Israel’s military must be strong enough to be able to annihilate anyone who threatens to annihilate the Jewish state, and for that reason is arming itself with weapons such as the F-35 stealth fighters and submarines, the prime minister said on Tuesday.
Netanyahu’s comment, made during a ceremony at the graveside of David and Paula Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker making the 43th anniversary of the first prime minister’s death, came just a week before the first two F-35s are set to arrive, and some three weeks after conflict-of-interest allegations emerged involving Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, David Shimron, and the German firm contracted to build Israel new submarines.
“Our military force must be strong enough to repel any foe. It must be capable of taking the war to the enemy’s territory, as was done in 1956 and in other wars,” he said. “To this end, today we are continuing to cultivate, more than ever, our military and intelligence forces, which in a certain sense are unrecognizable from what was in Ben-Gurion’s time but, I must say, directly follow the strengthening [of the military] that he began and which has continued until the present.”
Netanyahu said that the IDF has become one of the world’s strongest armies. “Our intelligence and preventative units are among the best in the world and whoever threatens our existence places himself in very great danger,” he said. “We are equipping ourselves with F-35s, submarines, cyber and defensive systems such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling and others.”
He stressed the word submarines.
Netanyahu said that Ben-Gurion understood that three foundations are needed to ensure Israel’s existence: a strong military, a robust economy and sound diplomacy.
“We are building and developing those three foundations of Ben-Gurion,” he said. “In some ways, just as he did, and in other ways with changes made necessary over the years.”
Netanyahu said that the “simple truth” in the world, and especially in the Mideast, is that “the weak do not survive. The strong survive. The strong are not attacked. With the strong alliances are made. And peace is made with the strong.”
Netanyahu said that Ben-Gurion understood this well, and built up Israel’s military might. The principle Ben-Gurion set forth, that Israel must be strong enough to defeat every enemy and combination of enemy, animates the country’s policies today as well, he said. But for that strength, he stressed, a strong economy is needed.
And here, Netanyahu said, his policies diverged from Ben-Gurion’s.
In the early days of the state, a centralized economy was needed to face the challenges of building the young country’s infrastructure, founding its factories and absorbing hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But now, he said, a decentralized economy, with an emphasis on the private sector and innovation, is what is necessary.
And as far as diplomacy is concerned, Netanyahu noted that Ben-Gurion understood well the need for alliances, and as such developed the Periphery Doctrine, which led him to develop strategic relations with non-Arab countries on the Mideast’s periphery: Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia.
Though the relationships with those three countries has changed over the years, he said that the combination of Israel’s military prowess – specifically its anti-terrorism expertise – and its technology has allowed Jerusalem to create alliances with more countries, including some in the region, to a degree that Ben-Gurion could not have imagined.
He said there was a “flood” of countries now seeking stronger ties with Israel.
Ben-Gurion also understood that the most important alliance was the one with the US. The alliance with the US, Netanyahu stressed, is far greater than it was during Ben-Gurion’s day, when Washington and Moscow compelled Israel to leave the Sinai after 1956 Sinai Campaign.
“Since then, relations have developed a great deal,” he said. Netanyahu pointed to the recently-signed $38 billion ten-year military aid package as an example of the strength of those ties, saying he was “happy” he was able to sign that deal with the Obama administration.
And, in reference to President-elect Donald Trump, Netanyahu said he is “glad” there is a continuation of this close relationship, “this basic and important alliance with the president- elect and his people.”
Netanyahu noted, at the beginning of his address, that this was the first year that Ben-Gurion’s protegé, Shimon Peres, was not at the annual memorial ceremony.
Before the ceremony, Netanyahu held an informal conversation with students of two pre-army education academies in the south, one located in Kramim and the other in Sde Boker.
One participant, who identified himself as Amir, said that Netanyahu spoke about the media, Beduin in the Negev, stopping the flow of migrants from the Sinai, but did not say anything he had not heard him say before.