Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was one of several Florida politicians who spoke at a pro-Israel rally in Miami Beach on Oct. 10. “The enemy is Hamas and their patron in Tehran,” Rubio told the estimated 3,000 attendees.
In the aftermath of Hamas’s brutal attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, which both the U.S. and Israeli presidents have referred to as the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust, JNS spoke with the Florida senator, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
JNS asked about the Biden administration freezing the $6 billion that had been headed to Iran, about whether Congress will back Israel through a protracted war and what he thought about former President Donald Trump’s recent criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Responses have been lightly edited for style.
Q: We learned a short time ago that the U.S. Treasury Department has told members of Congress that the Biden administration has frozen the $6 billion of ransom money, essentially, that was being held in Qatar for the Iranians—something for which you and a bipartisan group of senators have been pushing. What’s your initial reaction?
A: I’m glad they’ve corrected that. I think they should have never released it before this attack. There is no Hamas without Iran. All this talk about whether Iran knew that they were going to do this at 6 a.m. on Saturday is irrelevant to the fact that Hamas would not only not exist, but they would not have the capabilities to do the things they are doing without Iranian support.
And so Iran—even if they knew this money hadn’t been released—if they knew this money was coming, they would have freed up other monies that they had available to them to continue to sponsor terrorism, not just to Hamas, but Shia militias in Iraq, and in Syria, and obviously, Hezbollah. So that’s good news. I’m glad that it’s happening. And I hope that it’ll be a permanent move.
Q: You have spoken quite forcefully—and continue to do so—in the aftermath of Hamas’s massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals. You and others are giving the green light to Israel to essentially decimate Hamas once and for all. There are always other implications in such an event. How much of a green light do you give Israel to get the job done here?
A: Here’s the way I view this. Hamas has a clear and stated purpose, right? They don’t hide it. It’s explicit. They want to drive every Jew out of the region. They want to set up a fundamentalist Islamic Palestinian state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. That is their goal. Those goals are incompatible, by definition, with the existence of the Jewish state of Israel.
So basically, Israel is faced with an enemy that seeks its complete destruction. They don’t seek to just govern Gaza. They want Israel wiped out, and they have shown that they are willing to massacre babies and abduct teenage girls, and kill entire families, and slaughter and butcher. When a group has done that, you have no choice but to eliminate and to severely degrade them to the point where they can’t come back and ever do that in the future.
Embedded in all of this, by the way, is that Hamas wants to become the dominant Palestinian faction in the region. They want to be the top dog in all of this. They view these massacres, these murders, this hostage-taking as things that increase popular support for them at the expense of whichever rivals they’ve defined, whether it’s the Palestinian Authority or others.
There is no way that the dominant Palestinian faction in the region can ever be a group that is willing to do what we saw them do just the other day and continue to do and now, as cowards, run back into Gaza and hide behind civilians. Not just hide behind civilians, but actively encourage civilians not to get out of harm’s way and in many cases potentially impede them from getting out of harm’s way.
It is an unfortunate situation. But I don’t know what other options Israel has at this point, but to do everything it can to make this a non-viable group. I don’t think the United States has any choice but to be on Israel’s side of this fight against pure evil.
Q: The Biden administration is putting pressure on Egypt to open up a humanitarian corridor. But there are other regional considerations at play. Qatar, a major non-NATO ally, harbors Hamas leaders. Turkey, which is an on-and-off friend of the United States, has served as a hub for Hamas for an extended period of time now. Should the Biden administration and should Congress be putting pressure on the likes of Qatar and Turkey to do away with their relationships with, and harboring of Hamas officials?
A: I think the fundamental question that Qatar has to answer is whether it wants to continue to be associated with a group that carried out this attack. All these people, they hide behind statements. If you notice very carefully, none of them says “I support the slaughter of innocents.” What they say is, “We are in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Not every Palestinian is a member of Hamas or even a supporter, but those statements sort of indicate to you with a little bit of wordsmithing that what they’re actually saying is we know this is really bad. We don’t want to be associated with it. But we also understand that the cause that these groups are behind is popular in the streets of our country, sadly, and unfortunately, that happens to be true in many of these nations.
At the end of the day, there’s so much these groups can do behind the scenes to ensure that they don’t continue to harbor and support these elements, who use them, not just for cover diplomatically and internationally. But as you pointed out, their leaders—the people conducting and directing these organizations—they’re not on the ground in Gaza with no water and no electricity. They’re living in Qatar. They’re living in other parts of the world and putting out tweets from there.
I think there’s a conversation to be had with these nations with which we have strategic relationships about what they are willing to do to eradicate this group and help eliminate them. Because I don’t think it serves the interest of any of these nations to have Hamas emerge as the dominant Palestinian faction in the region.
