Barak Ravid
Jonathan Lis
Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog.
Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog.Credit: Rami Shlush
Barak Ravid
Jonathan Lis

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said on Saturday that Israel needs to maintain its strategic relationship with the U.S. in order to achieve real security. Herzog's remarks came amid a crisis between Israel and the U.S. over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress.

"The definition of true national security, as I see it, requires much more than just guns, essential as they are," Herzog said, during an address to the Munich Security Conference 2015 in Germany.

"It also requires a strong economy, a strong society and strong alliances, like the strategic alliance Israel has with the United States of America.

"The art of diplomacy is not in speeches but in intense, intimate coordination with allies who share the same basic interests."

The Likud, in response, said Herzog's "behavior in Munich constituted an irresponsible crossing of red lines."

Herzog met informally with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who announced on Friday that he would miss Netanyahu's speech to Congress, and Secretary of State John Kerry on the fringes of the conference.

He also met with European Union Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond.

Herzog stressed during his speech that he would never accept a nuclear Iran and that it was Israel's "destiny and duty" to protect the Jewish people – "alone if we have to."

Israel, he added, did not ask anyone to fight its battles, "yet we Israelis know that a nation is stronger when it stands with allies. It is more important than ever that all of us here stand strong together."

The head of the Zionist Camp said that an international agreement was the preferred way of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. But he stressed that such an agreement must "ensure that Iran will never develop a nuclear bomb."

"We must focus on the concrete parameters of the agreement while keeping all options on the table and deterring Iran from any encroachment."

"If Iran wants to live in peace, the Iranian people will not find Israel their enemy," Herzog stated. "But we will not allow an extremist regime to develop nuclear weapons and we spare no effort to stop it."

If elected prime minister in the upcoming elections, Herzog said, he would act to implement the United Nations Security Council resolution for the disarmament of Gaza in return for a serious reconstruction effort.

"The powder keg of Gaza can explode at any minute," he said. "Gaza desperately requires economic reconstruction."

Herzog added that one of his first foreign policy initiatives will be "to work with our regional allies, and with our strategic partners, towards a binding resolution calling for the demilitarization of the Gaza strip, in exchange for very significant reconstruction, a kind of a mini-Marshall Plan if you will. This with the aim of bringing quiet and tranquility to our border with Gaza for years to come."

Regarding peace with the Palestinians, he said that he was committed to a two-state solution. If elected prime minister, he stressed, he will act to resume the peace process "in coordination with a strong regional platform."

He attacked what he said was the "counter-productive" step of the Palestinian Authority in threatening to take Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"We will never allow our nation, and our IDF troops, to be drawn into a legal and political farce at the ICC," he said. "This is not the way forward."

The Likud was quick to blast Herzog's trip. "While the Prime Minister seeks to prevent a dangerous agreement between the powers and Iran, the opposition head chose to weaken Israel's standing in the international arena," a statement read.

"The good of the state demands that the differences between the left-wing and the Likud be smoothed out here, at home, in front of the Israeli voter. Instead, [Herzog] is demeaning himself before the pressure of the international community, running to Munich for the sake of his personal political considerations, in order to slander the prime minister of Israel, while hurting national and security interests."

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