GOP senator: Arab leaders say they’ll enrich uranium at levels approved for Iran

In Jerusalem, Lindsey Graham says Israel will request $1 billion to replenish Iron Dome after Gaza conflict; citing strong bipartisan support, he predicts Congress will approve it

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to reporters on the roof of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, June 1, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Time of Israel)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to reporters on the roof of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, June 1, 2021 (Lazar Berman/Time of Israel)

A senior US senator revealed that Arab leaders have told him privately that they will insist on being allowed to enrich uranium to the same levels and amounts that the international community permits Iran.

“If you don’t watch it, we’re going to wake up one day very soon and there will be enrichment programs all over the Mideast,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on Tuesday.

Speaking from the rooftop of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel with the Old City behind him, the four-term senator emphasized that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East “can be avoided if the world speaks with one voice and stands up to Iran,” adding that Tehran “needs to feel more pain for its misconduct.”

Graham said the Israeli and Arab view on the Iran nuclear deal is “the same, that you can’t trust Iran with an enrichment program.”

“Longer and stronger is not possible,” he said, referring to the Biden administration’s position that it will ultimately seek a “longer and stronger” Iran deal after reentering the 2015 pact and bringing the Islamic Republic back into compliance with the original treaty. Indirect talks between the US and Iran are ongoing in Vienna on Washington’s reentry into the deal, after former president Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018.

Graham said that he and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey would publish in The Washington Post an op-ed calling for an alternative to the 2015 JCPOA deal.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

“It’s the original French position,” he explained, “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.”

He said the Israeli politicians he met with are “very intrigued” by the idea, and said he and Menendez would take the concept to the Biden administration.

The senior lawmaker also stressed that there is bipartisan concern in the US over Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorist groups.

“It seems that Iran is able to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, and nothing deters them,” he said. “Without Iranian support, Hamas would be neutered, and Hezbollah would be neutered.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second right, listens to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“When it comes to Israel’s national security threats, all roads lead back to Tehran.”

A billion dollars for Iron Dome

Graham said Israel’s defense minister will submit a billion-dollar request to the Pentagon to replenish the Iron Dome, following the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups. His comment came as Defense Minister Benny Gantz was set to depart Wednesday for a short trip to Washington for a meeting with his American counterpart.

“Iron Dome performed incredibly well, saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives,” he said. “I would imagine that the administration would say yes to this request and it will sail through Congress.”

Despite the “dust-up” in the United States during last month’s fighting between Israel and Hamas, said Graham, Israel still has firm bipartisan support there.

US President Joe Biden speaks about a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, in the Cross Hall of the White House, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“There is a wide and deep support for Israel among the Democratic Party,” he said, before thanking US President Joe Biden for standing with Israel during the conflict. As a ceasefire was announced last month, Biden vowed to replenish Israel’s supply of Iron Dome defense missiles.

“We appreciate the administration’s willingness to seek from Congress more money for the Iron Dome system,” Graham said.

“I’m a Republican, and I’ve come here with a simple message,” he emphasized. “Even though there’s some Democrats saying things that are very disturbing to me, I do believe that President Biden and the majority of the Democratic Party will be in Israel’s camp.”

He was referring to growing calls among some progressives to end military aid to Israel.

Graham implored left-wing Democrats to visit Israel themselves and speak to the IDF and residents of southern Israel.

Iron Dome in action on May 13, 2021. (Avichai Socher/IDF)

“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 the casualties in Gaza are at the level they are is Israel chooses not to randomly kill Palestinians. They follow the rules of engagement they set for themselves, and if Hamas could, they would kill everybody in Israel. If you don’t believe that, come here.”

Turning to the wave of antisemitic attacks in the US and Europe, Graham stressed that “the rise in 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.”

“Now is the time for us in America to speak with one voice and with clarity.”

He also said he is proposing a defense pact with Israel similar to the NATO treaty, in which the US would intervene when Israel is attacked.

“Article V commitments of the NATO treaty requires one to defend all. If something happened to Estonia tomorrow, then all of us would come to Estonia’s aid…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 look to you, and we will be coming your way.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, May 31, 2021 (Koby Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Graham on Monday in Jerusalem. Netanyahu called Graham a “tremendous friend and tremendous ally,” and said, “No one has done more for Israel than you.”

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