Republican congressman Rand Paul visited Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressing his support for the Israeli state but also his reservations on American foreign aid to the Middle Eastern country. The visit is coming to a close just as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrives in Washington today.
These political exchanges come during a period of concern for the Israeli government, as President Barack Obama considers former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary. Paul, thus far, has been unwilling to give his opinion on Hagel although the Republican Party is criticizing Hagel for not being a staunch enough friend of Israel. Hagel has said Congress needs to be wary of Israel’s sway over American politics and he has shown reluctance to support sanctions on Iran.
In 2010 Hagel even said he thought it possible for America to live with a nuclear armed Iran, just as America lived with a nuclear armed Soviet Union. But since Hagel’s nomination, a public official who met with Hagel said that he would fall in line with Obama’s tough stance on Iran, according to Los Angeles Times.
But Hagel’s appointment has stirred angst among right-wing Israeli politicians who favor strong American support for their country in the wake of the Iranian controversy. Israel has been verbally aggressive in addressing Iran’s nuclear program, declaring that the country is close to acquiring a nuclear weapon.
American intelligence released a report in 2011 declaring Iran was not actively seeking a nuclear weapon and that their uranium was at 20 percent enrichment. A nuclear weapon would require a 90 percent enrichment. The 2011 report stated what was already known in 2007, that Iran had abandoned pursuing a nuclear weapon in 2003 and had not sought to build one since then.
At a meeting with departing Defense Minister Leon Panetta in November, Barak said he believed the sanctions were “working,” but that they would not be enough to stop the country from building a nuclear bomb. This time, Barak’s visit with high-level security officials will likely address ongoing discussions about Iran and Syria.
America has been in conflict with the Iran since the former client state, headed by American ally, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was toppled by Islamist Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The blowback came nearly three decades after America orchestrated a coup d'état against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh who sought to nationalize Iranian oil to eradicate British control over the valued resource.
During Gerald Ford’s presidential term, America’s position towards Iran’s nuclear ambitions was the opposite of today. Then, America supported Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy and even worked to complete a deal that would have given Iran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium.
Rand Paul, much like his father and former presidential candidate, Ron Paul, has concerns about Iran but has separated himself from most of Congress on the issue. Although Senator Paul voted for sanctions against Iran recently, in 2012 he was the lone senator who voted against a joint resolution which included preventative war with Iran as an option to hinder the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
Paul doesn’t stray far from his father’s libertarian principles, often proposing dramatic cuts to American foreign aid, including to Israel. He believes America has no place in involving itself in the settlement controversy in the West Bank or the Golan Heights.
Paul says that his opinion on drawing down foreign aid to Israel is little different than what Netanyahu said in 1996 in a speech to Congress, where he argued Israel should gradually wean itself off of American aid dollars. “The biggest threat to our nation right now is our debt,” Paul said to the Jerusalem Post, “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 of Israel of that.”
Paul’s week long visit to Israel is a likely indicator for a run for presidency in 2016 on a Republican tab. Paul’s father ran this past year, and despite a dedicated libertarian following, he received little support from the breadth of the Republican Party to get the nomination.