Statement by Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
HEARING OF THE US HOUSE GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: PREPARING FOR THE WAR ON TERRORISM: UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE
AND DIMENSIONS OF THE THREAT CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE DAN BURTON
Washington, D.C. - September 20, 2001
MR. BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Chairman Burton, distinguished
representatives, I want to thank you for inviting me to appear here
today. I feel a profound responsibility addressing you in this hour
of peril in the capital of liberty. What is at stake today is nothing
less than the survival of our civilization. Now there might have been
some who would have thought a week ago that to talk in these
Apocalyptic terms about the battle against international terrorism,
was to engage in reckless exaggeration or wild hyperbole.
That is no longer the case. I think each one of us today understands
that we are all targets, that our cities are vulnerable and that our
values are hated with an unmatched fanaticism that seeks to destroy
our societies and our way of life.
I'm certain that I speak today on behalf of my entire nation when I
say today we are all Americans in grief and in defiance. In grief
because my people have faced the agonizing horrors of terror for many
decades and we feel an instant kinship, an instant sympathy with both
the victims of this tragedy and the great nation that mourns its
fallen brothers and sisters. In defiance because, just as my country
continues to fight terrorism in our battle for survival, I know that
America will not cower before this challenge. I have absolute
confidence that if we, the citizens of the free world led by
President Bush, marshal the enormous reserves of power at our
disposal, if we harness the steely resolve of free people, and if we
mobilize our collective will, we'll succeed in eradicating this evil
from the face of the earth.
But to achieve this goal, we must first answer several questions:
first, who is responsible for this terrorist onslaught; second, why,
what is the motivation behind these attacks; and third and most
importantly, what must be done to defeat these evil forces. The first
and most crucial thing to understand is this: there is no
international terrorism without the support of sovereign states.
International terrorism simply cannot be sustained for any length of
time without the regimes that aid and abet it, because, as you well
know, terrorists are not suspended in mid-air. They train, arm and
indoctrinate their killer from within safe havens in the territories
provided by terrorist states. Often these regimes provide the
territory with money, with operational assistance, with intelligence,
dispatching them to serve as deadly proxies to wager hidden war
against more powerful enemies which are very often, by the way,
democracies. These regimes mount a world wide propaganda campaign to
legitimize terror, besmirching its victims, exculpating its
practitioners, as we witnessed in this farcical spectacle in Durban
the other week. I think, that to see Iran, Libya and Syria call the
U.S. and Israel racist countries that abuse human rights, I think
even Orwell could not have imagined such a grotesque cynicism.
Take away all the state support and the entire scaffolding of
international terrorism will collapse into the dust. The
international terrorist network is thus based on regimes: on Iraq, on
Iran, on Syria, on Taliban Afghanistan, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian
authority, and several other Arab regimes such as the Sudan. These
regimes are the ones that harbor the terrorist groups. Osama bin
Laden in Afghanistan, Hizbullah and others in Syrian controlled
Lebanon, Hamas Islamic Jihad, and the recently mobilized Fatah and
Tanzim factions in the Palestinian territories, and sundry other
terror organizations based in such capitals as Damascus, Baghdad, and
These terrorist states and terror organizations together constitute a
terror network whose constituent parts support each other
operationally as well as politically. For example, the Palestinian
groups cooperate closely with Hizbullah which, in turn, links them to
Iran and Syria and to bin Laden. These offshoots of terror also have
affiliates in other states that have not yet uprooted their presence,
such as Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia. Now the question is: how did this
come about, how did this terror network come into being?
The growth of this terror network is the result of several crucial
developments in the last two decades. The chief among them is the
Khomeini revolution which established a clerical Islamic state in
Iran. This created a sovereign spiritual base for formatting a
strident Islamic militancy, a militancy that was often back by
terror. Equally important was the victory in the Afghan war, of the
international Mujaheddin brotherhood. I suppose that the only way I
can compare it is to say that the international Mujaheddin is to
Islam what the international brigade was for international communism
in the Spanish civil war.
It created an international band of zealots. In this case their ranks
include Osama bin Laden who saw their victory over the Soviet Union
as providential proof of the innate superiority of faithful Muslims
over the weak infidel powers. They believe that even the superior
weapons of a superpower could not withstand their superior will. To
this should be added Saddam Hussein's escape from destruction at the
end of the Gulf war. His dismissal of U.N. monitors and his growing
confidence that he can soon develop unconventional weapons to match
those of the west.
