It is “none of our business” whether Israel builds new neighborhoods in east
Jerusalem or withdraws from the Golan Heights, and the US should not tell Israel
how to defend itself, US Sen. (RKentucky) said on Saturday night at the end of a
week-long visit to the country.
Paul, a maverick libertarian senator known
for his advocacy of slashing US foreign aid, said at a press briefing that the
issue of cutting aid to Israel – something he advocates as part of a gradual
process – did not come up during his meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu or President Shimon Peres.
Paul said that he was not interested
in the message of his trip being that he came here “touting and spouting”
cutting aid to Israel.
“I came here to show that I am supportive of the
relationship between Israel and America,” he said.
senator’s anti-foreign aid approach does concern some pro-Israel advocates in
the US, concerned that he wants to significantly trim Washington’s annual $3
billion in military aid to Jerusalem.
“The biggest threat to our nation
right now is our debt,” said Paul, adding that a bankrupt America would not be a
good ally for Israel. “This does mean that we have to reassess who to give aid
to, and when we do reassess that, I would begin with countries that are burning
our flag and chanting ‘Death to America.’ No one is accusing Israel of that.”
Paul said he was not talking about anything
different than what Netanyahu said in a 1996 speech to Congress, in which he
advocated Israel gradually weaning itself off of American aid
This would benefit Israel and its defense industry, because it
would not have to buy all its weaponry from the US, and a curtailment of US
foreign aid would also mean less money for arms for Israel’s neighbors, Paul
Stating that the US gives more foreign aid to Israel’s neighbors
than to Israel, Paul said that if the US gives 20 F-16 fighter plans to Egypt,
Israel then feels it needs to buy 25; or if the US gives Egypt 200 tanks, Israel
feels the need to purchase 300.
Paul stressed that he was worried about
giving weapons to Egypt at the present time, especially since President Mohamed
Morsi is listening to a spiritual leader calling for “the death of Israel and
all its friends.”
The senator said he was “very disappointed” that after
giving Egypt some $60 billion in aid over the past 30 years, rioters there
climbed the roof of the embassy last year, took down the US flag and burned
“That should never have happened and is inexcusable,” he
Paul said the issue of his position regarding aid toward Egypt
did come up in the conversation with Netanyahu.
Unlike most US senators
who visit Israel, Paul had two public appearances during his week here, an
indication perhaps that he is indeed – as has been widely speculated – gearing
up for a 2016 presidential bid. He also spent a day in Jordan, meeting with King
Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
newly appointed member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, would not
comment on the controversial nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel as
secretary of defense, or on how he would vote when the Senate is asked to
confirm the appointment.
Regarding the overall direction of the US-Israel
relationship in a second Obama term, he said that “even with the problems,”
America’s ties with Israel are so strong that they will remain that way “even
with the Obama administration not seeming to be going out to dinner with
Netanyahu, or playing bridge, or whatever you do with your
While Paul said the US should not meddle in Israel’s
decisionmaking process regarding settlement construction or the Golan Heights,
he added that Iran was a different issue because it had ramifications for the
entire Middle East.
The senator, who voted for sanctions against Iran,
said the sanctions would have a better chance of success if Russia and China
were involved, and advocated using trade leverage with those countries to get
them on board. As opposed to what he termed “show votes” on sanctions at the UN,
where some countries do whatever they can to show their strong opposition to the
US, he advocated “quiet diplomacy” with China and Russia on the
“We do a lot of trade with Russia, and Iran does some,” he
“But I think the trade with America is more important to China and
Russia, and I think that trade should be used with some leverage to get them to
cooperate and help talk Iran down and get them to do the right
Paul was not the only Republican lawmaker in the country over the
weekend, and Netanyahu on Friday met another delegation of five Republican
senators – led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky –
and the discussion focused on Iran.
“My priority, if I’m elected for
another term as prime minister, will be first to stop Iran from getting nuclear
weapons,” Netanyahu told the delegation. “I think that was and remains the
highest priority for both our countries. I appreciate the American support and
your support for that end.”
McConnell, at the meeting, talked about the
strong bipartisan support for Israel, even as Republicans and Democrats are at
odds on so many other issues.
“As everybody in Israel knows, there are a
lot of things we disagree on in America,” he said.
“We’ve had big battles
over deficit and debt, but there’s broad bipartisan support for Israel, and our
agenda in this part of the world is the same as your agenda.
of our best friends, and we’re happy to continue that relationship.” •
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