Following are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today :
“At the start of my remarks, I would like – on behalf of the entire Government – to take leave of Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, who will conclude his duties this week and leave next week for his new post as Israel’s Ambassador to China. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Matan, for your contribution to the State of Israel, to the security of Israel, over the years, from when you were a private until you attained the rank of major-general and afterwards in the framework of the government, including your preset post.
I will wax nostalgic for a moment and tell our friends here that we were together as young officers in the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, and we would travel together on weekend leaves to Jerusalem. We are Jerusalemites. Our parents were close friends, your father, the late Zeev Vilnai, who researched the Land of Israel, along with my father and your late mother Esther, and my mother. We would meet in our homes. We spoke many times and got to know each other, and I knew you as a man of values, a true Israeli patriot, and also a man who had the great privilege to be a fighter and a commander. Then, let us speak frankly, you had more hair and I was thinner. You stayed thin. You stayed and many things changed and, of course, many things have changed, including – inter alia – the responsibilities that the State of Israel has placed on your shoulders, and you took some of them upon your shoulders, and now you will continue to contribute.
You will continue to contribute to our very important relations with China. They are of decisive economic and international significance. I think that you will have very important tasks there. I am convinced that, as I wish you well ahead of your next contribution, I do so not just on behalf of the ministers in the Government of Israel, but on behalf of all Israelis. Who but you, Matan, knows that, over the years, Israeli governments did not invest enough in home front defense. The missile era began in 1991, during the First Gulf War. There are those who say that it began even earlier.
I think that there has been a very great change during our Government’s term in office. First of all, we established a separate ministry to deal with this issue. Second, you and I and the other relevant ministers hold bi-weekly meetings, along with the National Security Adviser, and monitor the necessary steps o upgrade home front defense. We are investing billions in home front defense, in Iron Dome, in the Arrow, and in other systems that are under development. We are investing a lot of money in defending facilities, institutions and homes. We are holding preparedness exercises for various scenarios regarding home front defense; such an exercise is being held today. We are thoroughly upgrading our warning systems, in which Israel is among the most developed in the world and we are doing other things which I shall not detail here. Therefore, I would like, in my farewell remarks, to say that I esteem you Matan for the important work that you have done in this field, as in others. But you leave behind much work for your replacement and I intend to appoint a replacement in the coming days because I ascribe great importance to the post and want there to be continuity, and not a disruption, in dealing with this important area.
There has been a significant improvement in our home front defense capabilities, in Iron Dome, in the Arrow, in structural reinforcements and shelters, in warnings and in other areas. One cannot say that there are no problems in this field because there always are, but all of the threats that are currently being directed against the Israeli home front pale against a particular threat, different in scope, different in substance, and therefore I reiterate that Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
In this context, I spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over the weekend. According to reports that have reached me, the UN Secy.-Gen. intends to travel to a conference of non-aligned countries in Tehran. I told him that with all his good intentions, he must not give legitimacy to a regime that disseminates horrific anti-Semitism, the likes of which we have not seen in several decades, since World War II, and to a regime that declares its intention to destroy the State of Israel, that violates all UN decisions, not just against its nuclear program, but against the convention against genocide as well. I told him that his place is not in Tehran. He did not give me to understand that he would change his plans, but we will continue to press, and I think that we will also continue to make clear the absurdity of the UN giving legitimacy to a state that violates all UN rules and intends to destroy another UN member state. I think that this effort is a worthy and important step alongside our other efforts in this field.
I would like to express appreciation for the work of the fire and rescue service against the wave of fires, including those which were deliberately set. Not always, but many times there is a suspicion of arson and I would like to bring it to your attention that we are dealing with this effectively because we upgraded the fire and rescue service. First and foremost, we brought firefighting aircraft. This has enabled us, since the Carmel wildfire, to extinguish approximately 250 fires, including forest fires, wildfires that were extinguished successfully thanks to this upgrade in the air and on the ground. I would like to express appreciation for the firefighters and to those ministers who assisted this same upgrade, in financing and organizing, which has seen results in over 2,000 sorties as of today.
Lastly, this week we will hold an additional Cabinet meeting in order to begin discussing the multi-year plan for not only the defense budget but also the question of our preparations for the defense establishment multi-year plan. This is a necessary condition for integrating decisions in this area with decisions on the budget that will be integrated later. We will also need to decide on both of these, on the yearly and multi-year defense budget and also on our budget for next year.