Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, and Israeli Acting National Security Advisor Jacob Nagel at the Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States and Israel on Security Assistance

Special Briefing
Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
September 14, 2016

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State and to the Treaty Room to celebrate and witness the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the United States and Israel on military assistance and missile defense.

It’s an honor to have all of you here today. Let me start by welcoming His Excellency Ron Dermer, the ambassador of Israel, and his superb embassy team. I would also like to welcome the Honorable Dan Shapiro, our excellent ambassador to Israel, who worked so hard to realize this memorandum of understanding.

I would also like to welcome and acknowledge the members of Congress here today who have been such stalwart partners in promoting and enhancing the security of Israel: Senator Shaheen, Senator Bennet, Representative Granger, Representative Levin, Representative Lowey, Representative Deutch, and Representative Wasserman Schultz. Thank you for your presence and your support. We are grateful for your unshakable commitment to the security of Israel and the well-being of the relationship between our two great nations and peoples.

I would also like to extend a warm welcome and congratulations to two very special guests – General Yaakov Nagel, head of Israel’s national security council, and Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor to President Obama. These two patriots and extraordinary national security professionals played the central roles in fashioning this memorandum of understanding, the single largest pledge of military assistance to any country in the United States’s history.

To begin this celebration, please allow me to call on Ambassador Susan Rice for a few words for all of us. Thank you. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR RICE: Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you very much, Ambassador Shannon, for hosting us, for your kind introduction. And to everyone here today, welcome. On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Carter, I’m delighted to join you as we reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.

I want to welcome the Israeli delegation, including Ambassador Dermer, and my counterpart and friend General Nagel, who has been a very valued partner in these negotiations. We’re delighted to be joined by members of Congress and leaders from the American Jewish community, along with representatives from across our governments whose hard work and dedication have brought us to this moment.

Let me especially recognize the exceptional efforts of the entire U.S. negotiating team across departments and agencies, which I was very proud to lead. In particular, I am deeply grateful to the National Security Council’s outstanding senior director for the region, Yael Lempert, who is as responsible as anyone for getting this agreement across the finish line.

For as long as the state of Israel has existed, the United States has been Israel’s greatest friend and partner. That ironclad bond has endured l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation – across parties and administrations. And on behalf of President Obama, let me say that we are all today thinking of and praying for an extraordinary leader who has embodied and deepened that connection over the generations, President Shimon Peres, Israel’s national treasure.

As a founder, a dreamer, a doer, a warrior, and a peacemaker, President Peres quite literally helped build the state of Israel. He is one of his country’s greatest leaders and most eloquent advocates, and certainly one of its warmest, wittiest, and most quotable. And in one of those mysterious quirks of history, President Peres fell ill on the anniversary of one of his most notable accomplishments – 23 years since the day he helped bring together President Clinton, Prime Minister Rabin, and Yassir Arafat for that historic handshake on the south lawn of the White House. Ever since he and I became fast friends when I first started at the United Nations, I’ve always been able to count on President Peres to call or drop a note whenever he senses that I might be going through a rough patch. In the same way, our thoughts and prayers today are with President Peres and his family at this most difficult time.

Since the day he took office, President Obama has consistently provided Israel with all of the support it needs to defend itself in a dangerous neighborhood. Over the past eight years, the United States has provided Israel with almost $24 billion in military aid. We’ve invested over $3 billion in Iron Dome and other missile defense technologies, which have saved countless Israeli lives. This funding has permitted Israel to acquire the world’s most advanced military capabilities. This year, for instance, we’re delivering the F-35 fighter jet, making Israel the only Middle East nation with this cutting-edge aircraft. And we are proud that no other administration in history has done more for Israel’s security.

Today, we’re making another unprecedented commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people. Like any discussion between friends, these talks have had their shares of twists and turns, but I think the end result speaks for itself. The memorandum of understanding we’ll be signing shortly commits to providing Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years, including $33 billion in foreign military financing funds and an unprecedented commitment of $5 billion for missile defense. This marks a significant increase over our existing funding and it will ensure that Israel has the support it needs to defend itself by itself and to preserve its qualitative military edge.

This is the single largest pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history. At a time when we’re tightening our belts across the board, with the harmful sequestration spending cuts set to return in just a couple years, this MOU nonetheless greatly increases our military assistance commitment to Israel. And that’s not an accident. It’s a reminder of the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security. This additional funding will, among other things, allow Israel to update the lion’s share of its fighter aircraft fleet, including the acquisition of additional F-35s and F-15s. It will also enable Israel to substantially enhance the mobility of its ground forces. And as Israel continues to face the threat of rocket fire, this funding will help Israel to further strengthen missile defense systems like Iron Dome.

For years, the United States funding for Israeli missile defense has been subject to the uncertainty of the annual appropriations process. Some years the amount of missile defense funding has been unclear for months at a time. Some years it’s even declined. With this funding, General Nagel and his colleagues in the ministry of defense will be able to count on a steady multiyear commitment – put it down in writing, count on it – and greater certainty for Israel will breed greater certain – excuse me – and greater certainty for Israel will breed greater security for Israel.

