Minister Mordechai (In Hebrew): I am welcoming the arrival of my friend U.S. Defense Secretary Mr. Bill Cohen. I am pleased by the opportunity to meet him here in Israel. We presented our strategic theory today; we presented the old and new threats in the Middle East and our hope is to move forward to real peace in the Middle East. At the same time, we asked our friend, the U.S., and the Secretary of Defense to assist us in advancing our military and defense capabilities so that we can protect Israel and the Israeli people from the set of present and future threats. I want to thank my friend Mr. Bill Cohen personally for everything he has been - and is - doing for Israel's future and security. I saw, during the last Gulf crisis, his real concern for Israel's security and the well-being of its citizens and the readiness to help in real time so that we can defend our citizens. At the same time, we view the U.S. as our real friend; we, as allies in this region, shall be cooperating with all our strength and capability to stabilize the situation in the Middle East, to reach a situation where there will be, in the future, security for Israel, cooperation for the achievement of U.S. interests in the region and, of course, the advancement of peace in the Middle East.
Once again, I am welcoming the Defense Secretary and his wife and I very much hope that he will find substance and interest in his visit to Israel.
Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon, Shalom! Let me say that I am very glad to be in Israel as you prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of statehood. The founding and the survival of the State of Israel is a triumph of hope over hatred; it's a victory of fortitude and bravery over fear.
Minister Mordechai and I have just finished a very productive meeting in which he outlined his military modernization program and plan for the next decade. Israel is determined to be as strong and secure for the next 50 years as it has been for the last 50 years. The United States intends to do its part by helping Israel to maintain its qualitative edge. We want Israel to be strong so that it in fact can continue to take risks for peace.
We agreed, for instance, that Israel needs a third Arrow battery to improve its defenses against missile attacks, and that's why we are helping to develop the Arrow anti-theater ballistic missile system. The other key, of course, to Israel's continued security is achievement of a comprehensive peace. It's not enough for Israel to be able to win wars -- although that's critical. It also must win peace in order to achieve lasting security.
President Clinton remains committed to working for a comprehensive peace plan that will make Israel's second 50 years more secure than the first 50. Let me say on a personal note what a pleasure it has been for me to work with Minister Mordechai. He has been to Washington at least twice in my office. We have met in Germany in order to work together to make sure that Israel was fully protected during the crisis in the Gulf. That is a friendship that we have established that we will continue long into the future. It is a personal pleasure for me to be here at his invitation, to help Israel celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Q: I would like to ask, you said that you all agreed that Israel needs a third Arrow battery: Has it gone beyond that? I understand that the United States has virtually agreed to fund R&D for the third Arrow battery, that it's beyond that point and all it requires is the approval of Congress. Is that true?
A: (Cohen): We are at the appropriations level now; both Houses have passed on their appropriation -- supplemental appropriation bills. We are waiting for Congress to work through that in terms of what the funding level will be, but we are committed to the R&D level of funding, yes.
Q: So it will go ahead?
(Cohen): We expect the R&D to continue forward, yes.
Q: And how much do you expect that the R&D will cost?
A: (Cohen): I can't tell you until Congress finishes its appropriation process.
Q: I see. Minister Mordechai, I ask you: Has the Arrow been set back by the failure of the test in August?
A: (Mordechai): I think our project is excellent. Any country, including the superpowers, they would like, you know, to achieve a high technology and to be able to destroy ballistic missiles in space. In some other very advanced projects from time to time, there are some problems. But generally speaking, I think we are in the right direction, and we will be able, in the future, to establish with our missiles around Israel to protect the Israeli people, and the Israeli countryside.
Q: Just tell me briefly. Do you have any idea when the Arrow might be fielded?
A: (Mordechai): We will try to research again and to find where the problems -- if there are any problems. We have a project to move forward and to achieve all the objectives that we decided on. And I hope very soon you will see progress.
Q: Mr. Secretary, it is known, and we've heard, that the U.S. is not pleased with the way this government is dealing with the peace process. Do you think this might have an effect on the relations between the two defense systems?
A: (Cohen): We have a very good relationship on our respective defense establishments. We cooperate very closely, and work very closely together. The United States is obviously interested in helping to achieve a peace agreement that will be lasting and enduring. And that is something I think Israel also is in favor of. So, there is no conflict. The United States is a very close ally of the State of Israel, and we work very closely both at the political level, the diplomatic level, the economic level, and truly, the military level.
