Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in front of the US Congress, 20 September 2001
Distinguished representatives, I want to thank you for inviting me to appear before you 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.
There may be 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. No longer.
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 am certain that I speak on behalf of my entire nation when I say: Today, we are all Americans. In grief, as in defiance.
In grief, because my people have faced the agonizing horrors of terror for many decades, and we feel an instant kinship 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, marshall the enormous reserves of power at our disposal, harness the steely resolve of a free people, and mobilize our collective will - we shall eradicate this evil from the face of the earth.
But to achieve this goal, we must first however answer several questions: Who is responsible for this terrorist onslaught? Why, what is the motive behind these attacks? 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 long without the regimes that aid and abet it. Terrorists are not suspended in mid-air. They train, arm and indoctrinate their killers from within safe havens on territory provided by terrorist states. Often these regimes provide the terrorists with intelligence, money, and operational assistance, dispatching them to serve as deadly proxies to wage a hidden war against more powerful enemies.
These regimes mount a worldwide propaganda campaign to legitimize terror, besmirching its victims and exculpating its practitioners — as we witnessed in the farcical spectacle in the UN conference on racism in Durban last month. Iran, Libya, and Syria call the US and Israel racist countries that abuse human rights? Even Orwell could not have imagined such a world.
Take away all this state support, and the entire scaffolding of international terrorism will collapse into the dust.
The international terrorist network is thus based on regimes – Iran, Iraq, Syria, 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 Khartoum.
These terrorist states and terror organizations together form 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 Syria, Iran, and bin Laden. These offshoots of terror have affiliates in other states that have not yet uprooted their presence, such as Egypt, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
The growth of this terror network is the result of several developments in the last two decades: Chief among them is the Khomeini revolution and the establishment of a clerical Islamic state in Iran. This created a sovereign spiritual base for fomenting a strident Islamic militancy worldwide, a militancy that was often backed by terror.
Equally important was the victory in the Afghan war of the international mujahadin brotherhood. This international band of zealots, whose ranks include Osama bin Laden, saw their victory over the Soviet Union as providential proof of the innate supremacy of faithful Muslims over the weak infidel powers. They believed that even the superior weapons of a superpower could not withstand their superior will.
To this should also be added Saddam Hussein’s escape from destruction at the end of the Gulf War, his dismissal of UN 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 gave a safe haven to militant Islamic terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Like heir mujahadin cousins, they drew inspiration from Israel’s hasty withdrawal from Lebanon, glorified as a great Muslim victory by the Syrian-backed Hizbullah.
Under Arafat’s rule, these Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups made repeated use of the technique of suicide bombing, going so far as to run summer camps in Gaza that teach Palestinian children how to become suicide martyrs.
Here is what Arafat’s government controlled newspaper, Al Hayat al Jadida, said on September 11, the very day of the suicide bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:
“The suicide bombers of today are the noble successors of the Lebanese suicide bombers, who taught the US Marines a tough lesson. These suicide bombers are the salt of the earth, the engines of history. They are the most honorable people among us.”
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 the why. Though its separate parts may have local objectives and take part in local conflicts, the main motivation driving the terror network is an anti-Western hostility that seeks to achieve nothing less than a reversal of history. It seeks to roll back the West and install an extremist 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 certain parts of the Arab and Islamic world.
Most Muslims in the world, including the vast majority of 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 nevertheless 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 supremacy of Islam, then suffered a series of shocks when in the last two centuries that same hated, supposedly inferior West penetrated Islamic realms in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf. For them the mission was clear: The West had to be first pushed out of these areas. Pro-western Middle Eastern regimes were toppled in rapid succession, including in Iran.
And 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 is an island of Western democratic values in a Muslim-Arab sea of despotism.
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. Nothing better illustrates this than Osama bin Laden’s call for jihad against the United States in 1998.
He gave as his primary reason 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” – and where is that? – “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” [Al Quds al Arabi, February 23, 1998].
For the bin Ladens of the world, Israel is merely a sideshow. America is the target. But reestablishing a resurgent Islam requires not just rolling back the West; it requires destroying its main engine, the United States. And if the US cannot be destroyed just now, it can be first humiliated – as in the Teheran hostage crisis two decades ago – and then ferociously attacked again and again, until it is brought to its knees.
