Joint Press Conference with Secretary Carter and Minister of Defense Ya'alon in Tel Aviv, Israel

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon


STAFF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Ministry of Defense here in Tel Aviv. We will start with statements by the minister of defense and the secretary of defense followed by some questions by the press.

Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon please.

MINISTER OF DEFENSE MOSHE YA'ALON: Thank you. Welcome to Israel, and to the minister of defense, my good friend Secretary of Defense of the United States Dr. Ashton Carter, welcome. This is not your first visit to Israel nor is it the first meeting between us, but this is your first time here as secretary of Defense.

Over the years, you have proved yourself a true friend of the state of Israel and someone who makes Israel's security a top priority. There are few people who know just how great your contribution has been to the security of our country, as it has mostly transpired behind the scenes. Yet, your contribution is the very essence of just how strong the relationship is between the United States and Israel and between the defense establishment of our -- both countries.

The scope and depth of the relationship between the defense establishment of the United States and Israel is unprecedented. Between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense, between our armed forces, intelligence agencies and defense industries.

There is no greater friend of the state of Israel than the United States of America, who provide us our strategic backbone. At this very moment, as we stand here, the United States and Israel continued working together on highly sophisticated technological ventures, joint military training and other cooperative projects.

This morning, we met for a long discussion on the situation in the Middle East, and afterward, we flew together to a strategic vantage point in the north. The nations surrounding us are falling apart and are being replaced by a multitude of terror organizations armed not only with advanced weaponry but with murderous ideology. These terror organizations, most unfortunately, kill innocent people and strive to aim their weapons at the state of Israel and other allies of the United States in the region.

This situation demands all of us -- the United States, Israel and other nations -- to act wisely, responsibly and soberly to identify opportunities and act together to vigorously combat these threats. We must prevent the evil powers, including the merciless terror regime of Iran, Assad regime, Hezbollah, Hamas and the global Islamic jihad, for further igniting the already inflamed Middle East.

My dear friend Ash, the United States and Israel hold shared values and shared interests. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is a striving and blossoming country in a violently erupting region, quite a wondrous achievement.

We in Israel, as in the United States, value human lives, the freedom of expression and equal rights regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. We must continue to fight together for these values and for a better world. If we continue to work together and continue to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel, we will succeed in this mission.

Even the deepest divisions -- and there are such differences of opinion between us -- will not impact our great friendship and solid relationship. We greatly disagree when it comes to the agreement with Iran and fear for the future in the aftermath of its signing. Yet, we discussed this issue in a fully open manner, alongside many other issues of great importance. Our relationship with the United State is a core pillar of Israel's defense.

In the name of the people of Israel, in the name of the government of Israel and Israel's defense establishment, I would like to thank you for your unique contribution to the security of our country and to thank the United States of America, led by President Barack Obama, for being our greatest friend. I hope that you will enjoy the rest of your visit as a fruitful visit in our country. Thank you.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Minister Ya'alon, thank you. I've been looking forward to this visit. I've been here many times before, and we've been planning this trip for quite a while, so it's great to be back with our friends in Israel.

I want to pay a special tribute to Minister Ya'alon, beside me. As a soldier in the Yom Kippur War, then many years later as the IDF's Chief of Staff, and now Minister of Defense, he's played an integral role in Israel's security for generations. As we discussed earlier today while we were looking over the Israel-Lebanon border, it's also something deeply personal to him. I greatly admire that - not just as a counterpart, but as a friend.
 
I'm told there's an old Hebrew saying that translates into English as, "Place guards around your city all day and all night." That shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the many threats surrounding Israel - one of which, Hezbollah, we just saw over the northern border. These threats are why guards are placed around this country all day and all night - from the soldiers we visited up north, to those here at Kirya, to those serving along all of Israel's borders. Like generations before them, they stand watch - all day, and all night - and, as has been true for so long, the closest of allies stand with them: the United States Armed Forces.
 
That's why I'm so proud to stand here today with Minister Ya'alon, because we've been with you from the beginning of your state, and we always will be. Israel is a cornerstone of our strategy in the Middle East, and its security and qualitative military edge are a top priority for America, for our military, and for me personally.
 
That's especially true when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, which the deal reached in Vienna last week - which is a good deal - is designed to do. Friends can disagree about whether it will work - and we'll be watching Iran very closely to see - but there's no disagreement about the ultimate objective: we cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon. And there's no disagreement about the threats Israel sees every day - from Iran's destabilizing activities, and from terrorists like Hezbollah, Hamas, and ISIL. That's what I came here to work on with Minister Ya'alon - the problems faced by both our nations, and our overall strategy in this region.
 
Make no mistake: this deal limits Iran, but it places no limits on the United States, the Department of Defense, or the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship - we're moving full speed ahead. Deterrence remains a major part of our strategy here. We're continuing to bolster the security of our friends and allies in the region, especially Israel, to help defend them against aggression, ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf, and check Iranian malign influence. And we're continuing to advance our highly sophisticated military capabilities that, as an insurance policy the President has long stressed, provide all options should Iran violate this deal.
 
