Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Hearing Before US House Government Reform Committee
Subject: Preparing for the War On Terrorism-Understanding the Nature and Dimensions of the Threat
Washington, D.C.
September 20, 2001

MR. BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Chairman Burton, distinguished representatives, I want to thank you for inviting me to appear here today. I feel a profound responsibility addressing you in this hour of peril in the capital of liberty. What is at stake today is nothing less than the survival of our civilization. Now there might have been some who would have thought a week ago that to talk in these Apocalyptic terms about the battle against international terrorism, was to engage in reckless exaggeration or wild hyperbole.

That is no longer the case. I think each one of us today understands that we are all targets, that our cities are vulnerable and that our values are hated with an unmatched fanaticism that seeks to destroy our societies and our way of life.

I'm certain that I speak today on behalf of my entire nation when I say today we are all Americans in grief and in defiance. In grief because my people have faced the agonizing horrors of terror for many decades and we feel an instant kinship, an instant sympathy with both the victims of this tragedy and the great nation that mourns its fallen brothers and sisters. In defiance because, just as my country continues to fight terrorism in our battle for survival, I know that America will not cower before this challenge. I have absolute confidence that if we, the citizens of the free world led by President Bush, marshal the enormous reserves of power at our disposal, if we harness the steely resolve of free people, and if we mobilize our collective will, we'll succeed in eradicating this evil from the face of the earth.

But to achieve this goal, we must first answer several questions: first, who is responsible for this terrorist onslaught; second, why, what is the motivation behind these attacks; and third and most importantly, what must be done to defeat these evil forces. The first and most crucial thing to understand is this: there is no international terrorism without the support of sovereign states. International terrorism simply cannot be sustained for any length of time without the regimes that aid and abet it, because, as you well know, terrorists are not suspended in mid-air. They train, arm and indoctrinate their killer from within safe havens in the territories provided by terrorist states. Often these regimes provide the territory with money, with operational assistance, with intelligence, dispatching them to serve as deadly proxies to wager hidden war against more powerful enemies which are very often, by the way, democracies. These regimes mount a world wide propaganda campaign to legitimize terror, besmirching its victims, exculpating its practitioners, as we witnessed in this farcical spectacle in Durban the other week. I think, that to see Iran, Libya and Syria call the U.S. and Israel racist countries that abuse human rights, I think even Orwell could not have imagined such a grotesque cynicism.

Take away all the state support and the entire scaffolding of international terrorism will collapse into the dust. The international terrorist network is thus based on regimes: on Iraq, on Iran, on Syria, on Taliban Afghanistan, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority, and several other Arab regimes such as the Sudan. These regimes are the ones that harbor the terrorist groups. Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Hizbullah and others in Syrian controlled Lebanon, Hamas Islamic Jihad, and the recently mobilized Fatah and Tanzim factions in the Palestinian territories, and sundry other terror organizations based in such capitals as Damascus, Baghdad, and Khartoum.

These terrorist states and terror organizations together constitute a terror network whose constituent parts support each other operationally as well as politically. For example, the Palestinian groups cooperate closely with Hizbullah which, in turn, links them to Iran and Syria and to bin Laden. These offshoots of terror also have affiliates in other states that have not yet uprooted their presence, such as Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia. Now the question is: how did this come about, how did this terror network come into being?

The growth of this terror network is the result of several crucial developments in the last two decades. The chief among them is the Khomeini revolution which established a clerical Islamic state in Iran. This created a sovereign spiritual base for formatting a strident Islamic militancy, a militancy that was often back by terror. Equally important was the victory in the Afghan war, of the international Mujaheddin brotherhood. I suppose that the only way I can compare it is to say that the international Mujaheddin is to Islam what the international brigade was for international communism in the Spanish civil war.

It created an international band of zealots. In this case their ranks include Osama bin Laden who saw their victory over the Soviet Union as providential proof of the innate superiority of faithful Muslims over the weak infidel powers. They believe that even the superior weapons of a superpower could not withstand their superior will. To this should be added Saddam Hussein's escape from destruction at the end of the Gulf war. His dismissal of U.N. monitors and his growing confidence that he can soon develop unconventional weapons to match those of the west.

Finally, the creation of Yasser Arafat's terror enclave centered in Gaza gave a safe haven to militant Islamic terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Like their Mujaheddin cousins, they and their Fatah colleagues, drew inspiration from Israel's hasty withdrawal from Lebanon, glorified as a great Muslim victory by the Syrian backed Hizbullah.

