Israel Hayom | Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) : ‘I want Israel to know: Congress has your back’

In an interview with Israel Hayom, n. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vows to make sure that the Iranian nuclear talks are “handled properly” • The U.S. should embargo anyone who boycotts ISesrael, and never give up on the peace process, he says.

Boaz Bismuth
“We have shared interests and common enemies,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

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Photo credit: Lior Mizrahi

If you ask U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) whether the average Israeli citizen should believe the mainstream media’s assertion that relations between Israel and the U.S. are in decline and that the decades-long friendship between them is unraveling, the answer would be a definitive no. If not stopped, he may even launch into a detailed monologue on how committed the entire U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, is to the Israeli cause.

“There’s been some friction between the administration and the Israeli government but I would say that the friction that has reared its head at times is not the strongest indicator of the relationship,” Graham, 59, says. “I think the U.S.-Israel relationship’s anchor tenant is the Congress.”

He says there is nothing preventing the U.S. from standing by Israel while simultaneously supporting nuclear talks with Iran (without lifting sanctions), the way he does, in efforts to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons. Or while supporting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in his efforts to jumpstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On the latter, he makes sure to point out that “the United Nations is not a good venue for Israel when it comes to the peace process.” This during the same week that the U.N. actually rejected the Palestinian proposal for statehood.

Q: So what is the average Israeli citizen to think about relations between Israel and the U.S.?

“Presidents come and go. [George H.W.] Bush 41’s administration had problems with Israel’s policies [led by then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir]. In business terms, the anchor tenant is the Congress.

“There’s wide bipartisan support in a couple of areas: that the peace process should not be turned over to the United Nations. I sent a letter to the administration together with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urging the administration to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that would start getting involved with the peace process. The last thing in the world we should do is to avoid direct negotiations.

“Secondly, there’s a lot of bipartisan support for the idea that sanctions against Iran brought them to the table, and the Iranians need to understand that the sanctions are not going away, unless we get a deal that we all can live with.”

How else does Congress’ support for Israel come into play?

“When it comes to military assistance, economic assistance, Congress is firmly in Israel’s camp. There is absolutely no support in any segment of American political life to restrict aid to Israel. There is absolutely no support for the idea of sanctioning Israel over the settlement issue.

“Sen. Schumer and I are planning to introduce a Hamas sanctions bill that would sanction companies that do business with, or countries that support Hamas, we view it as a terrorist organization. We passed one resolution after another during the recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, applauding Israel’s efforts to restrict civilian casualties and condemning Hamas efforts to inflict as much violence as possible.”

You mentioned the need for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The Palestinian initiatives to gain statehood at the United Nations without first negotiating a peace agreement with Israel are going to be met with a lot of bipartisan resistance. I think that there is a lot of support on both sides of the aisle to make sure that the U.N. is put on notice that if they give membership status to the Palestinians, any subdivision of the U.N. that recognizes the Palestinians as a state, their funding would be terminated. We did that with UNESCO.”

Despite his clear tone, Sen. Graham makes sure to clarify that “I just want the Israeli people to know that Congress does have your back. I am by no means anti-Palestinian. I am pro-Israel and I want to help the Palestinian people with their legitimate ambitions.”

He also reiterates that “there will be a lot of bipartisan opposition to any effort by the Palestinians to use the International Criminal Court in the Hague against the Israel Defense Forces.”

In Graham’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the key issue, and the most urgent problem at this time is the Iranian nuclear threat.

“The Iranian nuclear ambitions are the biggest threat to the world in general,” he says. “Israel needs to be reassured that Congress will be there in an appropriate way. I can assure you that the Republican control of Senate and the House will be pushing measures to make sure that the Iranian nuclear negotiations are handled properly, that sanctions are reimposed if the Iranians walk away from the table or if they cheat on any deal.”

According to the New York Times, the White House is not committed to bringing an Iranian deal, should one be reached, to Congress for approval. How will you react if they do bypass Congress?

“They seem to want our approval when it comes to operations in Syria and Iraq. We, the Congress, created the sanctions, and we should have a say on whether the deal justifies lifting the sanctions. I don’t know how this will turn out, but I think there will be a strong bipartisan vote in favor of the idea that any deal between the P5+1 [and Iran] should come before Congress before the sanctions are lifted. I can’t think of a more important decision that the world will make in 2015 than how to handle the nuclear ambitions of the ayatollahs in Iran.

“Islamic State and al-Qaida and radical Islam are a threat to our way of life. The Arab world is beginning to see radical Islam as a threat to their way of life as well. There is an opportunity here for the United States, Europe, the Israelis and Arab states to work together against two common enemies: radical Islam and the nuclear ambitions of the ayatollahs in Tehran.”

With an emphasis on Iran?

Finish reading: Israel Hayom | ‘I want Israel to know: Congress has your back’.

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