Lindsey Graham, United States Senator (R) from South Carolinaat the 7th Annual JPost Conference.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In an effort to lobby the US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will helicopter with influential US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham – whom he will meet on Monday – to the strategic plateau to emphasize the importance of the region for Israel’s security.
Netanyahu announced the plans at the opening of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, calling Graham of South Carolina a “great friend of Israel.” Graham is the chairman of the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee.
“I will go up with him to the Golan Heights as a continuation of efforts we are making to get the United States, together with other countries, to recognize Israeli sovereignty and the Israeli hold on the Golan,” he said.
In January, soon after US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria, and during National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit to Israel, Netanyahu made his first public appeal for US recognition of Israeli control over the Golan. He had intended to take Bolton to the region, but that plan was scuttled because of bad weather.
On Sunday, Graham went to the South, touring the Israel-Gaza border area with US Ambassador David Friedman. The two were briefed by OC Southern Command head Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, and they also toured a discovered Hamas terror tunnel.
Graham posted pictures on Twitter of himself with Friedman inspecting the tunnel, and wrote, “The tunnels have been used by groups like Hamas to smuggle weapons and terrorize Israeli citizens.”
Friedman also posted a picture from the tour, tweeting: “Cost of tunnel = cost of 2 new schools = cost of 30 new homes. #Hamas consistently makes the wrong choices for the people of #Gaza. Heartbreaking.”
At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also announced that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be visiting Israel at the end of next week. Pompeo is expected to take part in a summit meeting in Jerusalem, along with Cypriot and Greek leaders, to discuss a natural gas pipeline from Israel’s territorial waters through Cyprus to Greece and then further into Europe.
The prime minister, in what looks like a diplomatic blitz just prior to the April 9 elections, is expected to travel to Washington for a meeting with Trump and to address the annual AIPAC meeting during the week of March 24. He will then come back to host Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is scheduled to arrive the following week.
Netanyahu called Bolsonaro’s planned arrival a “groundbreaking” visit, saying that Israel is opening trade routes to Brazil that will create many jobs in Israel. Bolsonaro has promised to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, but it is not clear whether he will announce the move during the upcoming visit.
The premier also used the opening of the cabinet meeting to address the situation in the South amid rising tensions there. He said no one should think that a major IDF operation was off the table because Israel was in election mode.
“Over the last few days we have seen provocations from the Gaza Strip,” he said. “While this has been done by rogue groups, it does not absolve Hamas. Hamas is responsible for everything that is coming out of the Gaza Strip, and we respond accordingly with air force attacks against Hamas targets.”
Netanyahu said he heard some people from Gaza saying that because of the elections, a widespread Israeli military operation now was not being considered.
“My suggestion to Hamas: don’t build on that. We will do whatever is necessary to return quiet and security to the Gaza border communities and to the South,” he said.
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