Now, under Arafat's rule, the Palestinian Islamic terrorist groups made repeated use of the technique of suicide going so far, by the way, as to organize camps -- summer camps -- for Palestine children, beginning in kindergarten, to teach them how to become suicide martyrs. Here is what Arafat's government-controlled newspaper -- he controls every word that appears there. Here is what his newspaper, his mouthpiece, Al-Jihaad Aljadida, said on September 11, the very day of the suicide bombing in the twin towers and the Pentagon, and I quote:

"The suicide bombers of today are the noble successors of the Lebanese suicide bombers, who taught the U.S. Marine a tough lesson in Lebanon. These suicide bombers are the salt of the earth, the engines of history. They are the most honorable people among us."

Suicide bombers, so says Arafat's mouthpiece, are the salt of the earth, the engines of history, the most honorable people among us. Distinguished representative, a simple rule prevails here. The success of terrorists in one part of the terror network emboldens terrorists throughout the network. This then is the "who." Now for the "why."

Though its separate constituent parts may have local objectives and take part in local conflicts, the main motivation driving the terror network is an anti-Western militancy that seeks to achieve nothing less than the reversal of history. It seeks to roll back the West and install an extreme form of Islam as the dominant power in the world, and it seeks to do this not by means of its own advancement and progress but by destroying the enemy. This hatred is the product of a seething resentment that has simmered for centuries in a certain part of the Arab and Islamic world.

Now, mind you, most Muslims in the world, including the vast majority of Muslims in the growing Muslim communities in the West, are not guided by this interpretation of history; nor are they moved by its call for a holy war against the West. But some are and though their numbers are small compared to the peaceable majority, they nonetheless constitute a growing hinterland for this militancy. Militant Islamists resented the West for pushing back the triumphant march of Islam into the heart of Europe many centuries ago. Its adherents, believing in the innate superiority of Islam, then suffered a series of shocks when in the last two centuries -- beginning with Napoleon's invasion in Egypt, by the way -- that same hated, supposedly inferior West came back and penetrated Islamic realms in North Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

For them the mission was clear and defined. The West had to be first pushed out of these areas. So pro-Western Middle Eastern regimes in Egypt and Iraq, these monarchies and Libya were toppled in rapid succession, including in Iran. And, indeed, Israel, the Middle East's only democracy and its purest manifestation of Western progress and freedom must be wiped off the face of the earth.

Thus, the soldiers of militant Islam do not hate the West because of Israel. They hate Israel because of the West, because they see it as an island -- an alien island of Western democratic values in a Muslim Arab sea, a sea of despotism of course. That is why they call Israel "the little Satan," to distinguish it clearly from the country that has always been and will always be "the great Satan," the United States of America.

I know that this is not part of normal discourse on TV, where people think that Israel is guiding Osama bin Laden. Well, nothing better illustrates the true order of priorities of the militant Islamic terror than Osama bin Laden's call for Jihad against the United States in 1998. He gave as his primary reason for this Jihad not Israel, not the Palestinians, not the peace process, but rather the very presence of the United States, "occupying the land of Islam in the holiest of places."

Where do you think that is? Jerusalem? The Temple Mount? No. The Arabian Peninsula, says bin Laden, where America is "plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers and humiliating its people." Israel, by the way, comes a distant third after the "continuing aggression against the Iraqi people." So for the bin Ladens of the world, Israel is merely a sideshow. America is the target. But reestablishing resurgent Islam requires not just rolling back the West. It requires destroying its main engine: the United States. And if the U.S. cannot be destroyed just now, it can be first humiliated, as in the Tehran hostage crisis 20 years ago, and then ferociously attacked again and again until it is brought to its knees. But the ultimate goal remains the same: destroy America, win eternity.

Now, some of you may find it hard to believe that Islamic militants truly cling to this mad fantasy of destroying America. Make no mistake about it; they do. And unless they're stopped now, their attacks will continue and become even more lethal in the future. The only way I can explain the true dangers of Islamic militancy is to compare it to another ideology bent on world domination, Communism.

Both movements pursued irrational goals, but the Communists at least pursued theirs in a rational way.