As we strengthen Israel’s security for the coming decade, we also remain committed to Israel’s security over the long term, and that’s why we’ve worked with our international partners to achieve an Iran nuclear deal that has closed off every one of Iran’s paths to obtaining a nuclear weapon, which we will continue to vigorously enforce.

That’s also why we continue to press for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. As the President has said, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestinian state.

Finally, I’ll note that this MOU is not just good for Israel, it’s good for the United States. Our security is linked. When allies and partners like Israel are more secure, the United States is more secure. Moreover, our Israeli friends will be able to buy more of the advanced capabilities produced by the United States, which will support American jobs. Like so many aspects of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, this MOU is a win-win.

As National Security Advisor, I know better than to predict with full confidence what the future holds. We can’t know exactly what, in the next ten years, circumstances will bring, what opportunities and threats will arise, what challenges we’ll face. But we – what we do know is this, and what this MOU underscores is the following: The United States will always be there for the State of Israel and the Israeli people today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: It is now my pleasure to invite General Nagel to offer his remarks.

MR NAGEL: Thank you, Ambassador Rice, Under Secretary Shannon, the Ambassador of the United States to Israel Dan Shapiro, my good friend, Ambassador of Israel to the United States Ron Dermer, the Israeli Defense Attache Major General Yaacob Ayish. Distinguished guests, first of all I want to thank you, Ambassador Rice, for the kind words and best wishes you expressed for former President Shimon Peres. Along with all the people of Israel, I am praying for him, and I know that in this room and in so many places throughout the world, people are praying for a man who is rightly respected and admired.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel has no better friend, no more reliable, strategic ally, no more important partner than the United States of America. As Israel’s acting national security advisor, that is something I see and feel each and every day. But on days like today, when we are strengthening a certain pillar in the rock-solid alliance between our countries for another decade into the future, everyone can see and feel the special relationship between our countries and our peoples. On behalf of the prime minister of Israel, I wish to thank President Obama and Ambassador Rice for forging this historic agreement with us which has great strategic significance. I also want to thank all the members of Congress who are here for the strong bipartisan support they provide Israel year after year and for their support for this memorandum of understanding.

The military assistance package that the United States has generously agreed to provide Israel is not taken for granted and will help us shoulder the enormous defense burden that we face and enable better Israel – and enable Israel to better defend itself by itself against any threat. This unprecedented assistance will also cover a robust missile defense funding through the next decade for the first time and will help us effectively plan and develop multi-layer missile defense systems to counter the growing missile threats in our region.

A strong Israel is an island of stability in a stormy Middle East and an important partner in the fight against the forces of terror and extremism in our region and beyond. That is why we believe that this assistance is not only a critical investment in Israel’s security, but also an investment in regional stability as well as an investment in the security of the United States and its citizens.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize those people who helped us reach this important day: first and foremost, the President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, and the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, who entrusted us with this important mission in the faith that it could be completed in a manner that would strike the right balance between the needs and capabilities of both our countries.

I want to thank Ambassador Susan Rice. Over the past year, as a result of our many long meetings, I feel like I have gotten to know you a little bit. I greatly admire your professionalism and deeply appreciate your determination and dedication to reaching an agreement.

Special and heartful thanks to Yael Lampert and your talented team who conducted the negotiations with me and my team through many ups and downs and were very successful in navigating all the obstacles until our mutual goal was achieved. Yael, you are a true professional. You had clear goals, but you were always open to hearing the concerns, the requests, and the constraints on our side in order to find common ground.

A word of thanks also to Dr. Phil Gordon as well, who started this dialogue with me more than three years ago. I want to thank Ambassadors Dan Shapiro and Ron Dermer, who were intimately involved in this process from the beginning, as well as our military attache General Yaacob Ayish for his valuable advice every time when they were needed.

I would also like to thank my colleague, Major General Amikam Norkin and his team at the IDF Planning Directorate, the J5, the staff of the ministry of defense, the ministry of finance, and the ministry of foreign affairs, and of course, all those who supported me at the national security council in all stages of these long negotiations.

Hundreds of people worked on both sides of the ocean to enable us to sign this agreement in few moments, and I am grateful to each and every one of them.

On a personal note, I want to thank the two former Israeli national security advisers, Major General Yaakov Amidror and Mr. Yossi Cohen, who gave me this mission, and of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave me the full mandate to reach this agreement. For me, this ceremony marks the end of a chapter, a chapter that began with President Obama’s visit to Israel in 2013 when he first expressed his interest in reaching a new MOU with Israel and which ends here at this signing ceremony in this impressive room in the State Department.

I am confident that this agreement will strengthen both our countries and the remarkable alliance between us. This agreement is a great blessing to the state of Israel for the coming new era. I know I speak on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu and all the people of Israel when I express Israel’s deepest gratitude to President Obama, the American Congress, and the American people. Thank you and shana tova. (Applause.)

(The memorandum was signed.)

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the ceremony. Thank you so much for attending.