Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and members of his delegation met on Monday with Knesset Members Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp) and Michael Oren (Kulanu) to discuss a host of issues, including US aid to Israel, the security situation in the Middle East and the nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran.
During a discussion on the Israeli consulates in the United States which are targeted for closure under the 2015-2016 State Budget, which the Knesset will vote on next week, Bryant said ”We need to keep the [Israeli] consulates open.” Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel`s consul general to the southeastern United States, also took part in the meeting. ”The consul general is our daily connection to Israel,” the governor said.
”I hope we can convince the government not to do it,” MK Shai said of the plan to close some consulates in the US. ”It`s a big mistake. There is no other country in the world that is so close and important to Israel… Every [Israeli] consulate in the United States is another layer in the continuing friendship between the two countries.”
Governor Bryant, a member of the Republican Party, is visiting Israel with a delegation of state economic development employees and private business executives.
MK Shai addressed the security situation, saying terror organizations in the region are different from the terror groups of the past. ”They are well-armed, well-trained, and they know how to fight,” he told Bryant and the members of his delegation, which includes Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. ”Your country, Russia, Great Britain and others are trying to fight ISIS and fail.”
In response, Bryant said the US would have been more successful in fighting ISIS had it not been for the Obama Administration`s ”failed policy.” President Barack Obama, he said, ”has taken a position almost of appeasement.”
”It`s going to take a committed presence of the United States and our allies to do what needs to be done with regards to ISIS,” he said, adding ”it will probably take some shocking example for Americans, which will happen on our soil, in our country – or a new election – to recognize that we need to be more engaged.”
Speaking about the American aid to Israel, Mk Shai noted that Israel has some 150,000 rockets directed at it, mainly from Lebanon, and the rest from Gaza, Syria and Iran. ”They are very accurate and can hit within 10 meters of any target in Israel,” he said, while explaining that this is why Israel constantly needs to develop or purchase sophisticated air defense systems.
Governor Bryant said ”the American public is very supportive of Israel, and it would remain supportive even with an 18 trillion dollar debt… We understand that in the long term, [aid to Israel] is certainly worth the investment. If there is one thing the American public, in general, is supportive of, it is the [military aid to Israel].”
”If you go to New York and stop people on the street, they`ll say the [nuclear deal with Iran] is a crazy idea,” he said. ”For some unknown reason, this president seems dedicated to the idea that you can do business with the Iranians.”
MK Shai said the opposition supported the government`s stance on the nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann mentioned that the Mississippi Senate passed the Iran Divestment Act this year. ”Mississippi is very strongly pro-Israel… We have a deep religious connection with you; the basis of our view of Israel is a religious view,” he said.
MK Shai said Israel is aware that should it go to war with Iran, the Islamic Republic will be able to order its proxies in the region to launch missiles at Israel. ”This is a very small territory. They know where the airports are; where the Air Force is; they know where everything is in the country. So, we are vulnerable.”
”Democracy is the best political system, but you cannot just impose it on states,” he told the American guests during the meeting. ”Not in Iraq, or Egypt or elsewhere. It should come from the people… Any attempt to create democracy will fail.”
Governor Bryant said the US is ”just trying to help maintain” the democratic state of Israel, ”because a democracy in the Middle East is so critically important.”
”Mr. Secretary was correct. Our religious views… our emotional ties to Israel are stronger than perhaps we express at times. Those of us who are fortunate enough to come here and meet with leaders of the country have the opportunity to say `we believe that so goes Israel, so goes the United States.`”
MK Oren also noted the importance of sophisticated missile defense systems, particularly David`s Sling, a joint US-Israeli project to defend against short-range ballistic missiles, large-caliber rockets and cruise missiles in their terminal phase of flight.
”Iran`s budget for Hezbollah is a billion dollars a year,” Oren revealed. ”If Hezbollah`s budget goes up – doubles or quadruples – imagine what they`ll be able to do with that budget. We have to be able to defend ourselves against it.”
Turning his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recent wave of Palestinian terror that has gripped Israel, MK Oren noted the incitement coming out of the Palestinian Authority and mentioned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas` comment that Jews have no right to ”desecrate” Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem ”with their filthy feet.”
”This is the Palestinian Authority; this is not Hamas, it`s not ISIS,” Oren said. ”This a recipient of 400 million dollars in US aid.”
MK Oren said he was working to get American recognition of Israel`s sovereignty over the Golan Heights: ”Syria is gone. We`ve got the Iranian army, ISIS and Hezbollah on our northern border. We have to secure our northern border. The United States has never recognized Israeli control over the Golan. The Golan has been in Israel`s hands more than twice as long as it was in Syria`s hands. It was given to Syria arbitrarily by the French after World War One, but it is actually a part of the Land of Israel.”
Oren said he had recently met with a number of US officials on Capitol Hill to discuss possible ways to boost Israel`s security. One of these ways, ”which would cost America nothing, zero,” is to recognize Israel`s sovereignty in the Golan Heights,” he argued. Such an initiative would ”strengthen Israel`s security and send and unequivocal message to the region,” Oren added.