Meanwhile, our pledge to defend Israel remains rock-solid. And after years of unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel's security, the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship has never been stronger - and will continue to grow.
 
Let me be clear about what this means.
 
We will maintain our robust force posture that lets us rapidly surge an overwhelming array of forces from the United States and all over the world to help defend Israel if needed - leveraging our most advanced ground, naval, and air assets, married with sophisticated munitions that put no target out of reach.
 
We will maintain our ironclad commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge - which I've worked on personally, and which I know President Obama is also profoundly committed to - so that Israel can defend itself, by itself, from any threat. And we will keep providing advanced capabilities - next year, Israel will be our first and only friend in the region flying the F-35 stealth fighter.
 
We will maintain our vital support for Iron Dome, which last summer had a 90 percent success rate and saved countless Israeli lives.
 
We will maintain our contributions to the David's Sling and Arrow systems that will shoot down longer-range rockets and ballistic missiles.
 
And we will maintain the readiness of our alliance, which we hone through training and exercises together every year.
 
This is only part of what the United States is doing for Israel's security. And as Minister Ya'alon and I discussed in our meeting, if more is needed in the future, then we will do more.
 
Going forward, we will ensure that our forces, and the unmatched power they bring to bear, remain kept at the ready. We will continue standing guard together - all day, and all night.
 
Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you, Secretary of Defense. We will start with the questions.

(inaudible) -- Channel 10, please.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, yesterday, the national security advisor talked about an unprecedented package aid to Israel, following the deal with Iran. Could you explain to us what does an "unprecedented package" means?

And to Minister Ya'alon, (SPEAKING IN HEBREW).

SEC. CARTER: Well, we talked today about quite a number of steps to strengthen our mutual security, from missile defense, which I indicated, to qualitative military edge, to such fields as cyber, joint planning, and we discussed our joint contingency planning for various situations on Israel's periphery, including the one that I got to witness firsthand today with Minister Ya'alon in the north, Hezbollah along the northern border.

The only thing I'd say is that this is an important set of advances. It's not actually unprecedented, because this is the kind of thing that we have done for decades.

My own view is there's a lot more that we can do, and that is the United States' view and that we will continue in that tradition of improving our joint capabilities, improving our joint readiness, improving our joint planning. And that's what we were doing today. That's the whole reason for my visit, which, as I said, is a long-planned one.

MIN. YA'ALON: To the question, we haven't stopped any project working together and, of course, ongoing work between the Pentagon and the defense ministry here and between the U.S. Armed Forces and the IDF in all fields.

We do have now to go through staff work, looking very carefully to the impact of the agreement with Iran. We believe that Iran is going to be strengthened by conventional capabilities.

No doubt, the proxies around us, like Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, other apparatus that Iran is trying to deploy in -- (inaudible) -- we have to look at it very carefully, as we believe they're going to get more money in the current situation.

And of course, we look very carefully to the accumulation of weapons in other countries in the region, to include friendly countries. We have to look at it very carefully, and I believe to the -- to the end of year, we'll come out with our staff work, with our conclusions. So the work hasn't been stopped.

STAFF: And the first question from the U.S. press corps, Laurent in the front row, Agence France-Presse? Can you wait for a microphone?

Q: Laurent Barthelemy from Agence France-Presse.

I would like to ask both of you -- Secretary Carter, you have mentioned the -- the contingency planning, notably for Syria.

I would like to -- to know if you could give us a sense of what is -- what are the different scenarios or what are this -- what is this contingency planning, particularly if you think there is a risk that after Assad's regime fall, there is a risk of Hezbollah taking over the border, the Syrian border with Israel.

Thanks.

SEC. CARTER: Well, we did discuss events in Syria. I mean, obviously, that's a great concern to both of our countries, and it's not confined, although it certainly includes, the fate of the Assad regime.

Syria is, at this time, overrun by lots of different groups, Hezbollah being one of them.
And there are victims in Syria of all kinds. And that's a concern that we and Israel fully share. We did discuss that in some detail today, and even though were up on the border with Lebanon, all you have to do is cast your eye a little bit to the east, and you see the border with Syria.

So Israel finds itself right up against this tumult to its north and its east, and that's why it's so important for us to remain aligned both in terms of our capabilities and in terms of our plans and intelligence and other information that allows us to protect ourselves and one another, which is what our alliance calls for us to do.

MIN. YA'ALON: We believe that Syria is like an egg which has become omelet. There is no way to make egg from an omelet. We don't see any chance for unification, Syria as a solid unified state as it was in the past, in the coming future.

