Operation Protective Edge:
Third Second Emergency Session of the Security Council
Delivered to the Security Council by Ambassador David Roet on 22 July 2014
Two centuries ago, the great German writer and statesman Goethe said: “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.”
Look around the world today, and you will see that the primary threat to global peace and security is staring this Council in the face. From Buenos Aires to Brussels and from Benghazi to Boston, it has become clear that no nation is immune to the threat of radical Islamist terrorism.
Armed with dangerous ideologies and deadly weapons, violent radicals are waging a war to destroy lives and destroy our way of life. We have become too familiar with their names - ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
These violent factions share a disdain for democracies, a contempt for modernity, and a willingness to target innocent civilians. It is no accident that most of these extremist groups operate in the Middle East – a region plagued by instability and intolerance, dictators and disorder, tyranny and terrorism.
Within the region – one nation stands apart. The State of Israel is the only liberal democracy between the Red Sea and the Caspian Sea. We are on the frontline fighting radical Islamist terrorism. The struggle that we face today is a preview of the struggle that the rest of the civilized world will likely face tomorrow.
As we speak, the Israel Defense Forces are fighting to rid Gaza of the Hamas military infrastructure that has terrorized the Israeli people and devastated the Palestinian people for well over a decade. Trust me, when I tell you – Gaza is the very last place that we want our soldiers to be.
This is not a war we chose. It was our last resort.
Hamas has sent suicide bombers into our cafes and onto our buses. It has sent armed terrorists through tunnels into our homes and schools. And it has launched over 12,000 rockets towards our towns and cities in the last 10 years.
Israel is a small country and every single person has been affected by terrorism. Israelis may have grown up with this threat in our backyard, but we have never and will never grow used to it. We will never grow used to the sound of sirens or the roar of rockets overhead. We will never grow used to seeing our children in army uniforms and we will never, ever become accustomed to burying our sons and daughters – as too many Israeli families have had to do since Hamas dragged us into this conflict.
Israel did not want this war. Three times - three different times - Israel agreed to accept a cease-fire and every single time, Hamas refused and launched even more rockets. Each of these rockets sends a message loud and clear – Hamas is determined to wage war.
Even when the United Nations and the Red Cross asked Hamas to hold its fire so they could assist Palestinian civilians, Hamas refused. Once again, Hamas proved that it has no regard for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people. Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukri, stated that, “Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal; it could have saved the lives of…Palestinians.”
In the past month alone, Israel has been attacked on four fronts – rockets have been fired from Lebanon, Syria, Sinai and Hamas has launched an all-out assault from Gaza.
In addition to firing rockets, Hamas has now developed a new strategy to wage war against Israel. In Gaza, there is a city above ground and a city below ground. Eighteen meters below the Strip are miles of dense terror tunnels crisscrossing like a giant web. Reinforced with thousands of tons of concrete and supported by massive beams, Hamas has built a vast underground terror network.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya recently declared that the tunnels open: “a new strategy in confronting …the enemy from underground.”
Since entering Gaza, the IDF has uncovered 23 tunnels with over 66 different entry points – many of which are under homes and schools – no site is off limits for Hamas. One of the tunnels exposed over the weekend began under a family home and was packed with explosives.
Hamas is using its extensive tunnel system to carry out a series of deadly attacks. In the past week, dozens of heavily armed terrorists have used these tunnels to infiltrate Israel.
What do you expect Israel to do when terrorists are as far from Shuja’iya to Kibbutz Nahal Oz as the United Nations is to the Metropolitan Museum?
Imagine what it is like for Israelis living near Gaza to know that there are dozens of hidden tunnels leading to the doorstep of their communities. Imagine what it is like to fall asleep wondering if a terrorist is tunneling under your home or to wake up and wonder if your children will be safe on their way to school. Just yesterday, heavily armed Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel 200 meters from a kindergarten.
Over the weekend, eight Palestinian terrorists emerged from a tunnel almost 300 meters inside Israel armed with automatic weapons and wearing Israeli military uniforms. They fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Israeli military jeeps killing two soldiers before retreating back underground. A few hours later, two more terrorists entered Israel using a tunnel. They were carrying tranquilizers and handcuffs and were on a mission to kidnap Israelis.
For years, the international community criticized Israel for restricting the entry of construction materials into Gaza. Now you know what those building materials were being used for.
