“This is a huge threat to Israel,” Ryan said. “At this point, I think we’ve got to do everything we can to shore up our alliance.”
The speech comes just days before Ryan plans to travel to Israel on his first foreign trip as Speaker, in a show of the solidarity he blames the current administration for shirking.
Ryan painted the United States’ responsibility to guarantee Israel’s security, strengthen that alliance, and “push back” against anything that might threaten it as a natural progression of the U.S.’s legacy built through World War II and the Cold War.
Both conflicts “taught us that free countries are safe when we work with each other, when we stand by each other, when we trust each other,” Ryan said. “Because then, when a threat arises, we can confront it together.”
The United States must continue to engage against new threats, Ryan said, from the likes of North Korea, Iran, Russia and the Islamic State, especially when those threats are directed against Israel.
“For the terrorists, Israel is the first target and we are the ultimate target,” Ryan said.
Ryan called for expanding bilateral security arrangements with Israel to put more emphasis on missile defense and for continuing to help Israel with the cooperative missile programs known as Arrow 3 and David’s Sling. He also called for pushing back against Iranian “aggression in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria” and any attempts to “boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.”
“This is where America can lead, this is where America can make a difference,” he said. “This is where your voices must be heard.”
Ryan urged AIPAC members to continue to lobby Congress vigorously — particularly in the months ahead, as the country grapples with an election season and drafts a new memorandum of understanding for security cooperation with Israel.
“As we put together our agenda for the next president, we are going to need the help of AIPAC and everyone here today,” Ryan said.
Ryan also pledged to keep the congressional agenda closely in line with Israel’s interests.
“As long as I am speaker, I will not allow any legislation that divides our countries to come to the House floor for any consideration,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s policy proposals are not likely to cause a major split along party lines. Initiatives to increase support to Israel’s missile defense, push back against divestment and boycott efforts, and take a tough stance on Iranian aggression in the Middle East already have bipartisan support in Congress.
Ryan’s first speech to AIPAC as speaker comes a year after his predecessor. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. The controversial arrangement was brokered by Boehner and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer without the White House’s input. Netanyahu’s speech, which took place last March after the annual AIPAC conference, touched off what has been a rocky year between AIPAC and many congressional Democrats, who viewed it as a slight directed at President Obama.
Many Democratic members of Congress boycotted the speech, citing concern that Israel was about to have national elections in which Netanyahu was a candidate. During his fiery address, Netanyahu repeatedly referred to the Iran agreement — then still being negotiated — as a “bad deal.”
AIPAC also lobbied hard against the deal, spending a record $1.7 million to push lawmakers to insist that Congress be able to review the pact as a way to try to scuttle the agreement. But AIPAC lost that fight when not enough members opposed the deal to prevent its implementation.
In the process of its lobbying campaign, AIPAC managed to also lose the patience of many congressional Democrats, who privately complained about the group’s aggressive tactics and its tacit support of having Netanyahu address Congress despite the concerns of the White House.
Organizers of the conference — which carries the slogan “Come Together” — appear to be taking great pains to emphasize themes of bipartisanship and policy areas where the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are in relative agreement. On Monday morning, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) appeared together on the AIPAC stage. The two mentioned the Iran deal only in passing, despite both recommitting themselves to ensure that Iran not get a nuclear weapon and that Israel get more military support from the United States.
Ryan appeared on the same stage and on the same night as the three remaining Republican presidential contenders: Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
He stressed that his comments were not meant “to castigate or blame anybody” but to “bring clarity” to misunderstandings that threaten security. Still, Ryan didn’t restrain himself from accusing the Obama administration of being out of touch on matters concerning Israel.
“I think the current administration understands that we need our allies. But it doesn’t understand what our allies need,” Ryan said. “A confident America does not distance itself from Israel or cozy up to Iran. A confident America keeps its word. It stands by our allies. It stands by Israel.”