Q: So there is no separation; you don't see them as separate?
A: (Cohen): We continue to cooperate at every level. They are all integrated. We cannot have one policy -- if you didn't have a close political relationship, a close diplomatic relationship, it would be hard to have a close integrated military relationship. It is a relationship based upon friendship, and support and partnership, and it entails every aspect of it. What I can tell you is I believe that relationship is strong, it is enduring, and it is reflected in every aspect of our relationship with each other including the military.
Q: Mr. Minister, we've just come from the MFO in Sharm- el-Sheikh, and there is the -- while the Peace Keeping Mission there has been going on for sixteen years, there is tremendous development, tourism development all over the area, and the troops there haven't seen any hostilities, or any major violations of the peace treaty, which we're coming up to twenty years after the Camp David Accords. Would Israel be opposed, or would you consider looking at that arrangement for the MFO -- is it still needed?
A: (Cohen): Well, we haven't discussed the subject, but you know, the best power is the power that is deployed somewhere and not used. This is peace-keeping in that area: if they are there, and there are no any changes in the area, it is keeping the area so that there will be not military changes. We will continue to encourage the peace with Egypt. These forces, they help all of us to continue to encourage the peace and to look at the future. And from time to time it has to be discussed between both countries, or third countries, between the United States, Israel and Egypt, and to see if there is a need for changes; there may be some changes, but generally speaking, these forces are doing excellent job in Sinai, and supporting the peace process and the peace between Egypt and Israel.
Q: Mr. Secretary, will the U.S. Government put pressure on Syria in order to force her to join the Israeli plan to withdraw from South Lebanon?
A: (Cohen): Well, I'm not sure the United States is in a position to put pressure on any country in this respect. I have indicated to the Minister that I believe his proposal is something that Syria and Lebanon should respond positively to. It's an important initiative, and I think the first step while it may not satisfy the Syrians in its entirety, or the people of Lebanon in its entirety, nonetheless, it's a very constructive proposal, and one that should be given serious consideration by Syria. To the extent that we can encourage it, we do so.
Q: Minister Mordechai, some in Israel have suggested that in dealing with Iraq, that the United States should abandon its policy of containment, and seek to have a policy that's aimed more at replacing the regime in Baghdad. Do you agree with that?
A: (Mordechai): I agree completely with the policy of the United States, and with President Clinton, and Secretary Bill Cohen. We have discussed some of this subject during the crisis, and I think the leadership that has been demonstrated in the regime during the last crisis, it demonstrated to everybody it's better to find a political solution and to follow after the United Nations' decision and the other superpowers that they can manage and do what is necessary, that a country like Iraq will not continue to build new threat in the region.
Q: Minister Mordechai, the chief of Israeli military intelligence, 'Boogey' Yahalon, says that Yasser Arafat has turned on the red light against terrorism by Hamas. This has been Israel's main demand of the Palestinians for as long as anyone can remember. If this has now been fulfilled, does it mean that Israel can go ahead and implement the phased withdrawal from the West Bank without making further demands from the Palestinians?
A: (Mordechai): Well, as you know, our Government decided to move with the second further deployment. There are real discussions now between Israel and the United States and between the United States and the Palestinians to find a way to conclude and to move forward with the second further redeployment. All of us know that the Palestinians are not doing what is necessary against the terror in their territory. From time to time, we find that there are more and more terror groups going in the area that is under their responsibility. After the incident with Muhia Sharif-el-Din, they recognized how many teams of terror there are in the area, how many Arabs are there, how many explosives they are producing in their area. What is necessary, not to do something for the short-term; it's needed all along the way, all the time, to fight against the terror and to fight against the root of the terror. A peace agreement, an agreement with the Palestinians -- it can't be achieved if we don't find the Palestinians really are fighting against the terror and doing what is necessary that terror will not be part of our lives.
Q: They are not doing that now, sir, in your view?
A: (Mordechai): Well, they are doing it now. They didn't do what they had to with one hundred percent their ability, that is, changing the whole situation in the area under their responsibility. I regret that. They are -- in the last few days, they are doing more than they have done before, but it needs to continue, and not to check the policy, to move forward all the time, to fight against the terror, because the terror can destroy the whole agreement and the peace process with our friends, the Palestinians.