Remarks of Sen. Levin at the AIPAC Policy Conference
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
David, thank you for that great introduction. We’re proud to claim David Victor as one of Michigan’s own. He, and his parents before him, have made great contributions to the security of our nation and of Israel. We are all grateful for his leadership.
As most of you know, I am a proud Democrat and a supporter of the President, and so no doubt you’re expecting me to come here this morning to back his policies.
Well, I sure don’t want to let you down! So let me speak to you today both as a Democrat, and as a friend of Israel.
I have worked with this president, during his time in the Senate and his time in the White House. I have seen him up close and personal. There is no bluff or bluster in him. Time and again, he has demonstrated thoughtful, tough and courageous leadership – from ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden, to leading our efforts in Libya and Afghanistan, and importantly to all of us, in our nation’s relationship with Israel.
I worked closely with the President Obama recently, when as David said my Armed Services Committee adopted a bipartisan Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill as part of our defense authorization bill. That’s where it belongs: Defending Israel as part of our defense authorization bill. And that bill is now law and has been signed by the president. The sanctions which are in our bill with the support of the president will cripple Iran’s access to international financial markets and its ability to sell oil.
So the president has not just talked. He has acted. He has acted to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship in his budgets, where despite the fiscal pressures, he has increased the U.S. commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. He has acted internationally to support Israel as an important part of America’s security.
As Iran continues to thumb its nose at the international community, violating six UN Security Council resolutions demanding Iran stop its uranium enrichment, President Obama’s unique credibility around the world has helped forge an unprecedented international coalition opposing Iran’s nuclear drive. He has committed “all elements of American power” to preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon. And he has made clear that our goal is preventing a nuclear Iran, not just containing a nuclear Iran.
When he says all that options are on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran, he means it. I believe him. The world will believe him. I hope the Iranians are rational enough to believe him, because Iran ignores the president of the United States and his words at their peril.
One major U.S. effort on which the Senate Armed Services Committee has worked closely with President Obama and his predecessors is the major commitment of U.S. funding, expertise, and assistance to Israel on missile defense. I want to focus a few minutes this morning on this issue of Israel’s missile defense, because I believe it is an under-recognized factor that can help pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
And here’s why. When Iran faces the fateful nuclear decision before it, it will have to recognize that should it cross the red line which would bring about military action against its nuclear facilities, its ability to retaliate, or even credibly threaten to retaliate, against Israel will be severely degraded by Israel’s missile defenses.
Iran’s primary threat to Israel is its missile arsenal – an arsenal which, combined with a nuclear weapon, would constitute a danger so grave that it must be thwarted. Israeli missile defense systems such as Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome give Israel strong protection against an Iranian retaliatory strike. They provide a formidable, layered defense against a full range of missile threats, from long-range ballistic missiles to short-range artillery rockets. Those systems benefit enormously from American technology, from joint development efforts by our two nations, and from the major assistance of American taxpayers.
There’s more. The United States provides Israel in real-time missile warning and launch data from our satellite and radar systems. And of major significance, U.S. troops are on the ground in Israel, operating a powerful X-band radar that makes a huge contribution to Israel’s defense capability against Iran.
Now Iran is going to have to weigh these facts and add them to the many disincentives to continue its nuclear program. If Iranian leaders believe they can protect their nuclear program from a military attack by threatening retaliation with their missile arsenal, they are mistaken. Should Iran make the fateful choice to develop a nuclear weapon, because of the missile defenses in Israel, Iran’s missiles will not stop Israel or us from doing what we have to do to prevent them from succeeding. Should the sword need to be drawn to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Israel will wield a powerful shield against Iranian retaliation – a shield strengthened and participated in by the United States of America.
America’s relationship with Israel is more than a marriage of convenience, more than a transitory alignment of interests. U.S. presidents of both parties have followed the will of the American people, which is that our commitment to Israel and her people is and must remain unshakeable.
Where support for Israel has long been a unifying force in our nation and in our community, there are now some who, in the hunt for partisan advantage, use excessive and divisive rhetoric to drive a wedge between supporters of Israel.
Now friends of Israel may disagree on which specific policies or actions will keep Israel more secure – just as participants in Israel’s own boisterous democracy at times disagree. But we do a disservice to the security of our nation, and of Israel, if we succumb to those who would use Israel to divide us for partisan gain. The bonds that America and Israel have forged, let no one drive asunder.
Thank you, and may God continue to bless Israel and these United States of America.