Jun 1, 2021
Lindsey Graham Jerusalem Press Conference Transcript June 1
Senator Lindsey Graham gave a press conference from Jerusalem on June 1, 2021. He discussed his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. support for Israel. Read the transcript of the news briefing speech here.
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Lindsey Graham: (00:29)
Okay, thank you. Well, I guess it’s never boring coming to Israel, but this has probably been the most fascinating trip in a while. For the last two days, I’ve had a really good visit and met with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister, Mr. Lapid, just about everybody that’s in play here. And the one thing I would like to tell people back home in the United States, I don’t know how it’s going to end in terms of a new government being formed tomorrow, but from our perspective, it’s not about an individual, it’s about a relationship. The Prime Minister, Bibi, has just been a good friend for a long time. I think he’s been one of the strongest voices in the world for national security, and we’ll leave it up to The Knesset to figure out what to do in terms of who will be in charge of the government.
Lindsey Graham: (01:25)
The one message I got from everyone was that they’re very appreciative. The Israeli people are appreciative of the support America’s provided. There’ll be a $1 billion request coming to the Pentagon this week from the Defense Minister to replenish the Iron Dome and a few other things to upgrade the system. This was the largest sustained assault in maybe history and the Iron Dome performed incredibly well saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives. So I would imagine that the administration will say yes to this request and it will sail through Congress. There’s been a big dust up over the last engagement between Hamas and the state of Israel in the United States. But I’m here to tell you that there is a wide and deep support for Israel among the Democratic Party and I want to thank President Biden for standing with Israel during this last conflict.
Lindsey Graham: (02:35)
I appreciate the administration’s willingness to seek from Congress more money for the Iron Dome system. The other message that I received regardless of party affiliation was the concern about Iran. After having gone to the south today and seeing firsthand some of the damage done from the recent conflict, I was talked to very strongly about the north, that we’ve been talking about the south in the last week or so, but there’s a real fear among the defense establishment in Israel that the potential for Hezbollah to strike Israel is a lot greater than coming from Hamas. The common theme here is Iran. The world is putting Israel in a box. It seems that Iran is able to be the largest state sponsor of terrorism and nothing deters them. Without Iranian support, Hamas would be neutered and Hezbollah would be neutered. So when it comes to Israeli national security threats all roads lead back to Iran.
Lindsey Graham: (03:51)
Everyone expressed deep concern about the JCPOA and re-entering into a deal that this region believes to be lacking. I think the Arab view and Israeli view are the same, that you can’t trust Iran with a enrichment program. Longer and stronger is not possible. So in the next day or so, I’ll have an op-ed piece coming out I think in the Washington Post with Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat suggesting an alternative to the JCPOA. I gave the details about this proposal to every Israeli politician I met. They were very interested in the concept. And it’s the original French position that Iran and the Arabs can have all the nuclear power they want from an international fuel bank, but nobody will be allowed to enrich. If the Iranians truly want peaceful nuclear power, that can be accomplished. They don’t need an enrichment program, and I have the belief that the Arabs would agree to such a construct, that nuclear power for everyone, but enrichment would be off the table, And without enrichment, you can’t make a bomb.
Lindsey Graham: (05:16)
So the Israelis that I met with are very intrigued by this idea. I’m going to take the concept to the Biden administration with Senator Menendez, and I’m hoping we can find an alternative to the JCPOA that would deal with the region’s concern about Iran abusing the right to enrich and one day having a bomb. I’ve never been more worried about a nuclear arms race in the region than I am right now. I’ve been told by Arabs privately anything the international community gives Iran in terms of enrichment they’re going to insist on the same deal. And if you don’t watch it, we’re going to wake up one day very soon and there’ll be enrichment programs all over the Mideast, and that will eventually lead to a nuclear armed Mideast. That can be avoided if the world speaks with one voice and stands up to Iran.
Lindsey Graham: (06:15)
The largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Iranians, need to feel more pain for their misconduct. To my friends in Israel, we have your back. The Congress will be there for you, the American people will be there for you, and it is my hope that we can find a way forward with the Iranian nuclear issue that does not lead to a nuclear arms race. But unless some new idea emerges soon, I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed. With that, I’ll take questions.
Lazar Berman: (06:50)
Lazar Berman, Times of Israel. What do you think is the source of the antisemitism in the United States and what should be done [inaudible 00:06:56]?
Lindsey Graham: (06:58)
Well, I think Israel in many ways is a victim of her own success. I keep hearing, “Well, this is disproportionate. It’s not fair. Only 12 Israelis were killed.” There is a movement by the American left to say that the only problem is Right Wing politics in Israel. So I urged people from the Right in Israel to meet with Democrats when they come and tell them, “No, it’s not our policies that are leading to the conflict. It’s the goal of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran to destroy us that’s the source of the conflict.” I told my friends on the Left here in Israel, please tell Democrats when they come that our domestic politics are not the cause of the problem here. The problem is that Hamas owns Gaza and Hamas has an agenda that doesn’t include the survival of Israel. The last time Israel gave up land for peace, they got rockets. So the rise of antisemitism throughout the world troubles me, but unlike the 1930s, when the world sat on the sidelines and excused Nazi advancement, that will never happen again because Israel has the ability and the determination to prevent a second Holocaust.
