In a conference call today with a small group of journalists, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that President Obama was “arrogant and presumptuous” in saying in recent weeks that Israel “doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”
“That’s an arrogant and presumptuous point of view and doesn’t further progress on anything,” the senator said, and he returned to that view throughout the call as he discussed the location of Israel’s capital and Israeli settlements. Paul decried U.S. politicians who display “this flippant and arrogant” attitude about internal Israeli affairs, saying that “no one can really know as much as people in the region” about such matters. “It is not up to the U.S. to dictate” to mayors and West Bank officials where housing goes, Paul added.
Paul said he considers himself more pro-Israel than some pro-Israel audiences because “I’m for an independent, strong Israel that is not a dependent state, not a client state.”
The conference call came on the heels of Paul’s recent trip to Israel, and he repeatedly affirmed that he considers the United States to be a good friend of Israel and vice versa.
Paul said he went to the Middle East to learn more about the issues (“I feel like I got a better handle on things”) and to let people know “how appreciative” he is of the U.S.-Israeli alliance — a partnership, he stressed, that was “very important.” “America is and always has been a great friend of Israel,” he said.
Asked about his position on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary, Paul said that he had been reading about Hagel but “I haven’t decided yet.” That said, a number of the positions Paul took in the conference call seemed to directly conflict with Hagel’s more controversial utterances. Moreover, the senator’s obvious desire to convey pro-Israel credentials will make it difficult for him to vote to confirm. With near-unanimity among Republicans so far against Hagel, Paul may find that his efforts to reposition himself within the GOP on Israel would crumble if he were to support the president’s pick.
Paul clarified that his views on cutting U.S. foreign aid would entail nothing “immediate, dramatic or draconian” for Israel. “I didn’t see anyone in Israel burning the American flag,” he remarked. Restrictions should be applied, he argued, to “people who are not necessarily friends of the U.S. or friends of Israel.” He said, however, that he embraces the view shared by some right-leaning politicians in Israel (including pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett, whom he met during the trip) that their country would do better if its dependency on U.S. aid were reduced.
And he was unequivocal in his support for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system: “I’m absolutely in favor of it.” He said he would have to look at how it is funded. Paul also stressed that the United States should have anti-missile defense systems, something Hagel has strenuously opposed. He also clearly acknowledged, for the first time that I am aware, that the U.S. derives “shared intelligence, shared information and shared military capability” from the military alliance with Israel.
The senator went on to reiterate his concerns about Egypt: “We should not be giving Egypt F-16s and Abrams tanks,” he said pointing to President Mohamed Morsi’s recent anti-Israel statements. He cautioned, “We may be feeding an arms race.”
On the subject of the capital of Israel, he said, “For every other country in the world, we recognize the capital that that country says is the capital.” He acknowledged, however, that a move of all embassies might be “provocative.”
And he said he was averse to U.S. military action in Syria because of his concern about al-Nusra and al-Qaeda elements among the rebels opposing Bashar al-Assad’s regime.