And as we can see now, we have already (inaudible) enclaves. And as we stand along the shore, Syrian Kurdistan in the north, the Druze are concentrating in certain area in the south. And we have many Sunni elements like I.S. in the east, to the east, and Jabhat al-Nusra and former Free Syrian Army militias operating now together as coalition, calling (inaudible) in the north near (inaudible) or in the south in the Golan heights.

We have a very clear policy. In one hand we don't want to intervene. We don't believe that Israel can contribute by saying we are supporting this side or we are against another side. But we keep very carefully, very clear red lines, which are well-known in Syria and beyond. We don't allow the delivery of sophisticated weapons, especially from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah and other organizations.

Of course, we don't allow chemical agents to be delivered to terror organizations, and we don't allow any violation of our sovereignty, especially in the Golan Heights. When it happens, we act.

So I am not sure what would be the future of Syria. It's very difficult to predict. But for sure, chronic instability is going to characterize Syria for a very long period of time.

STAFF: (Inaudible)

Q: First question to Secretary Carter. Three weeks ago, Minister Ya'alon said on the record that the main disagreement between Israel and the United States is we see Iran as the problem, and the United States sees it as the solution to problems in the region. Do you agree with this assessment? Does the administration see Iran as part of the solution?

And the question to Minister Ya'alon, we are seeing already that the United Nations Security Council has decided to approve the agreement. European countries are sending ministers and business delegations to Iran. Do you really think that even if the American Congress votes against it, the deal can be rolled back?

SEC. CARTER: Well with respect to your question, first of all about Iran, we are concerned about the threat from Iran. What the so-called deal does, which is a good deal as I said, because it comprehensively and verifiably removes this source of threat and uncertainty in the region.

However, as we saw on the northern border today, there are other concerns emanating not only from Iran and its destabilizing behavior, but other threats as well, which ISIL is another that is very important to us also. So that's the very reason why we work together as two friends and two allies in a region that is filled with dangers and threats. And we've worked for decades together on those, and they're not confined, unfortunately, to any one particular one.

But the solution lies in our strategy. And at the cornerstone of our strategy is the defense of Israel and the support of our other friends and allies in the region. And I can -- should add also, freedom of navigation, countering malign activities, including by Iran, aggression by all parties, and of course the tremendous problem associated with ISIL and its various affiliates and like-minded terrorist organizations in the region.

So there's plenty to do for the United States and Israel, and that's what we've been doing for decades, now. That's what we'll continue to do.

MIN. YA'ALON: With the approval or with the disapproval of the agreement in the Congress, the Iran regime is going to remain a messianic, apocalyptic regime with aspiration for hegemony in the region, fighting especially the Sunnis. Both of us are considered by this regime as Satan. We are lucky to be considered a minor Satan. America is a great Satan.

Nevertheless, bearing it in mind, there are certain issues to be discussed and dealt in the coming future: the terror fight of this region. We are talking about a regime which actually involved in any conflict in the region, not in almost any conflict, by supporting in most of the cases to exclude the fight against ISIS, they are on the other side by supporting Hezbollah, by supporting Hamas Palestinians, Islamic jihad, by supporting every party, whether it's Shia or Sunni, ready to challenge Israel and challenge American interests as well, like in Yemen or in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. And we are now talking about terror -- terror infrastructure in South America, in Asia, five continents they act on.

This is aspiration for hegemony beyond the Middle East. So in this regard, these issues are not over anyhow, and we have to deal with it. And I am sure that we will cooperate on these issues in the very near future.

STAFF: And the final question from the U.S. press corps, Helene Cooper from the New York Times.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister this morning posed a rhetorical question. He said if the Iran nuclear deal is such a good deal, then why does the U.S. need to increase security cooperation with Israel and to reassure its Arab allies?

I ask you to answer that.

And for Mr. Ya'alon, how did you express your concerns about the Iran deal to Mr. Secretary? And after speaking to him, do you feel reassured?

SEC. CARTER: Well, we need to increase our security cooperation with Israel not because of the deal, but because of all the other factors that we've been talking about. The deal addresses one very important source of danger and instability by preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But it doesn't end there. Just look around this region.

In fact, the minister just named some other places that are not immediately on Israel's border, but are also in turmoil, and in their various ways, present dangers to us and our ally, Israel. So there's plenty to do. And that's what we've been talking about all day, and we'll continue to talk about while I'm here.

MIN. YA'ALON: Actually, our cooperation between the United States and Israel regarding security started long before the agreement. And we work together on many issues, sharing common interests, as well as common values. So it's not going to be ended because of the agreement.

We feel like there is a need to deal with the impact and the outcome of the agreement, as I said earlier. And for sure, we will cooperate on these elements, talking about risks and opportunities as well in our region in order to meet our challenges, and I am sure that as it was in the past, that it is at present time, it will be in the future, and it will be enhanced in the coming future.

STAFF: Thank you. There will be no more questions. Thank you Secretary. Thank you Minister.

MIN. YA'ALON: Thank you.