Lindsey Graham: (08:29)
And we’re 76 years after the end of World War Two. There are nation states like Iran calling for the destruction of the only Jewish state in the world, Israel. There are terrorist groups plotting and planning every day to destroy the state of Israel. So now’s the time for us in America to speak with one voice with clarity. The second proposed I’ve proposed is that a defense agreement between the United States and Israel that would say in simple terms that to any power, terrorist group, or nation state who desires to destroy the state of Israel you’ll be picking a fight with the United States, that we have Israel’s back against existential threats. Article Five commitments in NATO Treaty requires one to defend all. If something happened to Estonia tomorrow, then all of us would come to Estonia’s aid.
Lindsey Graham: (09:30)
People in Israel are worried about an agreement that would reduce the IDF’s ability to defend the Jewish state. That is not the goal of the agreement. The goal of the agreement is to let the Iranians know that if you wake up one day and you want Hezbollah and Hamas to overwhelm Iron Dome in an effort to destroy the Jewish state, the United States will be looking to you and we will be coming your way.
Speaker 4: (09:59)
Senator Graham, the other day Prime Minister Netanyahu said [inaudible 00:10:05] government would put Israel’s national security at risk. Having met them, do you share that concern?
Lindsey Graham: (10:10)
Well, in terms of domestic politics, I’m going to leave that up to the people of Israel to pick their own government. I’ve known Mr. Lapid for a long time, I know Mr. Bennett, I know most of the major players here, and I do believe that there’s a unity purpose in Israel regarding Iran, that Benny Gantz, the Defense Minister, has proven himself I think to be a very steady hand. So I am not concerned about a deterioration in the U.S.-Israel relationship and I’ll leave it up to the people of Israel to determine if they feel that way. From my point of view, Bibi has been one of my dearest friends for a very long time. I think he’s going to be a historical figure when his time is up, whenever that is, and never count Bibi out. But I’m a Republican and I’ve come here with a simple message. Even though there are some Democrats saying things that are very disturbing to me, I do believe President Biden and the majority of the Democratic Party will be in Israel’s camp.
Speaker 5: (11:20)
[inaudible 00:11:20]. The President has a meeting with the Senator [inaudible 00:11:28] tomorrow to discuss infrastructure. There are some in the administration that are saying it’s time to fish or cut bait. Do you think it’s possible to reach an agreement?
Lindsey Graham: (11:37)
I think it’s very possible to find a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure in the neighborhood of $1 trillion. Not two trillion. Not for things that are, in my view, not infrastructure. But if President Biden wants to put on the board in terms of bipartisanship, I think we’re close on police reform and there’s a deal to be had on an infrastructure package around $1 trillion if he wants to go down that road.
Speaker 6: (12:06)
Senator Graham, CBN News. What’s your message to the Senators like Warren and Sanders that wanted to cut aid? What message would you bring to Israel?
Lindsey Graham: (12:19)
I wish that every Senator who has criticized Israel’s response would come to Israel, go to the south, meet with the IDF, and understand the pains that Israel goes to, to limit casualties. Here’s how I would describe the conflict. The only reason thousands of Israelis are not dead today is because they can defend themselves against missile attacks launched by Hamas designed to kill every Israeli. The reason casualties in Gaza are at the level they are this Israel chooses not to randomly kill Palestinians. They follow the rules of engagement they’ve set for themselves, and if Hamas could, they would kill everybody in Israel. If you don’t believe that, come here. To the Left in Israel, please give that message to Democrats. To the Right in Israel, please understand that there are plenty of Democrats that would be supportive of Israel. We just need to keep talking to each other.
Lindsey Graham: (13:39)
But it’s the biggest mistake since Munich to believe that Hamas does not want the destruction of Israel, literally every man, woman, and child driven into the sea. And if you don’t get that, you don’t understand the conflict. And if you don’t understand Hezbollah, if they could, would destroy every man, woman, and child in Israel, because in their ideology, there is no place for the state of Israel. So please come and learn and listen.
Speaker 7: (14:18)
Do you share Senator Ted Cruz’s position that President Biden’s Mideast policy has been disastrous and that he actually, by showing weakness to Hamas, has emboldened this latest war?
Lindsey Graham: (14:29)
Yeah, I read that. So I came here by the invitation of the government, and I want to reassure my Israeli colleagues that we’re going to meet your defense needs. I’m not coming here to attack President Biden. I think we vetoed a ceasefire resolution to give Israel the time and the space to deteriorate Hamas. I am violently opposed to the Iran agreement being sought by the administration. But I do believe that the Biden administration will be supportive of a request by Israel for additional money for their Iron Dome. I believe that vetoing the resolution in the United Nations gave Israel time to degrade Hamas. But I do have a serious difference when it comes to their Iran engagement. And I’d rather just leave it at that, if I could. Anything else? See you in Jerusalem.