Thank you. Thank you very much for that kind introduction and thank you to my fellow Californian, Haim. Haim is someone who I think has really served his country by bringing the cause of the United States and Israel together. He has served that cause with tremendous distinction. He's provided vision and support for this very important conference. But more broadly I'd like to thank you, Haim, for your commitment to strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel--a cause that is a key priority for me as secretary of defense. For that reason, it is truly an honor to be here tonight and to join all of you and so many distinguished guests in helping to open this year's Saban Forum. My personal connection to Israel dates back to my days as a member of Congress. For more than 10 years I shared a house with a group of fellow congressmen right here in the District of Columbia. If you've seen the movie "Animal House," you'll have some idea of what this was like. One of the members of that exclusive fraternity was Chuck Schumer, someone that many of you know and that many of you understand has a tremendous passion for Israel that is deep and infectious. We slept on the bottom of this house--the living room area--and every night before we went to sleep, he made me say the Shema. I made him say the Hail Mary. He learned from my passion as an Italian, and I learned from his passion for Israel, particularly when I think it was a little over 20 years ago he and I and some of our dearest friends had a chance to travel to Israel together.
That visit--I believe it was in August of '91--left a very deep and lasting impression on me. At a time when hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union were making aliyah and fulfilling a dream to live a free and more prosperous life in their historic homeland, that trip gave me an even stronger appreciation for Israel's promise as a Jewish and democratic state. And coming just once after Saddam Hussein's SCUD missiles had attacked Tel Aviv and Haifa, the visit also underscored the complex array of security threats facing Israel by virtue of geography, by virtue of politics, and by virtue of history.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee and OMB director, I had the opportunity to work on budget issues regarding military assistance to Israel. And as a member of President Clinton's cabinet, as chief of staff, I had the opportunity to be present at that historic moment on the South Lawn when Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands in the effort to advance the peace process. And then, tragically, after Rabin's death I had the opportunity as President Clinton's chief of staff to fly with him so that he could pay tribute to the memory and to the dedication to peace of Rabin.
In the years since, as director of the CIA and now as the secretary of defense, I've worked closely with a number of Israeli leaders--the prime minister, many intelligence and military leaders, one of whom I understand is hear this evening. Meir Dagan, who I often work with at Mossad and I understand is participating in this forum. Ehud Barak is also a friend that I've known for years, and we've already had the opportunity to meet a number of times in our capacities and to discuss our shared efforts to strengthen Israel's security.
I was pleased to make my first trip to Israel as secretary of defense just a few weeks ago, and meet with Israeli leaders including my friend, Prime Minister Netanyahu. Over the course of my career, I have witnessed periods of great progress in these efforts, and periods of great challenge and uncertainty for Israel and our shared security interests in the region.
Yet nothing I have seen compares to the dramatic events of the past year-one of change, one of promise, one of uncertainty, one of turmoil; a year we hope of Arab awakening, a year of setback for al Qaeda, and a year we believe of frustration for Iran. Entrenched leaders …
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Publication information: Article title: Saban Forum. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: U.S. Department of Defense Speeches. Publication date: December 2, 2011. Page number: Not available. © 2009 U.S. Department of Defense Speeches. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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