I had the great pleasure of visiting Israel in 1999 on an AIPAC-sponsored trip. On a policy level, this was an incredibly informative experience. Not only were our official meetings with governmental and military leaders insightful, but directly seeing the physical terrain and challenges Israel faces was eye-opening. My Israel trip was also moving on a personal and spiritual level. No one who takes their faith seriously, as I do, can leave Israel without a profound sense of the historical and biblical importance of the land, and without a profound respect for the manner in which the Israeli government and people treat the holy sites.
Israel is without question the United States’ greatest ally and friend in the Middle East, and among its best allies in the entire world. Israel is a beacon of democracy and freedom in an area of the world dominated by dictatorships and political persecution. U.S. cooperation with Israel strengthens both countries in the continuing fight against global terrorism.
Israel’s Right to Self-Defense:
Like every country, Israel has a fundamental right to self-defense, including protecting its borders and responding to and preventing terrorist attacks from any sources. Israel has endured decades of terrorism and war, and, in fact, has acted toward its enemies with more restraint than would most any other country. When Israel has taken military action, it has always done so in self-defense, and it should be supported in its defensive efforts.
Over the past twenty years, the Iranian government has aggressively pursued a nuclear program with the hope of attaining nuclear weapons, consistently flouting United Nations resolutions to suspend its nuclear activities and open up its facilities to international inspection. Its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, persistently engages in anti-Semitic rhetoric akin to that of Nazi Germany, denies both the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist, and embraces an ideology of hatred and violence toward both Israel and America. There is no question that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an unacceptable threat to Israel, the United States, and its allies.
It is abundantly clear that Iran’s nuclear activities have nothing to do with peaceful energy development. Iran is the world’s number two exporter of oil and a large exporter of natural gas. Despite its energy wealth, it remains a very poor country. Poor countries with virtually unlimited supplies of cheap carbon-based energy don’t spend billions of dollars enriching uranium for peaceful nuclear energy.
Merely talking with Iran is not sufficient. As a Member of Congress, I supported a number of bills to put pressure on Iran, including:
- The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 (RC #409, 09/14/99) (RC #28, 03/01/00)
- The five-year extension of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (RC #276, 07/26/01)
- H Con Res 398 that would condemn Iran’s continuing deceptions and falsehoods about its nuclear programs (RC #152, 05/06/04)
- A bill to authorize the U.S. to withhold assistance for programs of the IAEA relating to the development and completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. (RC #310, 07/19/99)
And I strongly believe that the U.S. should now impose the most aggressive possible economic and travel sanctions against the Iranian regime. These sanctions may not succeed, but certainly, in their absence, Iran will become a nuclear power.
At the conclusion of this paper, you will find two op-eds that I wrote in 2009 on the need for strong and immediate sanctions against Iran.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital:
Every sovereign nation’s choice of its own capital should be respected. The United States must always recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and we should move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. From 1948 to 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city and Israeli citizens were prohibited from accessing holy sites in the area controlled by Jordan. Thankfully, today Jerusalem is once again an undivided city, the capital of Israel, and members of all faiths are welcome.
The Peace Process and a Two-State Solution:
Israel has the most at risk in negotiations over its borders and security. As such, the U.S. ought not to unduly pressure Israel to make concessions it deems incompatible with its security. External forces such as several European states, Russia, and the United Nations, all of whom have a history of hostility to Israel, are not likely to play a constructive role in the peace process and should not be encouraged to participate.
To say the least, it is understandable that Israel would demand Palestinian renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish State as non-negotiable preconditions for any peace agreement. Over the sixty years since Israel’s birth as a state, it has made many concessions to its Arab neighbors in the name of coexistence and peace, but concessions have often been met with continued violence. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in a demonstration of its willingness to move toward a peaceful solution, but this effort was met with terrorism and war.
A major obstacle to peace is a pervasive culture of violence and hatred among Palestinians. State-sponsored news media and schools teach children to celebrate suicide bombers. Palestinian leaders must begin the process of cracking down on homegrown terrorism and embracing a culture that eschews violence and hatred. Without this fundamental foundation, real peace is impossible.
Existing settlements are part of the landscape for a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But no one knows when such an agreement will be reached. In the meantime, existing settlements are also home to hundreds of thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Israeli citizens, and have been so for decades. Natural population growth in those settlements should not be a matter of international dispute. Israel has a right to accommodate and defend this natural growth.
Hamas and Palestinian Terrorism:
Based in the Gaza Strip, Hamas is responsible for some of the bloodiest acts of terrorism and loss of thousands of innocent lives—both Israeli and Arab. The group remains committed to the destruction of Israel and the use of violence to achieve its aims. There is no place for Hamas in the future of a peaceful Middle East. Israeli efforts to defend itself from Hamas-led attacks should be supported, and U.S. efforts should pressure Palestinian leaders to eradicate terrorist groups like Hamas from its midst.
Hezbollah is a terrorist network supported by Iran and based in Lebanon that poses a risk, not only to Israel, but to America and American interests throughout the region. Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group other than al-Qaeda, and it has launched dozens of attacks against Israel since its withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000.
Israel has a right to aggressively defend itself from all acts of terrorist violence, including Hezbollah attacks that originate inside Lebanese territory, and the U.S. and international community should increase pressure on Lebanon to crack down on the terrorist activities within its borders.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and some of the Gulf States have also long been U.S. allies. However, these countries have not always played the kind of constructive role they should in the Middle East peace process or in discouraging the Islamic radicalization that leads to terrorism. They should be actively encouraged to use their political and financial leverage with the Palestinians to get them to sincerely pursue peace with Israel, and they must be encouraged to cease actions in their educational systems that foment radicalism.
U.S. Aid to Israel:
American military aid to, and military cooperation with, Israel serves multiple beneficial purposes. It helps Israel defend itself against its enemies. It provides America with a reliable location for military activities in the region. And it contributes to mutually beneficial military technological advances, such as in missile defense and aircraft design and manufacture. Furthermore, unlike many other countries who are recipients of U.S. foreign aid, Israel is, year after year, a consistent supporter of American positions in the United Nations and other international forums. U.S. military aid to Israel is clearly beneficial to U.S. taxpayers.