House of Commons, London January 30th 2014
Presentation remarks by FoII/HJS on Report Value Added
Put Simply: Europe with Israel is safer, stronger, more prosperous and more innovative than one without it.
2014-01-31 by José María Aznar
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor for me to be here at the UK Parliament, and I would like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this event and to MP Bob Blackman for hosting us.
We are meeting today to launch a new report – produced jointly by the Friends of Israel Initiative and the Henry Jackson Society – entitled: Value Added: Israel’s Strategic Worth to the European Union and its Member States.
In the report, we seek to determine to what extent Israel represents a strategic asset to the EU. It may sound pretty basic, but for years a vocal anti-Israel campaign has waged a tireless assault on Israel’s reputation, portraying it not only as a strategic liability to Europe, but as an illegitimate state that ought to be isolated and boycotted.
It is not just a problem of reputation for Israel, believe me. The EU and many European have developed over time a kind of dual attitude towards Israel: they want to benefit from many Israeli advances, from scientific to military, and at the same time they blame Israel for all the world’s problems. This happened just a few weeks ago, when 5 major European nations summoned Israel’s ambassadors to express their regret about new work on settlements, but remaining silent about, for example, the constant incitement against Israel, sometimes paid by EU funds.
Even those Europeans who consider themselves supporters of Israel often base their arguments on shared values. They observe, correctly, that Israel is a Western-oriented democracy that values the same principles we do: Free speech, human rights and minority rights, for example. Another often-heard argument is, that Europe has a special responsibility to the survival of the Jewish people, given the Continent’s dark history of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.
And yet our report seeks to look beyond values and history (as important as those are) and consider strategic advantages Europe gains from its links to Israel. To do so, we considered three key arenas: Security, Economics, Science and Technology. We found that within each of these parameters, Europe takes from Israel considerably more than it gets. Put simply: Europe with Israel is safer, stronger, more prosperous and more innovative than one without it.
That’s why in 2012 the European Union upgraded its relations with Israel in 60 specific areas, from energy to agriculture and from policing to space exploration. That’s why the same year; the UK Government issued a White Paper naming Israel as a “key” strategic partner. And that’s why an EU facing a Eurozone crisis and rising Euro skepticism, needs to continually recognize and nurture its critical relationship with the Middle East’s only democracy.
Let’s start with Security. I have often described Israel as a bulwark of Western civilization. Having been under constant threat since even before its birth, Israel has grown into the world’s sixth-leading exporter of military and security equipment. It was the first country in the world to produce unmanned aerial vehicles and today is the world’s leading producer of so-called “drones.”
To take one example: the “Watchkeeper” surveillance drone has logged more than 70,000 flight hours for the British Army in Afghanistan, particularly in the country’s volatile Helmand province. That’s the equivalent of eight years of non-stop flying. And, by the way, the drones used by the Spanish troops to protect themselves were also bought from Israel.
Israeli innovation also secures Europeans at home. How many EU citizens are aware that Israeli technology protects such European icons as the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican and Buckingham Palace?
Equally crucial is Intelligence Sharing. By necessity, Israel has world-class intelligence capabilities, particularly on Middle Eastern rogue states and terrorist groups – many of which also threaten the security of the EU.
We should not forget that Hezbollah, for example, has launched more than a dozen attacks in Europe since the early 1980s, and in 2012 conducted a deadly suicide bombing on EU member Bulgaria and planned a similar one for Cyprus. Israel has been fighting Hezbollah throughout the three decades since Iran created the terror group, and has better intelligence on it than any other country in the world.
Let’s now turn to economics. Bilateral trade between the EU and Israel is based on a 1994 European Council decision that Israel should enjoy “special status… on the basis of reciprocity and common interest.”
Twenty years later, that goal of reciprocity is an established reality. The EU is Israel’s leading source of imports, and second-leading export destination after the United States. For its part, Israel is the EU’s top commercial partner in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Israel has also weathered the world economic crisis better than most Western powers, and is ranked third worldwide in terms of projected growth. I remember with a sane envy and joy when PM Netanyahu explained to me three years ago his concerns about Israel growing only 3.6·/. at a time when the whole Europe was in a deep recession…
Today, the total trade relationship between the EU and Israel stands at roughly 30 billion euro, with a particular rise last year in Israel’s trade with my country – Spain – and this country, the United Kingdom. Much of this increase has been in pharmaceuticals: the world’s largest generic-drug maker, Teva, is Israeli, and operates large production facilities in both countries and elsewhere in the EU.
