US Senator Ends Israel Visit, Promising $1 Billion Aid for Iron Dome Rockets
Iran, domestic politics on Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s mind as he heads back to Washington
United States Sen. Lindsey Graham concluded a visit to Israel on Tuesday, touring the country’s southern border which last month came under heavy rocket fire and meeting with Israeli officials to discuss regional concerns.
“This was the largest sustained assault in [Israeli] history, and the Iron Dome system saved thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives,” Graham, R-SC, said, referring to last month’s 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas and the performance of Israel’s missile defense system.
Nearly 4,400 rockets were launched at Israeli cities and towns in the latest round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza, killing 12 people in Israel. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, approximately 280 Gaza residents were killed in Israeli airstrikes, with over 100 of them women and children.
Israel disagrees, saying that at least 225 of those killed were Hamas combatants directly involved in firing rockets.
“There will be a billion-dollar request coming to the Pentagon this week from [Israel’s] defense ministry, to replenish the Iron Dome,” according to Graham, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.
“I would imagine the administration will say yes to this request. I want to thank President [Joe] Biden for standing with Israel,” he added.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz will fly to Washington on Wednesday for an urgent one-day visit, where he will meet his counterpart, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and other White House officials.
During his two-day trip, Graham met with a host of government leaders, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz and others.
“I’ve met with just about everybody,” he told The Media Line Tuesday evening.
It’s not about individuals. It’s stronger than that. I’m not at all concerned about a deterioration in our relationship
With negotiations in Israel over a new government headed by a handful of Netanyahu’s rivals nearing conclusion, Graham insisted a new administration in Jerusalem would not alter US-Israel relations.
“It’s not about individuals. It’s stronger than that. I’m not at all concerned about a deterioration in our relationship. Bibi has been one of my dearest friends for a very long time, and I don’t know how the political situation will end. We’ll leave it up to the people of Israel to pick their own government,” Graham said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
Earlier this week, following an announcement by Netanyahu’s former ally Naftali Bennett that he would try to form a government with centrist lawmaker Yair Lapid, the long-serving prime minister warned such leadership would threaten Israel’s very existence.
“Can you imagine that security cabinet handling Iran, or Hamas?” Netanyahu thundered during a nationally televised address.
“I’ve known Mr. Lapid for a long time, I know Mr. Bennett, I know most of the major players [in Israel]. Gantz has proven himself to be a very steady hand as defense minister,” Graham said of the future, though unconfirmed as of Tuesday evening, government.
“I believe there’s a unity of purpose in Israel regarding Iran. I’m not concerned,” he said.
On Tuesday, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency published its quarterly report, revealing a significant decline in Iran’s uranium enrichment over the past three months, thought to be caused by the mysterious April explosion at the Natanz underground nuclear facility.
“When it comes to Israeli national security risks, all roads lead back to Iran,” the 18-year senator said. “The Arab and Israeli views are the same – you can’t trust Iran.”
US and Iranian officials have been conducting indirect talks in Vienna in recent weeks over a mutual return to compliance with the abandoned 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement.
“I’ve never been more worried about a nuclear arms race in the region then I am right now,” Graham said, promising to next week introduce to the Biden administration a new proposal co-authored with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, which will serve as “an alternative to the JCPOA.”
“Iran… can have all the nuclear power they want, but no one will be allowed to enrich [uranium],” he said of the plan. “If the Iranians truly want peaceful nuclear power, that can be accomplished. Without enrichment you can’t make a bomb.”
The Arab and Israeli views are the same – you can’t trust Iran
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu in a rare statement publicly aired Jerusalem’s grievances with Biden over Washington’s ongoing negotiations with Tehran.
“We will continue to do whatever it takes to defend ourselves,” the prime minister said. “Containment is not an option. If we have to choose between a conflict with our great friend, the US, and eliminating an existential threat, the existential threat comes first.”
In response, Gantz quickly published his own comments, calling the Biden administration “a true friend of Israel” and promising that “whatever differences may arise, they will always be resolved behind closed doors and not in an inflammatory manner that could harm our national security.”