Finally, the creation of Yasser Arafat's terror enclave centered in
Gaza gave a safe haven to militant Islamic terrorist groups such as
Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Like their Mujaheddin cousins, they and
their Fatah colleagues, drew inspiration from Israel's hasty
withdrawal from Lebanon, glorified as a great Muslim victory by the
Syrian backed Hizbullah.
Now, under Arafat's rule, the Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups
made repeated use of the technique of suicide going so far, by the
way, as to organize camps -- summer camps -- for Palestine children,
beginning in kindergarten, to teach them how to become suicide
martyrs. Here is what Arafat's government-controlled newspaper -- he
controls every word that appears there. Here is what his newspaper,
his mouthpiece, Al-Jihaad Aljadida, said on September 11, the very
day of the suicide bombing in the twin towers and the Pentagon, and I
"The suicide bombers of today are the noble successors of the
Lebanese suicide bombers, who taught the U.S. Marine a tough lesson
in Lebanon. These suicide bombers are the salt of the earth, the
engines of history. They are the most honorable people among us."
Suicide bombers, so says Arafat's mouthpiece, are the salt of the
earth, the engines of history, the most honorable people among us.
Distinguished representative, a simple rule prevails here. The
success of terrorists in one part of the terror network emboldens
terrorists throughout the network. This then is the "who." Now for
Though its separate constituent parts may have local objectives and
take part in local conflicts, the main motivation driving the terror
network is an anti-Western militancy that seeks to achieve nothing
less than the reversal of history. It seeks to roll back the West and
install an extreme form of Islam as the dominant power in the world,
and it seeks to do this not by means of its own advancement and
progress but by destroying the enemy. This hatred is the product of a
seething resentment that has simmered for centuries in a certain part
of the Arab and Islamic world.
Now, mind you, most Muslims in the world, including the vast majority
of Muslims in the growing Muslim communities in the West, are not
guided by this interpretation of history; nor are they moved by its
call for a holy war against the West. But some are and though their
numbers are small compared to the peaceable majority, they
nonetheless constitute a growing hinterland for this militancy.
Militant Islamists resented the West for pushing back the triumphant
march of Islam into the heart of Europe many centuries ago. Its
adherents, believing in the innate superiority of Islam, then
suffered a series of shocks when in the last two centuries --
beginning with Napoleon's invasion in Egypt, by the way -- that same
hated, supposedly inferior West came back and penetrated Islamic
realms in North Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
For them the mission was clear and defined. The West had to be first
pushed out of these areas. So pro-Western Middle Eastern regimes in
Egypt and Iraq, these monarchies and Libya were toppled in rapid
succession, including in Iran. And, indeed, Israel, the Middle East's
only democracy and its purest manifestation of Western progress and
freedom must be wiped off the face of the earth.
Thus, the soldiers of militant Islam do not hate the West because of
Israel. They hate Israel because of the West, because they see it as
an island -- an alien island of Western democratic values in a Muslim
Arab sea, a sea of despotism of course. That is why they call Israel
"the little Satan," to distinguish it clearly from the country that
has always been and will always be "the great Satan," the United
States of America.
I know that this is not part of normal discourse on TV, where people
think that Israel is guiding Osama bin Laden. Well, nothing better
illustrates the true order of priorities of the militant Islamic
terror than Osama bin Laden's call for Jihad against the United
States in 1998. He gave as his primary reason for this Jihad not
Israel, not the Palestinians, not the peace process, but rather the
very presence of the United States, "occupying the land of Islam in
the holiest of places."
Where do you think that is? Jerusalem? The Temple Mount? No. The
Arabian Peninsula, says bin Laden, where America is "plundering its
riches, dictating to its rulers and humiliating its people." Israel,
by the way, comes a distant third after the "continuing aggression
against the Iraqi people." So for the bin Ladens of the world, Israel
is merely a sideshow. America is the target. But reestablishing
resurgent Islam requires not just rolling back the West. It requires
destroying its main engine: the United States. And if the U.S. cannot
be destroyed just now, it can be first humiliated, as in the Tehran
hostage crisis 20 years ago, and then ferociously attacked again and
again until it is brought to its knees. But the ultimate goal remains
the same: destroy America, win eternity.
Now, some of you may find it hard to believe that Islamic militants
truly cling to this mad fantasy of destroying America. Make no
mistake about it; they do. And unless they're stopped now, their
attacks will continue and become even more lethal in the future. The
only way I can explain the true dangers of Islamic militancy is to
compare it to another ideology bent on world domination,
Both movements pursued irrational goals, but the Communists at least
pursued theirs in a rational way.
Any time they had to choose between ideology and their own survival,
as in Cuba or in Berlin, they always backed off and chose survival.
