Back in Israel, Graham Offers Belligerence-free Nuclear Energy Option (VIDEO INTERVIEW)
Yemen wants to know why senator is abandoning it
US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was one of a large field of Republican presidential hopefuls who lost the 2016 GOP nomination to Donald Trump. Nevertheless, Graham, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and is one of the Senate’s leaders in foreign policy, has proven to be a strong ally of the president, albeit a partisan willing to break with him when their interests diverge.
Even in regard to the Middle East, where Graham is unrivalled in his support for the State of Israel, the senator has split with the administration over holding Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He is withholding support from the president’s determination to kill a congressional measure that would prevent the United States from providing aid to the Saudi-led Sunni coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi Shi’ites in Yemen.
Yet Graham is introducing what he sees as a solution to a common Middle Eastern quandary: providing non-threatening nuclear power that even Iran could use because it offers the energy without the threat of weaponization.
The Media Line’s Felice Friedson sat with Sen. Graham in Jerusalem over the Fourth of July weekend when the senator was leading a junket to areas of concern in the Middle East.
TML: Any word on opening a Senate satellite office here in Jerusalem? It might be easier for you.
Sen. Graham: I think that would do well here…. Listen, I come here a lot. I love the State of Israel. I love the people. I have no animosity against Palestinians. I’m trying to find a way forward to secure Israel. The number one issue on my mind right now is the Iranians with the bomb. This is a historic time. If Israel ever needed a reliable friend, it is now. We need to tell the Iranians what red lines there are. And I am, over time, working on a security agreement between us and the State of Israel to let everybody know: If you want to destroy Israel, you’ve got to come through us. I appreciate [Democratic] Sen. [Chris] Van Hollen coming…. Now’s a very tenuous time – the Iranians are beginning to go down the enrichment road again and that is a nightmare for Israel and the United States. When the Ayatollah says, “Death to Israel,” he’s not joking. This is not some kind of joke. He doesn’t have to run for office in Iran. He believes it, he means it, he’s a religious Nazi and I am here to celebrate the first July the 4th celebration in the [US] Embassy in Jerusalem and I want to be part of that history. And I just think it’s very important for American politicians to be here now, given what Iran’s doing.
TML: Do you feel there is bipartisan support concerning Iran?
Sen. Graham: Yes, I do. I think there is bipartisan support for the idea that Iran shouldn’t have a bomb. I just thought that the JCPOA of the Obama Administration [the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iranian nuclear agreement with western nations – ed.] won’t work. They had set a time clause of 10 years down the road [after which] they can enrich without limitations. There was no adequate inspection. We could go on and on and on about the flaws of the JCPOA, but I don’t think any Democrat wants the Iranians to have a bomb – we just have a different view of who we are dealing with. When I look across the table at the Ayatollah, I see somebody who is a religious villain that would use a bomb against the Arabs and the State of Israel and [the United States] for religious purposes. And the Iranian people are held captive by this ideology. So my heart goes out to the Iranian people. At the end of the day, the Democrats and the Republicans and everybody share the same goal: Iran should never get a bomb. So here is my solution. You want nuclear power? You can have it. We have 15 nations that have nuclear power plants, but they don’t make their own fuel. How do you make a bomb? You enrich and you reprocess. Three-and-a half percent enrichment is pretty much what you need to make fuel for a peaceful reactor. Ninety percent enrichment can be done in months with [Iran’s available] centrifuges. So why do we allow the Ayatollah an enrichment capability at all? If 15 nations have nuclear power plants without enrichment, why can’t he? So the Russians and the Chinese can provide him with the spent fuel he needs to run a peaceful reactor. He doesn’t need to enrich and reprocess. I would tell the Arabs the same thing. Let’s come up with an agreement; it’s called the 1-2-3 Agreement, where everybody, Arabs and the Iranians, can have peaceful nuclear power, but they can’t make their own fuel.
TML: We’ve recently heard unusually tough talk from the American security echelon about Israel allowing the Chinese to be in a position to compromise classified defense information, such as the Chinese company running ports where military operations take place. Have you had occasion to advise Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu on the matter?
Sen. Graham: We’re telling this to everybody: If you buy the Chinese 5G technology, we believe that these platforms, the 5G Wal way system, will be owned and operated by the Chinese government. They will steal the information on the 5G system and it will be a form of espionage – you know, economic espionage, in a fashion, [and] unacceptable to the United States. So, the message is: We love our friends in Israel but beware of the Chinese.
TML: Is it not a variation of the Turkey/Russia scenario – Turkey’s purchase of a Russian weapons system?
Sen. Graham: Well, we are not going to sell Turkey the F-35, which is the most advanced fighter in our inventory, along with the F-22. The S-400 is the most advanced anti-aircraft missile battery the Russians own. The S-400 is designed to defeat the F-35. We’re not going to let that combination exist. Turkey is a strategic ally of Russia and they don’t have problems with Turkey, but the bottom line is, I want to pull them out of Russia’s orbit. I’d like to do a free-trade agreement with Turkey so they could integrate their kind with ours. But the idea of activating the S-400 system would result in sanctions against Turkey and the denial of the F-35 to Turkey, and I hope we can avoid that.
TML: I recently spoke with a very senior Yemeni official who said he was surprised that you were not in favor of supporting the [internationally-recognized] Hadi government against the Iranian-backed Houthis. What would you say to him?
