newsU.S.-Israel Relations

‘Destruction of Hamas is nonnegotiable,’ says US senator

‘We need to let Iran know if this war escalates, we're coming after you’ Lindsey Graham tells JNS.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, July 2, 2019. Credit: Flash90.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, July 2, 2019. Credit: Flash90.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has played the role of shadow secretary of state this year.

Back in April, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, traveled to Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a week after a trip to Saudi Arabia yielded a sit-down with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Earlier this month, conducting shuttle diplomacy throughout the Middle East, Graham and a bipartisan Senate delegation bounced from Saudi Arabia to Israel to Egypt, meeting with the leaders of all three countries in an attempt to keep the Israel-Hamas war from spiraling out of control and to save a potential normalization deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

“I went to Israel with 10 U.S. senators—five Republicans, five Democrats—saying the same thing: Israel has every right to destroy Hamas,” Graham told JNS following his address on Friday to the Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Summit in Las Vegas. “We want to do it in a fashion to try to make peace with Saudi Arabia. But, the destruction of Hamas is nonnegotiable.” 

Graham publicly urged following Hamas’s Oct. 7 cross-border massacre to “level” Gaza. 

“We’ve got to stand with Israel. Whatever weapons they need, they will get, and we need to let Iran know if this war escalates, we’re coming after you,” Graham told JNS.

Many analysts say one of Hamas’s goals in its brutal murder of over 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals and the kidnapping of more than 200 was to upend advancement of a U.S.-brokered Saudi-Israeli normalization of relations. Hamas’s benefactor Iran stands to lose power should Riyadh obtain from Washington a defense treaty, weaponry and a civilian nuclear program—all provisions the crown prince has reportedly been seeking.

Graham is convinced that halting normalization was Hamas’s overarching goal. “That’s what this is about,” Graham told JNS.

“If Iran is successful in stopping reconciliation, and dragging the region back into the darkness, it would be a big mistake for the Arabs and Israel both,” Graham said. 

Referring to the immense financial investments that Prince Mohammed has put into refurbishing Saudi Arabia’s global image following decades of human rights abuses, Graham told JNS that Mohammed “is not going to get his money back until he changes his brand. And the best way to do that is to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, reconcile with Israel, do agreements with us, pick the right side of history. I believe that it is pretty clear to him that in the region, the future is with us, not with Iran.”

While Israel had near unanimous congressional support, outside the small, extreme fringes, following the massacre, history shows that the longer a conflict with Gaza terrorist groups drags out, the more that support dwindles.

Graham, who sits on the Senate’s foreign relations and appropriations committees, told JNS that it would be a mistake by his colleagues should it happen again, and one by which they should have already learned their lesson.

“Twenty-one years after 9/11, the Taliban were back in charge. Twenty-one years after World War I, we had World War II,” said Graham. “I believe if we give Israel the time and space to go into Gaza, they can destroy Hamas as a threat to the Israeli people, and then you have an opportunity to create a new and better life for the Palestinians.” 

He said avoiding a repeat of the past means “you’re gonna have to deprogram young people who have been radicalized for a generation. But Saudi Arabia and Israel reconciling and creating a new governing structure for the Palestinians is my hope of how this ends. So give Israel the time and space to wage war, but also pursue peace.”

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