Thank you. Thank you Chancellor Merkel for hosting me today, and our delegation. I look forward to seeing you in Israel in October.
The alliance, the relationship between Israel and Germany is an excellent one. It has historic foundations, because of the unique experience that we have undergone here obviously, and the commitment that you and previous German governments, but you sustained it with great vigor and great conviction, your commitment to Israel’s security, the security and the future of the Jewish state, is deeply appreciated by me, by the people of Israel. Your very strong stance against antisemitism is also deeply appreciated, and of course, the relationships between our two countries, our two economies, is one that is natural. Germany is one of the great economies of the world; Israel is the leading, among the leading innovation nations in the world. And the combination of technology and industry is extremely powerful, so I am very, very happy that we decided to add a business delegation to the upcoming meeting of our governments, so that we can have these benefits of technology, of knowhow, of innovation accrue to both our countries and both our peoples.
We have great opportunities, but we also face great challenges, and I think the greatest challenge that the civilized world faces today is the danger that comes out from militant Islamic states that are bent on aggression and acquiring nuclear arsenals. This, the greatest danger is in Iran. Just yesterday, Iran’s leader Khamenei, yesterday he said again that Israel is a cancer that has to be eradicated, will be eradicated from the earth. And this is amazing that in the beginning of the 21st century, somebody talks about destroying Israel. It means destroying another six million plus Jews. It’s quite extraordinary that this goes on, but this is what we face.
Iran calls for our destruction, but it’s also seeking nuclear weapons to carry out its genocidal designs. We know that for a fact. We have shared, as Chancellor Merkel has said, we have shared with the German government, German specialists, the information that we retrieved from a secret atomic archive that Iran has. We think that it’s important, as Chancellor Merkel has said, that the IAEA investigate Iran based on this new information, a lot of new information that Israel has now provided the IAEA as well. And it’s important to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We commit, and I commit again, that we will not let that happen.
But the other danger from Iran is that it is trying to conquer the Middle East. It’s doing so in Syria. It’s doing so in Yemen. And it’s doing so in other places. In Syria, Iran is trying to put its army, its air force, its navy and ground forces from, moving it 1500 kilometers from Iran to the backdoor of Israel, with the explicit goal of attacking us. So obviously, we cannot accept that.
I think that you cannot accept it for two reasons as well. The first is one of principle, obviously. Germany does not condone, nor does any peace-loving country condone wanton aggression and the calls for the destruction of other nations. But I think that there is another reason why this should be of concern to Germany: The Iranian military presence right now in Syria includes about 18,000 Shiite militia, commanded by Iranian commanders. These Shiite militias come from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, from other places, and they have a specific goal, a military goal, but also a religious goal. Iran wants to increase the number of such militia to 80,000 and to basically conduct a religious campaign in largely Sunni Syria. Syria is 96% Sunni, but try to convert Sunnis. This will inflame another religious war. This time a religious war inside Syria, and the consequences would be many, many more refugees and you know exactly where they’ll come.
The ability to increase four-fold, five-fold the number of militias that are there depends, among other things, on money, and the money comes from Iran. Until recently, it came, from among other places, from the JCPOA. This is not a false argument; it’s a true argument. We have seen that they have used about 25 billion dollars from proceeds that they got in one way or another from the easement of sanctions in Yemen, in Syria, in Lebanon and elsewhere.
So, I think the economic pressure, economic sanctions on Iran, break this cash machine that feeds the Iranian empire that endangers everybody, endangers Israel, but indirectly also endangers Germany and Europe. Iran must not be allowed to have a foothold, a military foothold in Syria. Iran should leave Syria, all parts of Syria. This is our position, and I think we have to band together to confront this Iranian aggression, the world’s foremost sponsor of terror.
I want to thank you, Chancellor Merkel, for your personal commitment to Israel’s security, and I want to assure you again that our hand is always extended to peace for our neighbors. We have changes in the region that are taking place, and I think they’re very promising. We have contacts with Arab states that are developing. They developed obviously because of our common concern with Iran and its aggressive designs, but I think they go well beyond that, because many Arab states recognize that Israel can contribute technologically to the development of their societies, a better life for their peoples. I think ultimately this is the most promising goal, the most promising route to have peaceful development with the Palestinians as well.
It may not be possible today, but I believe it will be possible tomorrow. And that’s what we’re all working for: A better tomorrow.