Q: Getting aid to the Israelis as quickly as possible is a priority on both sides of the U.S. Capitol right now. Obviously, there’s chaos to deal with on the House side, and the speaker has to be in place or at least extended powers given to the acting speaker in the meantime to make something happen. That could take a considerable period of time. On the Senate side, there’s always a libertarian or contrarian who generally puts a hold on large amounts of foreign aid. With those obstacles in place, how quickly do you see substantive aid being forwarded to Israel coming out of Congress?
A: Assistance and defense cooperation and work with Israel is very different from Ukraine for a number of reasons. First of all, we don’t start off at a baseline of zero, and in 2021, we passed a law as part of the Defense Authorization Act that basically authorizes and is codified in our law already, at least $3.3 billion a year of defense cooperation with Israel.
So that’s already a law that’s there. It’s already ongoing.
In many cases, the munitions that Israel will need for resupply are already in the pipeline. They’re already ordered. What we can do is help get the contractors to expedite the delivery of some of these. We also have pre-positioned material inside of Israel that’s been publicly reported. It’s there for purposes of not just Israel’s needs, but if we ever got into a regional conflict and quickly had to be resupplied, it exists. So there’s already a baseline we’re operating at.
I believe Hamas needs to be wiped out, but it’s not going to be easy. Urban warfare, going in on land, with a nation that frankly is going to rely on reservists and it’s difficult with groups that have tunnel systems and are willing to conduct long-term insurgency campaigns. As that develops, the material needs that Israel may have to resupply might be different than what’s anticipated. Israel will find all the support it needs in Washington, and we’ll have the mechanism to deliver it.
What’s important is we understand that that baseline is already there, and the authorities are already there. At some point, if more is needed, and it probably will be, we’ll need to know exactly what that is. I don’t think there’ll be any impediments to getting it done. I hope that it can be kept separate from these other debates. I’ve been a supporter of helping Ukraine, but I don’t think the two should be mixed, because they’re two very different cases.
Q: Former President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel policy bona fides are unquestionable, but he made some disturbing comments in a speech in recent hours, in which he criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk” and Hezbollah “very smart.” Do you have any thoughts on those comments?
A: I didn’t hear the comments. I don’t know the context in which they were said. I’m just going to respond to the way you’ve described it. I don’t think any of that is surprising. I’d like to hear an explanation behind it because I don’t think it’s helpful in a moment like this. It’s also not consistent with the positions that the Trump administration took.
I don’t want to delve too much into our domestic politics on this, but I remain convinced that if Donald Trump were president today, some of these attacks, some of these conflicts we’re seeing around the world would not have happened because some of these entities would have thought twice before moving forward in that regard.
That said, I’m surprised to hear that reported. I certainly don’t think that Donald Trump is a sympathizer or supporter of Hezbollah, and I think he has long been very supportive of Israel, irrespective of its leader in its democratic process. But I don’t think comments like that are helpful if, in fact, that’s the vein in which they were made. And I don’t know how they’ll be interpreted in the Middle East. It’s certainly not my view.
Q: The current situation in Israel seems to be one of the very few issues we’ve seen in the last several years now that have unified the Congress in such a way. Even with Ukraine, there is a division in terms of how far it should go carrying forward. How long do you think this support of Israel can last? The military operation won’t be short. It’s not a matter of days, and probably not a matter of weeks. Do you see something similar coming down the road if this is an extended operation, or do you see Congress holding firm here in its support of Israel in the long term?
A: Despite some disturbing images of people in the street supporting Hamas in the aftermath of all this, and some ridiculous stuff coming out of academia where we have a lot of morally-confused leaders of higher education—and that’s a separate problem for Americans to confront—I think by and large, most Americans and most members of Congress, overwhelmingly, are going to be against anybody who decides they’re going to go in and massacre elderly women, teenage girls and little babies.
I’m glad to see that that level of moral clarity still exists in our politics.
The challenge is going to be the following: This is not one of these 72-hour campaigns or two-week deals. This is going to be messy. It’s a protracted situation. It’s going to be these guys deeply entrenched inside of Gaza, and it’s not going to be easy to degrade them to an acceptable level. So the real challenge is not today. The real challenge is three, four, five, six weeks from now because the way it has played out historically is Israel is attacked, everyone rallies to Israel’s side, Israel does what it needs to do and then all of a sudden, starting in Western Europe and then spreading even here in the United States, you start hearing calls of “OK, you’ve done enough. It’s time to stop.”
That’s where I think the real challenge is going to come. We need to understand something very clearly: If Hamas is not eliminated, if Hamas is not substantially degraded, they will come back and they will do this again. And they will do it worse, and other groups will look at this as an example of what they need to do. And they will do the same.
We need to understand that if we don’t stop this now, it won’t be 1,200 people dead. It could be thousands upon thousands of people that are murdered because they happen to be Jews living in Israel and are hated by these people.
So if this isn’t stopped now, it’s going to lead to more loss of life and more bloodshed. If we’ve learned anything from history, it is that if you don’t confront and defeat evil, evil will grow, evil will spread, and evil will come for you.