Sen. Graham: All I can say is that Iran is up to no good. This war in Yemen, I blame Iran more than I blame anybody else. I’m sure there is some blame to be shared. But the missiles coming out of Yemen or Saudi Arabia are Iran-purchased, Iran-supplied, and I would just say to anybody that we need to break the back of Iran’s ability to destroy and disrupt the region – Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. One of the things about a security agreement with Israel, [the Israelis] have thousands of rockets in Lebanon [aimed at them]. Thousands, tens of thousands. An existential threat to Israel could be a nuclear weapon delivered from Iran, but [could] also include a massive conventional attack coming out of Lebanon. Rockets supplied to Hizbullah, paid for and manufactured by the Iranians. So we need to stop their malign behavior and I’d like to put Iran on notice that if you are coming after Israel, that’s the end of you. That you’ll get into a war with the United States and you don’t want to do that.
TML: Senator Graham, you said Hamas is the enemy of all and yet Hamas does live in the West Bank as well. So who are, in the end, the Americans brokering a deal with? Is it really Israel and the Palestinians? Is it Israel, the Palestinians and Hamas?
Sen. Graham: The bottom line: The Palestinians are not going away. Israelis are not going away and there’s not going to be a one-state solution. So, there’s elements in the Palestinian community I think we can do business with, and there are elements we can’t. I would never ask Israel to go to the peace table until the Hamas elements of the Palestinian community are extinguished. And the best way to extinguish this Hamas ideology is to build up that part of the Palestinian community that would accept the solution that recognizes Israel. So as you build up the West Bank, as you offer a hopeful life to the West Bank, hopefully the people in Gaza will say: “Hey, the Hamas motto doesn’t work!” But Hamas’s agenda is not a two-state solution. It’s a one-state solution: the destruction of the State of Israel. And I don’t think that every Palestinian adopts that position. But right now, who would Israel negotiate with? You have a divided community. You have Hamas in control of Gaza. You have the PA having a hard time administering in its own backyard. So none of this is going to happen anytime soon. We should do everything we can to stop Iran from supporting Hamas. We should do everything we can to protect the State of Israel from threats coming from Gaza. It’s a nightmare for Israel if they [the Palestinian Authority] collapse in the West Bank, and we don’t want that.
TML: Do you think the timing of the Economic Workshop [release of the economic component of the administration’s Mideast plan, led by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner] was right? The Palestinians are angry at what they say is a clear preference for the Israelis on the part of the US team.
Sen. Graham: They’re angry about the American Embassy being moved [from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem], but the Embassy being moved was supported by every Republican and Democrat since 1997. The Golan Heights has nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. So all I can say is the administration has put on the table a lot of money to improve the lives of the Palestinians. The political settlement is yet to be unveiled. I would hope the Palestinians would see this as a hopeful event. It will infuse the community with infrastructure and money. Once the administration’s plan is unveiled, I’ll know more about what’s possible and what’s not. But I appreciate the administration trying; I mean, they’re trying – what more can you ask?
TML: The money wasn’t actually put on the table; there were pledges….
Sen. Graham: No Arab is going to write a check until they find out what the political solution is. It’s just all talk. We probably did more for the Palestinians than the Arabs combined. It is what it is. You know, nobody is going to invest in any half of a plan, so I’m glad that there is an economic proposal which will dramatically transform the lives of the Palestinian people, soon to be followed by a political solution. And I just hope people will keep an open mind and I appreciate the administration for trying. But what I do understand is that a one-state solution won’t work. There’s just no way. Hamas has a one-state solution in mind. That ain’t never going to work. We’re never going to allow that and we’re not going to drive Israel into the sea. And if you do combine the two communities, the democratic process would result in the end of the Jewish state. That makes no sense.
TML: Return to salvaging the two-state solution idea. The Palestinians are growing increasingly angry when everything they see appears to be American largess to Israel. They characterize the ambassador and envoy as leading as if they were Israeli, rather than American, diplomats. This is what we keep hearing from the Palestinians. Should the American team tone it down a bit?
Sen. Graham: To the Palestinians, give it a chance. [US Ambassador to Israel David] Friedman doesn’t believe in a one-state solution. He believes in a secure Israel and so do I. And here’s the deal: After Gaza, there is no way… I don’t think any party wanting to govern Israel would ever suggest that she would withdraw from the West Bank until conditions on the ground would allow it. You’re never going to withdraw the security apparatus that keeps Israel safe unless conditions warrant it. The point I’m trying to make is that the security apparatus in the West Bank has an Israeli component and that Israeli component is never going to go away until conditions change. It won’t be based on the passage of time.
TML: Israel increasingly finds itself becoming part of the domestic political [election] debates of both nations. As Israeli and American election cycles draw closer, will Israel become a featured player?
Sen. Graham: I’d like to know what the Democratic candidate for president believes about the Golan. Do they agree that it should be part of Israel? I’d like to know. Are they going to move the embassy back? All I can say is that I think there is bipartisan support for the State of Israel. I believe that. The JCPOA, no matter how well-intentioned, was a disaster. And as we campaign for president in 2020, I hope that people who want to be president are asked: Would you move the [US Embassy back to Tel Aviv]? Would you not acknowledge the Golan should be part of Israel forever? These are the questions I’m dying to hear answers to and I also want the Republican Party to step up and say, “We know that a one-state solution is a dead end and that we’re all wanting a secure, peaceful settlement on the conflict of the Palestinians, understanding from Israel’s point of view that security is the number one goal and it must be achieved in a fashion that protects Israel from a second Gaza.
TML: Sen. Lindsey Graham, thank you so much for taking time to speak with The Media Line.