Not so for the Islamic militants. They pursue an irrational ideology
irrationally, with no apparent regard for human life; neither their
own lives, nor the lives of their enemies. The Communists seldom, if
ever, produced suicide bombers, whilst Islamic militancy produces
hordes of them, glorifying them, promising them for their dastardly
deeds a reward in a glorious afterlife.
This highly pathological aspect -- I can use no other words -- this
highly pathological aspect of Islamic militancy is what makes it so
deadly for mankind. When in 1996 I wrote my book "Fighting Terrorism"
I warned about the militant Islamic groups operating in the West with
the support of foreign powers, serving as a new breed of what I call
domestic international terrorists. That is, basing themselves in
America to wage Jihad against America.
Such groups, I wrote then, nullify in large measure the need to have
air power or intercontinental missiles as delivery systems for an
Islamic nuclear payload. They, the terrorists, will be the delivery
system. In the worst of such scenarios, I wrote, the consequences
could be not a car bomb but a nuclear bomb in the basement of the
World Trade Center.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, they didn't use a nuclear bomb. They used
two 150-ton fuel-loaded jetliners to wipe out the twin towers. But if
anyone doubts that given the chance they will throw atom bombs at
America and its allies, and perhaps long before that they'd employ
chemical and biological weapons. This is the greatest danger facing
our common future. Some states of the terror network already possess
chemical and biological capabilities and some are feverishly
developing nuclear weapons.
Can one rule out the possibility that they will be tempted to use
such weapons openly or secretly through their terror proxies,
seemingly with impunity? Or that their weapons might fall into the
hands of the terrorist groups they harbor? We have received a wake up
call from hell. Now the question is simple: do we rally to defeat
this evil while there is still time? Or do we press a collective
snooze button and go back to business as usual?
The time for action is now. Today the terrorists have the will to
destroy us, but they do not have the power. There is no doubt that we
have the power to crush them. Now we must also show that we have the
will to do so, because once any part of the terror network acquires
nuclear weapons, this equation will fundamentally and irrevocably
change and with it the course of human affairs. This is the
historical imperative that now confronts us all.
And now to my third point: what do we do about it? First, as
President Bush said, we must make no distinction between the
terrorists and the states that support them. It is not enough to root
out the terrorists who committed this horrific act of war. We must
dismantle the entire terrorist network. If any part of it remains
intact, it will rebuild itself, and the specter of terrorism will re-
emerge and strike again. bin Laden, for example, has settled over the
last decade from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to the Sudan, then back
again. So we cannot leave any base of this terror network intact.
To achieve this goal, we must first have moral clarity. We must fight
terror wherever and whenever it appears. We must make all states play
by the same rules. We must declare terrorism a crime against humanity
and we must consider the terrorists enemies of mankind, to be given
no quarter and no consideration for their purported grievances. If we
begin to distinguish between acts of terror, justifying some and
repudiating others, based on sympathy with this or that cause, we
will lose the moral clarity that is so essential for victory.
This clarity is what enabled America and Britain to wipe out piracy
in the 19th century. This is how the Allies rooted out Nazism in the
20th century. They didn't look for the root cause of piracy, nor for
the root cause of Nazism, because they knew that some acts are evil
in and of themselves and do not deserve any consideration or any
"understanding". They didn't ask if Hitler was right about the
alleged wrong done to Germany in Versailles. They left that to the
historians. The leaders of the Western Alliance said something
entirely different. They said nothing justifies Nazism, nothing. We
must equally be clear-cut today. Nothing justifies terrorism,
Terrorism is defined not by the identity of its perpetrators, nor by
the cause they espouse. Rather it is defined by the nature of the
act. Terrorism is the deliberate attack on innocent civilians and in
this it must be distinguished from legitimate acts of war that target
combatants and may unintentionally harm civilians. When the British
Royal Air Force bombed the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen in 1944
and one of their bombs unintentionally struck a children's hospital
nearby, that was a tragedy but it was not terrorism. When Israel, a
few weeks ago, fired a missile that killed two Hamas arch-terrorists
and two Palestinian children who were playing nearby were tragically
struck down, that is not terrorism, because terrorists do not
unintentionally harm civilians. They deliberately murder, maim and
menace civilians -- as many as possible. No cause, no grievance, no
apology can ever justify terrorism.
Terrorism against Americans, against Israelis, against Spaniards,
against Britons, against Russians or anyone else is all part of the
same evil and must be treated as such. It is time to establish a
fixed principle for the international community. Any cause that uses
terrorism to advance its aims will not be rewarded. On the contrary,
it will be punished, severely punished and placed beyond the pale.
