Remarks by Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the INSS 15th Annual International Conference
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gives statements to the media at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. Haim Zach/GPO

February 2, 2022

Source: Israel Prime Minister’s Office,

In a far-ranging speech about Israeli domestic and foreign policies, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett presented the views of Israel’s 36th government, in office since June 2021. On foreign and defense matters, he outlined issues pertaining to self-defense, Iran, and the troublesome ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna between the U.S. and other parties. He addressed policies pertinent to the pandemic, economic growth, and Israel’s growing relationship with Arab countries in the Middle East. In outlining the details of a new laser interception system that will be put into use against missiles, rockets, UAVs and other threats along Israel’s entire geographic length, he displayed pride in the low cost of this electric pulse system and suggested Israel’s Arab friends could benefit from similar systems which in turn would create and bolster alliance systems. Only briefly – and carefully – did he mention Iran, describing Israel’s proactive campaign as multipronged: “nuclear, economic, cyber, overt and covert operations, both by ourselves and in collaboration with others.” He made it quite clear that Israel was not in favor of the Vienna talks ending in any agreement where Iran would keep driving toward a nuclear capacity. Bennett noted that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is behaving like the neighborhood bully, by attacking the UAE and in subverting other elites in the region.  “This is the definition of negotiation under fire. This is blackmail.” In speaking about curbing the economic deterioration in Judea and Samaria and successfully passing a budget, the prime minister pointed to how his coalition had arrested the political uncertainty that had characterized Israeli politics in earlier years under the previous administration. It is worth noting that Bennett never mentioned Netanyahu’s name, although he was aware that anyone listening knew that as long as Netanyahu remained in parliament, he was the glue that was keeping together an otherwise broad, diverse, and sometimes rancorous government with its bare parliamentary majority.

Ken Stein, February 7, 2022

“As anyone who has ever gone out on a cold night to navigate a dangerous area knows, intuition can be deceiving. In most cases, those who predominantly rely on luck and gut feelings do not prove successful. You need an image of the map in your mind; you need a destination; and you need a compass, which will indicate where you are in relation to your destination.

When we formed this government a little over seven months ago, the gut feeling, the feeling that we should stop the bleeding and save Israel from itself, is what guided us. Since then, we have taken some significant steps to stabilize the ship.

We passed a budget, allowed government ministries to resume activities, some of which had been long-neglected and in a state of paralysis. In the field of foreign relations, we warmed relations that had cooled down, especially with the United States and our neighbors, and opened a new and fresh page between Israel and the world.

In regards to the current security situation, we have brought calm to the south and are working on preventing the situation in Judea and Samaria from deteriorating. Within Israel, we have stopped the political turmoil.

Now, the public arena is dealing more with its citizens and less with its leader. That is a good thing. Even the news headlines have become shorter. As I mentioned, we have stabilized the ship but in the Middle East, a cruise in calm waters is always a very short cruise.

You have to read the map and decide where to steer the ship from here. To do this, you need to understand what the destination is and how we see the State of Israel in the years ahead.

Today, Israel is 73. The journey ahead begins with the question, what do we wish for Israel on its 80th birthday? The past couple of times the Jewish people had sovereignty over their land we did not reach that line. We have a duty not only to cross the 80-year-old barrier but to bring the State of Israel to great heights and make it stronger and more prosperous, peaceful and self-assured than ever.

How do we accomplish this? First, we have to correctly understand the full picture. The face of the Middle East is constantly changing. New alliances are forged and old alliances lose their relevance.

Therefore, our first rule has to be flexibility. We must make friends and neutralize enemies. The United States has been, and will always be, our best friend, but Washington has its own set of interests, which we must honestly admit do not always overlap with ours. We are speaking honestly and understand one another. Its interest in the region is dwindling. The United States is currently focused on the Russian-Ukrainian border and it is in a strategic conflict with China.

This is the reality. There is no point in whining about it. We must act within existing circumstances, not in a world that we wished existed. This new reality presents us with challenges but also creates opportunities. In the geopolitical arena, there is no vacuum. A void that is created is immediately filled. The U.S. presence in the region can be filled, God forbid, by the forces of terrorism and hatred, or with the right steps, it can be filled by Israel.

The foundation of friendship that we have formed with our neighbors can be the beginning of a multidimensional regional alliance. Together, we can better contend with the challenges posed by extremists that seek to destabilize the Middle East. I’m always trying to explain to the world that our region is full of people who get up in the morning, every morning, with one purpose: to disturb the peace, disrupt stability and create a perpetual state of chaos and war. This is prevalent from the Houthis in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from Shiite militias in Iraq to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. What these extremists all have in common is that their invoice is sent to Tehran at the end of the month. Four years ago, at this conference, I presented my view that when it comes to the majority of threats against us, Iran is the head of the axis and the ‘head of the octopus’.

Since then, even as defense minister and now as prime minister, this perception has been refined, adapted to circumstances and is becoming a reality. The campaign to weaken Iran has begun. This campaign is being conducted in multiple fields: nuclear, economic, cyber, overt and covert operations, both by ourselves and in collaboration with others.

