Source: The Jerusalem Post – by Steve Linde, Noa Amouyal (Senior Republican senators urge Obama to intervene in Syria)
John McCain, Lindsey Graham commend Kerry for recent efforts to kick start peace process but say Syrian civil war is pressing.
Two ranking Republican members of the US Senate Armed Services Committee urged the Obama administration on Sunday evening to take “decisive” action against the Assad regime in Syria.
Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spoke at a news conference in Jerusalem after meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders.
Graham said while they supported US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to jump-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the Syrian civil war was much more of a pressing issue, because if it is not dealt with, “the whole region is going down.”
“To me, we’re having misplaced priorities here,” Graham warned. “The peace process is important, but Syria is literally blowing apart: 100,000 dead.”
Both Graham and McCain dismissed a proposal for an international conference on the crisis.
“No one believes that [President] Bashar Assad will agree to leave power when he’s on the winning side,” said McCain, who visited Syria in late May. “Some of us have suggested that this conference take place in Munich rather than Geneva.”
“The idea of sitting down with the Russians and the Iranians, and expecting Assad to leave when he’s winning, to me makes no sense,” Graham added. “I would urge that the same focus we’re spending on trying to restart the peace process, we should [be] spending our time trying to stop the slaughter in Syria. And when we say as a nation, our president says ‘Assad must go,’ we need to prove to people we mean it. And when our president said, ‘The use of chemical weapons is a red line,’ well that red line has been crossed. I would just urge the administration to focus on Syria, because if you don’t get this right soon, the whole region is going down.”
McCain slammed the Obama administration for exhibiting a lack of leadership in the region.
“We appreciate the efforts that our allies continue to make in the region, but we clearly see a region in turmoil, an example being the massive protests in Cairo today,” he said. “It requires American leadership in every instance and we are disappointed that there is an absence of American leadership.”
Asked by The Jerusalem Post what he meant, McCain elaborated: “We see Hezbollah with as many as 5,000 troops in Syria, we see Russian equipment falling in on a daily basis, we see the Iranian Revolutionary Guards providing training equipment, boots and troops on the ground.
“Meanwhile, the freedom fighters have only light weapons,” he continued. “It is an unfair fight. So what we want to see is the declaration of a no-fly zone. We can take out their runways and negate their air power using Patriot missile batteries close to the no-fly zone and provide the weapons that they really need. AK-47s don’t do very well against tanks. They need anti-tank and anti-air weapons. That’s what I mean by American leadership.”
McCain said he did not recommend Israeli military action in Syria unless the country came under attack.
“I think that Israel’s role is necessarily very limited unless there’s a direct threat by Hezbollah or on the Golan, because that could antagonize other countries in the region,” he said. “No, I do not recommend any military action on the part of Israel at this time.
I do recommend very strongly that we level the playing field with US assistance.”
Graham, who called Israel “our best ally in the Mideast and probably as good an ally as we have in the world,” added: “Chemical weapons could fall into the wrong hands. I worry more about the chemical weapons being used against Israel and the United States than I do about any weapons we give to rebel forces falling in the wrong hands. If we continue our policies toward Syria, if we do nothing, how do we convince Iran not [to] get a nuclear weapon?” Graham painted a grim picture of the region, saying he had visited regularly for the past two years, and “my worst fears are coming true every day.”
“Our friends in Israel are being increasingly surrounded by more and more radical regimes who are hell bent on getting the most dangerous weapons,” he said. “If we don’t start intervening in a decisive way to stop the slaughter in Syria and to end this conflict as quickly as possible, it’s going to take the whole region down with it.
“And the Iranians are measuring us every day,” Graham continued. “We are in a proxy fight with Iran in Syria, and I don’t see any way the Iranians will stop their nuclear ambitions given the policies we have toward Syria.”
With regard to Kerry’s efforts to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, McCain expressed skepticism about his chances of success.
“I think I speak for all Americans when we hope that he is successful in this effort, and we applaud the incredible amount of energy that he has put in this quest for the convening of a meaningful peace conference that will resolve with a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.
“We are a bit skeptical about the chances of success,” McCain added, “but I think it’s very important for all of us to understand that the Israeli government is ready to go into negotiations with no preconditions.
“It seems to me it would be appropriate for the Palestinian side to go into these negotiations with no preconditions, and that is the best way, I think, to achieve a lasting settlement.”