Israel also offers Europe stability in its energy economy. In recent years the Jewish state has discovered large natural-gas fields, with a proposed pipeline to Cyprus bringing the gas to European markets. A gas windfall of this magnitude could have enormous consequences for a Europe eager to wean itself off of energy from the unreliable, authoritarian regimes of Russia and the Persian Gulf.
Moreover, early signs indicate Israel may also have significant oil reserves, thereby disproving the old joke that Moses brought the Israelites to the one country in the Middle East without oil.
Lastly, our report looks at science and technology. Over the past two decades Israel has turned into a high-tech and innovation powerhouse. It has more companies on NASDAQ than any country outside North America, and the third-highest rate of entrepreneurship worldwide (including the highest among women).
Moreover, for the past two decades Israel has been the only non-European country included in the EU’s Framework Programs – the guiding blueprint for European scientific research. Among the nearly 300 projects approved by the European Research Council last year, a staggering 11·/. went to young Israeli scientists. Only Britain and Germany had more.
There is no country outside the European continent that has the type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union. Israel is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions.
10 years ago, I defended the strategic need for NATO to invite several countries, among them, Israel, if the organization wanted to have a meaning in the future, and I defend today, that Israel should be a full member of the EU without preconditions.
None of this is to suggest that the EU and Israel don’t have their differences. In recent years the two sides have often clashed over the alleged disproportionality of Israel’s military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon, and its continued building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Last year the European Commission even went so far as to set guidelines prohibiting EU funds from going to Israeli entities beyond the country’s pre-1967 “Green Line” boundary.
We at FOII firmly opposed the guidelines, and, among other things, wrote a letter to EU foreign ministers lamenting that they represent a discriminatory policy that targets Israel unfairly.
More than anything, such measures push peace further away, by confirming Israeli suspicions of European hostility.
Now, you may be skeptical of a European declaring himself a friend of Israel, even more so from somebody, like me, from Spain, a nation that five centuries ago expelled the Jews from its soil.
But let me tell you a little anecdote about that: in 1995, when I was on my run to become Prime Minister, I paid a visit to PM Rabin in Jerusalem. Just a few months before he was unfortunately assassinated., when I entered his office, he stood up and without time to shake hands he threw at me: “You expelled the Jewish people from Spain…”
And sensing he wasn’t joking, I could only reply: “Can you and I still be friends? After all, it wasn’t my decision.”
I have to say that we rapidly formed a great bond. It was a pity that because of his violent death we couldn’t develop our relationship, nor could his vision of an Israel both strong and at peace with its neighbors be realized.
Let me also discuss the reasons I founded the Friends of Israel Initiative. I have long believed that Israel needs dedicated friends defending it from unjust and mistaken campaigns against its legitimacy.
Four years ago I decided it was time to take this stand forcefully, publicly and effectively. And I called upon a number of friends -- some Nobel Prize Winners, Like Lord Trimble of Northern Ireland, some former Presidents like me, Luis Alberto Lacalle from Uruguay and Alejandro Toledo, from Peru, some foreign ministers as well, like Alexander Downer, from Australia, or my friend and hero, the late Vaclav Havel, among others -- to establish a high-level group dedicated to fighting the growing chorus trying to isolate and delegitimize Israel.
We work to show Israel as a normal country, with all the virtues and imperfections of any democratic country in the World. This is not to say that friends should avoid criticizing each other, but I believe the international community – and especially Europe - has an obligation to manage its conversation with Israel in a far more honorable and open‐minded manner.
The Initiative is neither a Public Relations campaign, nor a so-called Jewish lobby. Most of us are not Jewish, but we share the vision – as much one of values as of strategy - that when defending Israel we are defending the West. We are defending our way of life and values, and also our interests.
Simply put, Europe must defend Israel if we want to preserve the West as we know it. Look at the changes sweeping the region. Uncertainty is the dominant factor. And Israel is both more important to the West today – and more besieged by hostility -- than at any time in recent memory.
Indeed, when considering the full picture of the strategic relationship (including not just diplomacy, but the equally critical realms of security; economy; and science) the close nature of the EU-Israel alliance becomes clear. Not only is Israel’s relationship with the EU and its member states closer than commonly portrayed, but, in the final analysis, it represents a strategic asset to the Union and its members.
We in the EU will be unable to emerge from our present crises safe, prosperous, innovative and influential without strong state-to-state relations at home, and healthy alliances with strategic partners in our neighborhood. We must start by acknowledging and enhancing our critical strategic relationship with the State of Israel.
The EU has only to escape from her childish temptation of almost constant Israel bashing, and think, as we do in our report, about the specific gains that we all are getting from Israel.
It is in the self-interest of Europeans to treat Israel with fairness and kindness.
Thank you very much.