IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s Speech at the Friends of the IDF Dinner in New York on 9 March 2010
Distinguished guests, Friends of the IDF, Good evening,
You have no idea how happy I am to be here tonight, surrounded by so many familiar faces. While most of the time I’m occupied with all kinds of challenges, tonight, I know that I am only with friends.
I would like to open my remarks by thanking my friend – Benny Shabtai, the chair of tonight’s event. Benny, you are a great believer and a true friend with a wonderful heart.
I also wish to thank my friend Arthur Stark – National Chairman of the FIDF, Nily Falic – National President and my colleague Major General Yitzhak (Gerry) Gershon – National Director.
Unlike the last three years, when I had to address this audience via satellite due to the circumstances, this year I have the privilege to actually be here and personally shake your hands. These hands are a reminder time and again, that the IDF and its soldiers do not stand alone as we face increasingly complex challenges. All of you here tonight, have embraced us, throughout the difficult journey of building and sustaining the Jewish State. For that, you have our profound gratitude.
I stand before you today, not only as the Chief of the IDF’s General Staff, but as a warrior who has lost many friends in the battlefield, and who has personally felt the agony of war.
I stand before you today as an Israeli citizen, determined in the belief that my country, the nation-state of the Jewish people, has a right to freedom and security.
But also, I stand before you as the commander of our nation’s guarding force. I’m full of pride in our army, and the remarkable way in which our soldiers fulfill their missions.
Throughout the past year, our soldiers have demonstrated their devotion and courage in varied circumstances; courageously, our navy soldiers took over the Francop, an arms smuggling ship, which was making its way from the heart of the radical axis in Tehran, to terrorist organizations in Syria and Lebanon.
But at the same time, we react to other challenges. The very same soldiers that act against terror are those who established the first field hospital in Haiti. Proudly, we witnessed the men and women of the IDF, saving the lives of so many who wouldn’t have survived otherwise. These soldiers and their courageous actions, reflect the very definition of heroism.
But our soldiers do much more; men and women from throughout the military, who come from so many religions and different backgrounds, embody the ethical code of the IDF, on a daily basis. They demonstrate respect for human dignity and value human life, regardless of the enemy’s cruelty.
Our soldiers join ranks in the pursuit of the national objectives of Israeli society – developing the Negev, contributing to the community, expanding the Jewish and Zionist heritage and shaping the national identity.
As the commander of our soldiers, I tell you upon this stage: We will win over those who seek our destruction. We will win thanks to our soldiers’ courage and because of their moral compass.
Tonight I am honored to present to you “the dream team of the IDF”: 30 officers and soldiers representing the air, the ground and the navy. They came especially to tell you about their experience in the IDF, and to personally thank you for your support.
Today, we mark two years since Staff Sergeant Liran Banai, may his memory be blessed, a fighter in the Givati brigade’s, was killed after stepping on an explosive device in the Gaza Strip. Liran’s parents were born mute, and he was their voice and connection to the outside world. Liran’s parents are with us tonight. Please stand up.
I also wish to tell you about Staff Sergeant Tal Shabbat, from the Navy seal unite, who was severely injured three and a half years ago in an operation in Beit Hanoun. Tal – please stand up.
I met Tal two years ago in an IDF delegation to Poland, where IDF soldiers and commanders visit the ghettos, concentration and death camps. For them, this visit is a reminder of the fact that even though we often pay a heavy price, evil can be beaten.
Together with Tal and his friends, I stood at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. I there swore “never again”, knowing full well, that still today, there are people who wish to wipe the Jewish State off the map. It is the IDF’s job, to make sure that our vicious enemies will not succeed in doing so.
And they will never succeed. Never.
Despite the relative calm of the past year, which rises from the deterrence attained during operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War, we face highly complex security threats.
The main threat on world’s peace remains Iran, which is gradually achieving nuclear capabilities, while funding and equipping terrorist organizations in the Middle East and throughout the world. These reflect the Iranian attempts to harvest regional instability through its proxies: Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
Therefore, the international community must stop the Iranian nuclear program for its own sake, while all options should remain on the table.
In the face of all these threats, stands the Israeli Defense Force; in order to further strengthen the IDF, we have created the multi-year “Tefen” plan. In addition, we keep developing advanced weapons and technologies, and increasing the number of exercises and trainings; we continue to raise the combat-readiness of IDF reservists. We are doing so in order to ensure that we are ready for any threat, from near or far.
But it is our soldiers, Israel’s finest, who guarantee that we will stand strong and united for the next 62 years, and long after that. Along our journey to peace and security, we gain strength by knowing that you and the American people are by our side. The special relationship we share is based first and foremost on an intimate and powerful ideological bond.
Our friendship with the United States is demonstrated in so many ways. Just this morning, I met with the Chairman of the Joint Chief Admiral Mike Mullen to discuss our cooperation. Another example was Juniper Cobra 10, an exercise which tested elements of the joint active missile defense system. These steps represent significant progress in expanding the dialogue, collaboration and readiness of the two armies.
As Pesach – the holiday of freedom is approaching, let us all remember that not everyone will be free to celebrate the Seder with their loving families.
Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas terrorists more than 3 years ago. Let’s hope that by Passover, Gilad and all other abducted and missing soldiers will be celebrating the Seder at home with us.
And finally, as we salute IDF soldiers and their efforts, allow me to salute you on their behalf; for your cooperation, your support, your friendship; for opening your doors and hearts.
It is critical that you know that it is the love you shower upon us, which assists our soldiers to complete their missions, helping to pave the way to peace.
In order to show our appreciation, I have chosen to bring you a prayer for peace for the State of Israel, who had written by the Nobel prize winner the author Shay Agnon, with my signature.
Together with you, and on behalf of the Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers, I carry this prayer:
“Our Father in Heaven … Bless the State of Israel, with its promise of redemption. Strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land. Deliver them; crown their efforts with triumph. Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy.”
“אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צור ישראל וגואלו בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ. חַזֵּק אֶת יְדֵי מְגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ קָדְשֵׁנוּ, וְהַנְחִילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְשׁוּעָה וַעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן תְּעַטְּרֵם, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְיוֹשְׁבֶיהָ .”אמן.
Thank you and enjoy the evening.