Israel’s president: Where Iran casts a shadow, human rights recede


Isaac Herzog is the president of Israel.

We stand at a moment of peril for the family of nations, but also one of great opportunity. Our world order is under assault; timeworn doctrines about peace and prosperity are under strain; and new strategic decisions must now be made accordingly.

During my visit to Brussels over the next two days, centered around my address to the European Parliament for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I will be meeting with European Union and NATO leadership to discuss our common action for the security of Europe and the Middle East, as well as ways to deepen our partnership and improve our citizens’ lives.

Our first main action point is the Iranian regime, which is, at this point, one of the greatest threats to the free world.

The Ayatollahs’ policy of “exporting the revolution” has meant exporting the same brutal oppression it applies against its own citizens. In arming violent proxy forces throughout the Middle East, Iran has spread extremism to every place it touches — from the Gaza Strip to Lebanon, from Yemen to Syria. And the same cruelty with which the regime in Tehran is now trying to crush protestors demanding dignity and basic freedoms, it is also inflicting on its neighbors.

Where Iran casts a shadow, human rights recede.

Indeed, Iran’s destructive behavior has now spilled over from the Middle East, reaching into Europe itself: Iran has been supplying deadly unmanned aerial vehicles that are being used to kill innocent civilians in Ukraine, exporting its chaos as far as the borders of Poland and Romania. Increasingly, Israel and Europe share not only democratic values but acute strategic interests. Europe cannot afford to allow Iran to continue sowing havoc in the Middle East because this regime knows no bounds and has come all the way to Europe’s door.

One urgent strategic danger is the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and here Europe and Israel share a fundamental strategic interest: Iran must be prevented from achieving nuclear weapons capabilities at all costs. A regime that executes citizens who are simply exercising their basic human rights, sows chaos among its neighbors, violates every agreement and pursues a policy of aggression against my country must never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

I remember the negotiations around the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, motivated by the misguided belief that luring Iran into a web of economic cooperation would moderate its regime. The past few years have shown just how mistaken this dangerous belief was. Rather than moderating, the Iranian regime poured the money received from sanctions relief into oppressing its people at home and arming its proxies abroad.

Those eager to close a deal with Iran in order to profit from its exports should remember that its main export is carnage.

In this context, I welcome the vote in the European Parliament to blacklist Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, and I commend European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for backing these calls.

For years, Israel has been warning that the IRGC is the chief arm of Iran’s strategy of suppression and subjugation. It has taken a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests to make this point abundantly clear to the democratic world. And the proscription of the IRGC sends an important message to the regime that the world won’t tolerate its destructive behavior.

People clash with police during a protest following the death of Mahsa Amini, in Tehran, Iran, 21 September 2022 | EPA-EFE/STR

Against Iran’s revanchism, the Middle East is realigning to produce a solid alliance determined to safeguard the peace and stability of our region.

The Abraham Accords, which have seen the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco establish warm and friendly relations with Israel, have transformed our region and unleashed an astonishing outburst of trade and cooperation. They have articulated a new and bold vision of mutual respect and dialogue between Jews and Muslims, and have discredited decades of foreign policy orthodoxy about how peace must be made in the Middle East.

We extend a hand in peace to all our neighbors and call on all nations in our region, including our Palestinian neighbors, to join and harness this positive momentum. Meanwhile, it is imperative that Europe work to bring more nations into this circle of peace and invest in the new partnerships it’s creating.

I call our emerging alliance the “Renewable Middle East” — a sustainable ecosystem of regional peace. And this new alignment is cooperating to combat not only Iranian aggression but also the climate crisis. We share the same problems; we must cooperate on the same solutions.

I envision a near future in which the deserts of the Middle East will generate solar energy for export through Israel to Europe and beyond, giving the Continent the clean and reliable supply of energy it sorely needs. Foreign investment in the Renewable Middle East will, therefore, not only contribute to fostering regional cooperation in the Middle East, but it will also directly contribute to European peace and prosperity. The Renewable Middle East must be a European strategic priority.

So, to European leaders, I say: These are your allies. The expansion of the circle of peace in the Middle East, and its protection from a belligerent regime pursuing nuclear weapons, is essential to the security of Europe.

The second key issue that I’ll be raising with EU leadership is anti-Semitism — which is resurgent again. The centerpiece of my visit will be my speech before the Parliament tomorrow, marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

For me, this will be an especially moving moment. I am the son of a British Army officer who helped to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and my father told me stories of the horrors he witnessed when he entered the gates of hell. I am also someone whose family came from communities annihilated in the Holocaust.

Together, we will remember the 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the worst crime in human history. And, together, we will pledge to stamp out the resurgence of vicious anti-Semitism, which caused Europe to devour itself once before, and represents a clear and present threat to the health of Western democracies.

In both the extreme right and the far left, as well as certain Islamist circles, anti-Semitism is in Europe once more, and it’s essential that Western nations redouble their efforts to combat it in all its forms, battle the scourge of Holocaust denial and distortion, and just as importantly, foster and celebrate Jewish life.

I have every confidence that the best days of European-Israeli cooperation are still ahead of us. From cybersecurity to climate technology, culture to trade and so much more, the opportunities are truly endless for Israel and EU nations to work to advance their common values, and make our world safe from the forces that oppose all we hold dear.

History will look back at this moment and ask whether Europe took decisive action to safeguard its prosperity in this moment of crisis. Did it actively foster the forces of stability and progress in the Middle East, investing in the emerging alliance that is determined to usher in a new age of cooperation and tolerance? Did it take uncompromising action to stamp out anti-Semitism in all its forms, fortifying its democracies against this destructive hatred?

As the president of Israel, I pledge that my dynamic, democratic and innovative country stands ready to deepen its partnership with Western and European allies in pursuit of our common security and prosperity. The future holds unimaginable promise for nations that pool their creative energies and look ahead with pride in what they can achieve together.

We have no time to waste.





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