But the ultimate goal remains the same: Destroy America and win eternity.
Some of you may find it hard to believe that Islamic militants truly cling to the mad fantasy of destroying America.
Make no mistake about it. They do. And unless they are stopped now, their attacks will continue, and become even more lethal in the future. To understand the true dangers of Islamic militancy, we can compare it to another ideology which sought world domination – communism. Both movements pursued irrational goals, but the communists at least pursued theirs in a rational way.
Anytime they had to choose between ideology and their own survival, as in Cuba or Berlin, they 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, while Islamic militancy produces hordes of them, glorifying them and promising them that their dastardly deeds will earn them a glorious afterlife. This highly pathological aspect of Islamic militancy is what makes it so deadly for mankind.
When in 1996 I wrote a book about 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 “domestic-international” terrorists, 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 will be the delivery system. In the worst of such scenarios, the consequences could be not a car bomb but a nuclear bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center.”
Well, they did not use a nuclear bomb. They used two 150-ton fully fueled jetliners to wipe out the Twin Towers. But does anyone doubt that given the chance, they will throw atom bombs at America and its allies? And perhaps long before that, 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 through terror proxies, 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.
Once any part of the terror network acquires nuclear weapons, this equation will fundamentally change and with it the course of human affairs. This is the historical imperative that now confronts all of us all.
And now the third point: What do we 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 reemerge and strike again.
Bin Laden, for example, has shuttled over the last decade from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to the Sudan and back again. So we must not leave any base 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 root out piracy in the 19th century. This is how the Allies rooted out Nazism in the 20th century. They did not look for the “root cause” of piracy or the “root cause” of Nazism – because they knew that some acts are evil in and of themselves, and do not deserve any consideration or “understanding.”
They did not ask if Hitler was right about the alleged wrong done to Germany at Versailles. That they left to the historians. The leaders of the Western Alliance said something else: Nothing justifies Nazism. Nothing! We must be equally clear cut today: Nothing justifies terrorism. Nothing!
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. In this it must be distinguished from legitimate acts of war that target combatants and may unintentionally harm civilians.
When the British bombed the Copenhagen Gestapo headquarters in 1944, and one of their bombs unintentionally struck a children’s hospital, that was a tragedy, but it was not terrorism. When a few weeks ago Israel 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.
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, Israelis, Spaniards, Britons, 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 and placed beyond the pale.
Armed with this moral clarity in defining terrorism, we must possess an equal moral 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 terrorists – then the alliance against terror will be defeated from within. Perhaps we might achieve a short-term objective of destroying one terrorist fiefdom, but it will preclude the possibility of overall victory. Such a coalition will melt down because of its own internal contradictions. We might win a battle. We will certainly lose the war. These regimes, like all terrorist states, must be given a forthright demand: Stop terrorism, permanently, or you will face the wrath of the free world – through harsh and sustained political, economic, and military sanctions.
Obviously, some of these regimes will scramble in fear and issue platitudes about their opposition to terror, just as Arafat, Iran, and Syria did, while they keep their terror apparatus intact. We should not be fooled.
These regimes are already on the US lists of states supporting terrorism – and if they are not, they should be. The price of admission for any state into the coalition against terror must be to first 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 the dozen 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 must fight on many fronts. 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 sanction 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 organizations inciting violence; keep convicted terrorists behind bars. Do not negotiate with terrorists; train special forces to fight terror; and not least important, impose sanctions on suppliers of nuclear technology to terrorist states.
I have had some experience in pursuing all these courses of action in Israel’s battle against terrorism, and I will be glad to elaborate on any one 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 of law enforcement or intelligence. However important these functions may be, they can only reduce the dangers, not eliminate them. The immediate objective is to end all state support for and complicity with terror.
If vigorously and continuously challenged, most of these regimes can be deterred from sponsoring terrorism. But there is a real possibility that some will not be deterred – and those may be 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 apparent 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 dead, but hundreds of thousands and possibly millions.
This is why the US must do everything in its power to prevent regimes like Iran and Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, and 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 secure our tomorrow. It is within our power. Let us now make sure that it is within our will.