Any time they had to choose between ideology and their own survival, as in Cuba or in Berlin, they always backed off and chose survival. Not so for the Islamic militants. They pursue an irrational ideology irrationally, with no apparent regard for human life; neither their own lives, nor the lives of their enemies. The Communists seldom, if ever, produced suicide bombers, whilst Islamic militancy produces hordes of them, glorifying them, promising them for their dastardly deeds a reward in a glorious afterlife.

This highly pathological aspect -- I can use no other words -- this highly pathological aspect of Islamic militancy is what makes it so deadly for mankind. When in 1996 I wrote my book "Fighting Terrorism" I warned about the militant Islamic groups operating in the West with the support of foreign powers, serving as a new breed of what I call domestic international terrorists. That is, basing themselves in America to wage Jihad against America.

Such groups, I wrote then, nullify in large measure the need to have air power or intercontinental missiles as delivery systems for an Islamic nuclear payload. They, the terrorists, will be the delivery system. In the worst of such scenarios, I wrote, the consequences could be not a car bomb but a nuclear bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, they didn't use a nuclear bomb. They used two 150-ton fuel-loaded jetliners to wipe out the twin towers. But if anyone doubts that given the chance they will throw atom bombs at America and its allies, and perhaps long before that they'd employ chemical and biological weapons. This is the greatest danger facing our common future. Some states of the terror network already possess chemical and biological capabilities and some are feverishly developing nuclear weapons.

Can one rule out the possibility that they will be tempted to use such weapons openly or secretly through their terror proxies, seemingly with impunity? Or that their weapons might fall into the hands of the terrorist groups they harbor? We have received a wake up call from hell. Now the question is simple: do we rally to defeat this evil while there is still time? Or do we press a collective snooze button and go back to business as usual?

The time for action is now. Today the terrorists have the will to destroy us, but they do not have the power. There is no doubt that we have the power to crush them. Now we must also show that we have the will to do so, because once any part of the terror network acquires nuclear weapons, this equation will fundamentally and irrevocably change and with it the course of human affairs. This is the historical imperative that now confronts us all.

And now to my third point: what do we do about it? First, as President Bush said, we must make no distinction between the terrorists and the states that support them. It is not enough to root out the terrorists who committed this horrific act of war. We must dismantle the entire terrorist network. If any part of it remains intact, it will rebuild itself, and the specter of terrorism will re- emerge and strike again. bin Laden, for example, has settled over the last decade from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to the Sudan, then back again. So we cannot leave any base of this terror network intact.

To achieve this goal, we must first have moral clarity. We must fight terror wherever and whenever it appears. We must make all states play by the same rules. We must declare terrorism a crime against humanity and we must consider the terrorists enemies of mankind, to be given no quarter and no consideration for their purported grievances. If we begin to distinguish between acts of terror, justifying some and repudiating others, based on sympathy with this or that cause, we will lose the moral clarity that is so essential for victory.

This clarity is what enabled America and Britain to wipe out piracy in the 19th century. This is how the Allies rooted out Nazism in the 20th century. They didn't look for the root cause of piracy, nor for the root cause of Nazism, because they knew that some acts are evil in and of themselves and do not deserve any consideration or any "understanding". They didn't ask if Hitler was right about the alleged wrong done to Germany in Versailles. They left that to the historians. The leaders of the Western Alliance said something entirely different. They said nothing justifies Nazism, nothing. We must equally be clear-cut today. Nothing justifies terrorism, nothing.

Terrorism is defined not by the identity of its perpetrators, nor by the cause they espouse. Rather it is defined by the nature of the act. Terrorism is the deliberate attack on innocent civilians and in this it must be distinguished from legitimate acts of war that target combatants and may unintentionally harm civilians. When the British Royal Air Force bombed the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen in 1944 and one of their bombs unintentionally struck a children's hospital nearby, that was a tragedy but it was not terrorism. When Israel, a few weeks ago, fired a missile that killed two Hamas arch-terrorists and two Palestinian children who were playing nearby were tragically struck down, that is not terrorism, because terrorists do not unintentionally harm civilians. They deliberately murder, maim and menace civilians -- as many as possible. No cause, no grievance, no apology can ever justify terrorism.