Ladies and gentlemen, armed with this moral clarity in defining
terrorism, we must possess an equal clarity in fighting it. If we
include Iran, Syria and the Palestinian authority in the coalition to
fight terror, even though they currently harbor, sponsor and dispatch
terrorism -- as we speak, terrorists struck innocent people, murdered
a woman this morning from Yasser Arafat's domain against Islam. If we
include these terrorist regimes in the coalition, then the alliance
against terrorism will be defeated from within. We might perhaps
achieve a short-term objective of destroying one terrorist fiefdom.
But it will preclude the possibility of overall victory. Such a
coalition will necessarily melt down because of its own internal
contradictions. We might win a battle, but we will certainly lose the
These regimes, like all terrorist states, must be given a forthright
demand: Stop terrorism not temporarily for tactical games! Stop
terrorism permanently or you will face the wrath of the free world
through harsh and sustained political, economic and military
sanctions! Now obviously, some of these regimes today will scramble
in fear initial platitudes about their opposition to terror, just as
Arafat, Iran and Syria did, while they keep their terrorist apparatus
intact. Well, we shouldn't be fooled. These regimes are already on
the U.S. list of states supporting terrorism, and if they're not,
they should be.
The price of admission for any states into the coalition against
terror must be first, to completely dismantle the terrorist
infrastructures within their realm. Iran will have to dismantle a
worldwide network of terrorism and incitement based in Teheran. Syria
will have to shut down Hizbullah and a dozen other terrorist
organizations that operate freely in Damascus and in Lebanon. Arafat
will have to crush Hamas and Islamic Jihad, close down their suicide
factories and training grounds, rein in his own Fatah and Tanzim
terrorists and cease the endless incitement to violence.
To win this war, we have to fight on many fronts. Well, the most
obvious one is direct military action against the terrorists
themselves. Israel's policy of preemptively striking at those who
seek to murder its people is, I believe, better understood today and
requires no further elaboration. But there is no substitute for the
key action that we must take: imposing the most punishing diplomatic,
economic and military sanctions on all terrorist states. To this must
be added these measures: freeze financial assets in the West of
terrorist regimes and organizations, revise legislation subject to
periodic renewal to enable better surveillance against organization
inciting violence, keep convicted terrorists behind bars. Do not
negotiate with terrorists and train special forces to fight terror,
and not least important, impose sanctions, heavy sanctions, on
suppliers of nuclear technology to terrorist states.
Distinguished representatives, I've had some experience in pursuing
all of these courses of action in Israel's battle against terrorism.
I'd be glad to elaborate on any of them, if you wish, including the
sensitive questions surrounding intelligence. But I have to be clear.
Victory over terrorism is not, at its most fundamental level, a
matter either of law enforcement or intelligence.
However important these functions are, they can only reduce the
dangers, not eliminate them. The immediate objective is to end all
states' support for and complicity with terrorists. If vigorously and
continuously challenged, most of these regimes can be deterred from
But there is a real possibility that some will not be deterred, and
those may be the ones that possess weapons of mass destruction. Again
we cannot dismiss the possibility that a militant terrorist state
will use its proxies to threaten or launch a nuclear attack with the
hope for apparent immunity and impunity. Nor can we completely
dismiss the possibility that a militant regime, like its terrorist
proxies, will commit collective suicide for the sake of its fanatical
ideology. In this case, we might face not thousands of deaths, but
hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.
This is why the U.S. must do everything in its power to prevent
regimes, like Iran and Iraq, from developing nuclear weapons and to
disarm them of their weapons of mass destruction.
This is the great mission that now stands before the free world. That
mission must not be watered down to allow certain states to
participate in the coalition that is now being organized. Rather the
coalition must be built around this mission. It may be that some will
shy away from adopting such an uncompromising stance against
terrorism. If some free states choose to remain on the sidelines,
America must be prepared to march forward without them, for there is
no substitute for moral and strategic clarity. I believe that if the
United States stands on principle, all the democracies will
eventually join the war on terrorism. The easy route may be tempting,
but it will not win the day.
On September 11, I like everyone else was glued to a television set,
watching the savagery that struck America. Yet amid the smoking ruins
of the twin towers, one could make out the Statue of Liberty, holding
high the torch of freedom. It is freedom's flame that the terrorists
sought to extinguish. But it is that same torch so proudly held by
the United States that can lead the free world to crush the forces of
terror and to secure our tomorrow. It is within our power. Let us now
make sure that it is within our will.