All this time the international community thought it had been sending money to develop social services or political institutions or economic structures. In truth, the aid dollars that you sent were only aiding Hamas to build its terror stronghold. The fact that Hamas directs its budget underground rather than above ground proves that it is more interested in warfare than the welfare of the Palestinian people.
Hamas violates international law and brutally abuses the people of Gaza. It sends innocent men, women and children to stand on the roofs of their homes and shield the terrorists firing rockets from their living rooms and bedrooms below.
It builds bunkers for its leaders, but refuses to build bomb shelters for civilians. It fires rockets from mosques and schools deep inside densely populated neighborhoods. And it has set up its headquarters inside a Gaza hospital where Hamas leaders can be seen walking through the hallways.
Rather than taking steps to avoid harming civilian casualties, Hamas has stepped up its attacks in the hopes of creating even more casualties. Hamas’s strategy is clear – it sees every Palestinian victim of this conflict as fuel for a propaganda machine. The purpose of this machine is to push the international community into pressuring Israel to grant Hamas’s demands.
Sadly many people have fallen for their cynical campaign. All those who argue that both sides are equally to blame are playing into Hamas’s hand and inviting a ruthless radical group to continue its campaign of terror.
I want to remind you that this terror organization sits in the Palestinian unity government. President Abbas has a choice to make. He can continue to remain silent and stand in support of Hamas. Or he can assume the mantle of leadership by dissolving the unity government.
The choice is his – be a part of the problem or part of the solution.
Israel is doing its utmost to avoid harming civilians because we believe that every innocent life lost is a tragedy. We deeply regret the losses, but the blame lies with Hamas for hiding behind civilians and using them as human shields.
The IDF is fully committed to upholding the rule of law and is only operating against terrorist targets and is taking steps that no other nation at any time in history has taken.
What other nation supplies millions of tons of humanitarian aid or sets up a field hospital to treat the wounded on the other side even as its enemy fires on it indiscriminately?
What other nation sends messages to warn exactly where it will strike – giving the enemy time to set booby-traps and deploy snipers?
Israel spent four days warning Palestinians in northern Gaza that the military would soon enter their neighborhoods to uproot Hamas. That gave Hamas four days to prepare an assault on our troops.
Every time we drop a leaflet or make a phone call or send a text message warning of an imminent attack, we are endangering our children so that we may keep their children safe.
As we have said before, Israel has no interest in being in Gaza. We are fighting in Gaza, but we are not fighting the people of Gaza.
The equation is simple – when it is quiet in Israel, it will be quiet in Gaza. The goal of our operation is to eliminate the rockets, shut down the terror tunnels, and demilitarize Gaza in order to restore sustained quiet to the people of Israel.
Members of the international community have said that Israel has the right to defend its citizens, but when we exercise that right, we are criticized.
What do you expect us to do when terrorists are tunneling into our communities? What do you expect us to do when our children are being kidnapped and murdered? What do you expect us to do when rockets are fired at our cities and our citizens can’t pass a single day without running to a bomb shelter?
Iran is exerting its influence to attack Israel from the land, the sea, and the air on every front. It is supplying Hamas with rockets in Gaza, it is standing by Assad in Syria, and it is supplying Hezbollah with missiles in Lebanon.
Some of these terrorist groups are now teaming up to form a “dream team of terror” intent on making life a nightmare for millions of Israelis.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to say: “Hezbollah and the Lebanese resistance…support Hamas’ strategy and the just conditions it has set to end the conflict.”
For years, we warned the international community that Hezbollah was amassing tens of thousands rockets and missiles. We were met with silence. Will you continue to remain silent?
For years, we told you that Hamas was building a terror stronghold in Gaza and we called on the international community to condemn the rocket fire. We were met with silence.
For years, we warned of the impending escalation and you ignored us.
Goethe was right: The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes. Israel is on the frontline of the global war against radical Islamist terrorism. The entire civilized world has a stake in the outcome and so it must support Israel’s right to defend its citizens.
Israel’s fight against terrorism today will determine how we all live tomorrow. To do nothing and to say nothing to support our efforts is to invite tyranny and terror into your own backyards.
The international community must stand together and speak together and prevail together so that all people everywhere can live in freedom.
Thank you, Mr. President.