Columns

Mattis in Israel: 'Bad People Can Dominate' If All Religions, Ethnicities Don't 'Band Together'

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman escorts Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Tel Aviv on April 21, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

Defense Secretary James Mattis said in Israel today that Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day marked beginning at sunset Sunday, is a reminder “that if good people don’t band together and work together across all religious and all ethnic lines, then bad people can dominate.”

Mattis, the first Trump cabinet member to visit Israel, had meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman.

In their joint remarks, Rivlin hailed Mattis as “a real soldier — “every one of our former generals are respecting you so much,” he added — and noted Israel is “surrounded by more than five armies; every one of them is fighting the other one, no one of them is really feeling a lot of sympathy to the state of Israel.”

“You know that we are facing a lot of challenges. And the need to understand that in the Middle East, there are no shortcuts. No shortcuts,” the president stressed. “Everything — every challenge is an opportunity. Never the less, some of the challenges should be handled.”

Mattis said “military to military relationship… has always been good” between Israel and United States, “but I will just tell you that we intend to make it the strongest ever and work with all our friends in the region and elsewhere in terms of security.”

“We have two fundamental threats here: one is from terrorism, the other is from Iran,” he added. “And we cannot allow those threats to break apart the human connections between those of us who are committed to peace and prosperity and tolerance for each other.”

In remarks before sitting down with Mattis, Netanyahu praised the Defense secretary for being “clear and forthright” on the threat posed by Iran.

“We have common values and also common dangers. The common dangers are based on the twin threats of militant Islam, the Shiite extremists led by Iran, the Sunni extremists led by Daesh,” Netanyahu added.

“We are committed to thwarting these dangers, as we are committed to seize the common opportunities and great opportunities that I think are before us, Mr. Secretary, because of the understanding of our — many of our Arab neighbors as to the commonality of the threat, but also as to the opportunities of the future.”

Mattis reiterated that “if good people don’t band together, then bad people can do a lot of damage in this world.”

“And we’re committed to stopping that and doing whatever it takes to pass on peace and freedom to the next generation,” he added.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said that in his meetings, Mattis “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and qualitative military edge, and the importance of our enduring relationship with the government and people of Israel.”