Terrorism against Americans, against Israelis, against Spaniards, against Britons, against Russians or anyone else is all part of the same evil and must be treated as such. It is time to establish a fixed principle for the international community. Any cause that uses terrorism to advance its aims will not be rewarded. On the contrary, it will be punished, severely punished and placed beyond the pale. Ladies and gentlemen, armed with this moral clarity in defining terrorism, we must possess an equal clarity in fighting it. If we include Iran, Syria and the Palestinian authority in the coalition to fight terror, even though they currently harbor, sponsor and dispatch terrorism -- as we speak, terrorists struck innocent people, murdered a woman this morning from Yasser Arafat's domain against Islam. If we include these terrorist regimes in the coalition, then the alliance against terrorism will be defeated from within. We might perhaps achieve a short-term objective of destroying one terrorist fiefdom. But it will preclude the possibility of overall victory. Such a coalition will necessarily melt down because of its own internal contradictions. We might win a battle, but we will certainly lose the war.

These regimes, like all terrorist states, must be given a forthright demand: Stop terrorism not temporarily for tactical games! Stop terrorism permanently or you will face the wrath of the free world through harsh and sustained political, economic and military sanctions! Now obviously, some of these regimes today will scramble in fear initial platitudes about their opposition to terror, just as Arafat, Iran and Syria did, while they keep their terrorist apparatus intact. Well, we shouldn't be fooled. These regimes are already on the U.S. list of states supporting terrorism, and if they're not, they should be.

The price of admission for any states into the coalition against terror must be first, to completely dismantle the terrorist infrastructures within their realm. Iran will have to dismantle a worldwide network of terrorism and incitement based in Teheran. Syria will have to shut down Hizbullah and a dozen other terrorist organizations that operate freely in Damascus and in Lebanon. Arafat will have to crush Hamas and Islamic Jihad, close down their suicide factories and training grounds, rein in his own Fatah and Tanzim terrorists and cease the endless incitement to violence.

To win this war, we have to fight on many fronts. Well, the most obvious one is direct military action against the terrorists themselves. Israel's policy of preemptively striking at those who seek to murder its people is, I believe, better understood today and requires no further elaboration. But there is no substitute for the key action that we must take: imposing the most punishing diplomatic, economic and military sanctions on all terrorist states. To this must be added these measures: freeze financial assets in the West of terrorist regimes and organizations, revise legislation subject to periodic renewal to enable better surveillance against organization inciting violence, keep convicted terrorists behind bars. Do not negotiate with terrorists and train special forces to fight terror, and not least important, impose sanctions, heavy sanctions, on suppliers of nuclear technology to terrorist states.

Distinguished representatives, I've had some experience in pursuing all of these courses of action in Israel's battle against terrorism. I'd be glad to elaborate on any of them, if you wish, including the sensitive questions surrounding intelligence. But I have to be clear. Victory over terrorism is not, at its most fundamental level, a matter either of law enforcement or intelligence.

However important these functions are, they can only reduce the dangers, not eliminate them. The immediate objective is to end all states' support for and complicity with terrorists. If vigorously and continuously challenged, most of these regimes can be deterred from sponsoring terrorism.

But there is a real possibility that some will not be deterred, and those may be the ones that possess weapons of mass destruction. Again we cannot dismiss the possibility that a militant terrorist state will use its proxies to threaten or launch a nuclear attack with the hope for apparent immunity and impunity. Nor can we completely dismiss the possibility that a militant regime, like its terrorist proxies, will commit collective suicide for the sake of its fanatical ideology. In this case, we might face not thousands of deaths, but hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.

This is why the U.S. must do everything in its power to prevent regimes, like Iran and Iraq, from developing nuclear weapons and to disarm them of their weapons of mass destruction.

This is the great mission that now stands before the free world. That mission must not be watered down to allow certain states to participate in the coalition that is now being organized. Rather the coalition must be built around this mission. It may be that some will shy away from adopting such an uncompromising stance against terrorism. If some free states choose to remain on the sidelines, America must be prepared to march forward without them, for there is no substitute for moral and strategic clarity. I believe that if the United States stands on principle, all the democracies will eventually join the war on terrorism. The easy route may be tempting, but it will not win the day.

On September 11, I like everyone else was glued to a television set, watching the savagery that struck America. Yet amid the smoking ruins of the twin towers, one could make out the Statue of Liberty, holding high the torch of freedom. It is freedom's flame that the terrorists sought to extinguish. But it is that same torch so proudly held by the United States that can lead the free world to crush the forces of terror and to secure our tomorrow. It is within our power. Let us now make sure that it is within our will.