, stability, and openness. 

And we need to come together to advance the cause of human freedom. 

You know, history is full of the stories of small countries fighting to defend themselves against great odds. 

No country should have to live under the threat of aggression and atrocity. 

And you can sometimes hear an echo across the decades. 

As many of you know, back in 1962, President Kennedy made a historic decision. For the first time, the United States would provide Israel with a cutting-edge arms system to defend the Jewish state. 

And Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his Deputy Defense Minister, a young Shimon Peres, had helped convince President Kennedy to sell Israel an American surface-to-air missile system known as HAWK.

In fact, Peres told Kennedy that he had come to ask for some HAWKs to help out Israel's doves.  

And so those HAWK systems helped to make Israel more secure throughout the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and beyond. 

Now, the HAWKs are no longer state-of-the-art technology. But they can still help a besieged democracy defend itself. 

And as Russia has cruelly targeted Ukraine's cities and civilians, we are working with our allies and partners to provide the HAWK capability to the free government of Ukraine. 


And the United States has worked to refurbish some of the HAWK missiles in our own inventory to pair with the HAWK launchers. 

And so once again, the world's democracies are sending HAWKs to help out the doves. 


Once again, nations of goodwill are standing together against aggression. 

Once again, free people are standing up for an open world of rules and rights.


And so we're calling urgently on all of our friends to do their part. 

We've seen inspiring cooperation and coordination from the some 50 countries worldwide in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that I convene and lead, including countries in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Ukraine's friends and fellow democracies aren't the only ones choosing sides in this conflict. 

During this cruel winter, Russia has been using drones from Iran to kill Ukrainian citizens. 

In the process, Iran is gaining important battlefield experience and forging a strategic relationship with Russia.  

Now that is deeply, deeply troubling. 

It's a problem for American security, and for Israeli security, and for global security. 

And it just underscores the importance of standing up for what's right.

And so the stakes are high—for all of us.

But the principles that we are defending are clear and true. 

As President Biden has said, "This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple." 

And he added, "Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe in, that should make your blood run cold."

I know that friends of Israel understand how important that principle is.

And that's why so many countries around the world have stepped up to help Ukraine defend itself. 

You see, none of us want our children to live in a world where might makes right and where borders are redrawn by force. 

So ladies and gentlemen, this is a decisive decade, and we're at an hour of testing. 

This is an hour to stand up for the rules-based international order. 

This is an hour to stand together with the allies and partners who share our values. 

This is an hour for leadership and responsibility. 

And this is an hour to deepen democracy worldwide.

That's the challenge that we face. 

And I am confident that we will meet it together. 

Thank you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. 

[Standing ovation]