The basic principle remains the same. The missile may have been launched from Beirut or from Gaza but the address is Tehran. The weaker Tehran is, the weaker its affiliates are. The hungrier the octopus is, the less reach it has with its tentacles. Then on our border we encounter something much weaker. The logic is clear.

On the other hand, the removal of sanctions and the flood of billions of dollars for this regime means more rockets, more UAVs, more terrorist cells, more cyber attacks and malign activities. More of everything. By the way, not only against us but also against our American allies in the region and other allies.

We are following the nuclear talks in Vienna and we hope that they conclude without an agreement. But even with an agreement, our assessment is that the Iranians will continue to be Iranians. We already see it now. While Iranian foreign ministry officials are negotiating in Vienna with the superpowers, the Revolutionary Guard is behaving like the neighborhood bully and attacking the UAE and other places. This is the definition of negotiation under fire. This is blackmail.

If an agreement is signed, and the flow of dollars is renewed, we know that their aggressive behavior will only intensify. We in Israel are ready. We will continue to stand against them in every way. No agreement will prevent us from protecting the citizens of Israel. The Israeli strategy remains the same in the case of an agreement, which in any case only buys a very short amount of time until the sunset clause, or in the event that there is no agreement. In both cases, our campaign continues.

Which brings me to the big question: how do we maintain a democratic and developed country in a dangerous and unstable region and in a world where there is no longer a single global policeman? What must we do to prepare the State of Israel for the next decade and beyond? The answer is economic growth and becoming stronger. You can find this in two decisions we made as a government.

First, we are managing the pandemic without lockdowns, even when it proves to be difficult. Paralyzing the Israeli economy is simply not an option. Second, we allocated a very large, separate budget for the strengthening of our military and economic growth.

This is our move. Allow me to explain. The State of Israel needs a very strong economy. GDP needs to reach a trillion dollars. Hi-tech should not be 12% of our total GDP but double that. The economy needs to remain open and functional, even in a decade marked by pandemic like the one we currently are living in. Democracy must be stable and society must strong, with solidarity between the two.

The standard of living needs to increase and prices need to fall. A rich and prosperous country can devote a significant portion of its revenue to build its power and strengthen itself. Because GDP is also related to the size of the population. Security is not linear. You can take a lot of money and pour it into power, not for the sake of military bureaucracy, but for developing capabilities that lessen the huge gap between Israel and other countries.

The stronger we become, the more deterrence we will have and the less likely we will have to use our power. The more we deter, the less likely we are to have to use our power. The more periods of quiet there are, the more we can continue to grow economically. It’s a positive cycle. Economic growth, military strength, stability, economic growth and so on.

To do this, we must utilize our superior technological capability and wisely manage our resources. Today, for example, Ahmed is sitting in Khan Yunis, loading the launcher with a self-made rocket that costs two hundred dollars and is shooting it at Israel. On the other hand, the Iron Dome interceptor costs tens of thousands of dollars. This is an illogical equation which does not converge and allows Ahmed to launch more and more Qassam rockets and for us to spend millions on every ‘lightning strike’ and billions during a military campaign. This is not a sustainable equation.

We decided to break this equation, and it will break, in just a few short years. In about a year, the IDF will launch a laser interception system. At first experimentally and later it will become operational. First in the south and then elsewhere. This will allow us, in the medium to long term, to surround Israel with a laser wall that protects us from missiles, rockets, UAVs and other threats. In fact, it will take away the strongest card the enemy has against us.

The economic equation will be reversed; they will invest a lot and we will invest a little. If it is possible to intercept a missile or rocket with just an electric pulse that costs a few dollars, we will have nullified the ring of fire that Iran has set up on our borders. The whole thing no longer pays off.

This new generation of Israeli air defense could also serve our friends in the region who are also exposed to severe threats from Iran and its proxies. This is another way in which we will create assets, use them and give what we have to the world in order to gain support, create alliances and become even stronger.

We do this in many fields, from cybersecurity to technologies that help fight climate change and track new variants of Covid. We are always at the forefront. I talk to world leaders on a daily basis, also on WhatsApp, because we are all in the same boat. Today, we are approached on a daily basis for advice and when they contact you, you really are in a completely different place when you need them.

The conflict with our neighbors, which once defined almost all of our contact with the world, is still there but does not define us as much. We in Israel are much more than the conflict. Why? Because we have something to give.

In conclusion, the coming years will shape the face of the State of Israel for the next generation. The task is on us, it’s on me, to help strengthen and prepare Israel for the next decade. Economy and security.

We are currently laying the groundwork for another economic leap by removing regulations, encouraging competition and introducing the ultra-Orthodox in the workforce, something no government had the courage to do until now. I have been dreaming about this for a decade and yesterday, the Knesset passed it in the first reading.

Like a coil, the energy, innovation and strength of the citizens of Israel: Jews, Arabs, secular, religious alike, will create an eruption and the Israeli economy will fly forward with less bureaucracy and more competition.

We are also currently in the process of becoming stronger, after several years of stagnation because it was impossible to pass a budget but not only because of this. We had reached a gap in power and we are not only closing it but getting stronger and moving forward. Growth and strength. Strength and growth.

Our enemies are in the business of destruction while we, with God’s help, are in the business of building the State of Israel.

Thank you.”