I want to thank you again for doing that consistently over the years. I thank you for your friendship, and I thank you for your leadership.
Question: Yaron Avraham, Channel 2 news in Israel. Frau Kanzlerin, as the Prime Minister Netanyahu just said, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, tweeted today that Israel is a cancer that has to be removed. How can you, how can Germany continues negotiating with a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel? And for you, Prime Minister of… a little question to the Prime Minister in Hebrew… [Hebrew]
Merkel: [German] We stand by our commitment for the safety and security of the State of Israel. We’ve said this very clearly. I’ve been completely unequivocal also in saying this to Iran. But, we I think are at one in saying we never want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. The question where we disagree is how do we achieve this goal. We think the JCPOA is a possibility to achieve that, at least for a certain period of time, to see to it that Iranian activities in that field are under control and prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. We also feel that in the aftermath, we need some kind of regulation. We also say we need to talk about their activities in Syria, but we think that through tough negotiations, through joint negotiations, this will be possible. So this is why, on the one hand, the tough positions, I have a very tough position as regards Israel’s security, but I also say with this agreement, we have more transparency, because Iran was about to acquire a nuclear capability. That is the position that we in Germany take.
Question: Prime Minister, President, [unclear] from Reuters… [German] used a different line of argument, I believe, for cancelling JCPOA. You did not say that controls of the JCPOA are superfluous or that they don’t make sense, but that you primarily think that you want to cut or destroy this cash machine, as you said it. Is this true? And do you not share, after all, the same goal with the Chancellor to control them? Don’t you think it would be better to keep at least that agreement in order to control Iran better? And Chancellor, if I may, for topical reasons, one question on the US ambassador here in Germany. Do you think that it is good and appropriate for a trans-Atlantic relationship if an ambassador of another country pursues his own political agenda here in Germany and apparently also hosts the Austrian chancellor in his residence, which is at least unusual, highly unusual for an ambassador?
Merkel: On my behalf, I can only say that I have taken note of this, as of many other things. I will not comment on this. I believe there will be talks also in the Foreign Office, the [unclear] has already taken a very clear position on this.
Netanyahu: I respect Chancellor Merkel enormously, and I think that we are very fortunate to have this great relationship between us. I was asked by the American ambassador to meet him at the airport. I’m going to meet him briefly in the airport. I wouldn’t draw any meaning into that. That is… it just doesn’t exist. We respect the government and the policies of Chancellor Merkel. We have some disagreements, as you can see, on occasion, but they’re not really in goal. They’re more on the question of the method.
Now, we have a difference and had a difference of opinion that I don’t hide, as you know, about the JCPOA. I’ll explain the problems we had with the JCPOA. I actually put this in the Congress very simply. I said that basically—in the US Congress—basically the problem with this deal as I saw it was that it says to Iran in exchange for not enriching uranium for a single bomb today, you can enrich unlimited amounts of uranium for a hundred bombs, two hundred bombs, within seven, eight, ten years. Today it’s about seven years. I thought that was a very bad deal, because it gave Iran the capacity also to develop advanced centrifuges 40 times more effective in the intervening years. So they could have an unlimited enrichment capacity in a few years. That’s not a good deal.
I also said that it doesn’t address the question of ballistic missiles, which we agree upon. And I also said that it doesn’t address the question of Iranian aggression. So I suggested in my speech in the American Congress, if you boil it down to one thing, I said don’t make the restrictions on Iranians, on Iran’s nuclear program depend on a calendar; make them depend on a change of Iranian behavior.
Now, since the deal was signed a few years ago, we see a change in Iranian behavior. We see that Iran is devouring one country after the other, in Yemen, Syria—I’m talking about military presence, enhanced shipments of lethal weapons, and obviously they continue to espouse our destruction and the conquest of the Middle East. So, I think that… The deal also released a lot of cash for Iran, which helps them achieve these goals. I haven’t changed my view of the JCPOA, but I think right now this is becoming a secondary question because the United States has left the deal. And I think the real question we have to confront today is what do we do about Iran’s aggression? What do we do about Iran’s remaining goals in its pursuit of nuclear weapons?
We discussed this in a very practical way. It’s not important right now what was there before. What’s important is what is before us now, and what we have agreed upon is that we have to act together against further aggression. And I think this is the right policy. We remain with open channels. I have to tell you that there is no problem at all in our communication and in many ways, we agree on important goals, including on the question of stopping Iran’s aggression.