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January 12, 2017 12:53 pm

Trump Defense Chief Pick Mattis at Senate Hearing: US Must Restore Relationship With Israel, Arab Allies

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

Retired Marine General James Mattis. Photo: Screenshot.

Retired Marine General James Mattis. Photo: Screenshot.

Israel’s security is “very important” to the US, James Mattis — President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as the next American defense secretary — said in a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.

“I think we’ve got to restore a better relationship with Israel and with our Arab allies,” the retired Marine general declared. “I think there’s a sense on their part that we’re indifferent to…the security situation they face.”

Asked whether there were any other democracies in the Middle East other than Israel, Mattis replied, “No.”

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Mattis noted, “I think ultimately we’re going to have to promote peace between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities there, and that’s going to take time to build that kind of trust, and we should be a partner in trying to build that resolution between those peoples.”

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Later, Mattis said Israeli-Palestinian peace would serve “our vital interest.” He stated he favored a two-state solution if it “brings peace to the Middle East.”

“If there’s another solution, I’d be happy to hear what it is,” he added.

Asked by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina what the capital of Israel is, Mattis answered, “The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are.”

The Israeli Defense Ministry is headquartered in Tel Aviv, but most other government ministries are based in Jerusalem.

When it comes to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv — a Trump campaign promise — Mattis said, “Right now I go with US policy. I would defer to the nominee of secretary of state [Rex Tillerson] on that.”

In reference to the growing behind-the-scenes ties between Israel and the Sunni Arab axis in the Middle East, Mattis said, “Where we can work in terms of partnership with both Israel and the Arab neighbors, we can strengthen everyone’s security and stability and the Middle East.”

At the Aspen Security Forum three and a half years ago, Mattis — who headed US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2010-2013 — said he “paid a military-security price every day” in that role, “because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

Mattis also stated there was a pressing need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and warned of the potential future consequences of Israel’s settlement policies.

“If I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here — if we draw the border to include them — either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote; apartheid,” Mattis said. “That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”

However, after his nomination was announced last month, the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) called Mattis a “true friend” of Israel’s, and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) praised his belief in “a strong US military posture” and understanding of “the threats we face, like a newly aggressive Iran.”

The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) said attempts to portray Mattis as anti-Israel were “ill-founded and unfair.”

“JINSA’s experiences with General Mattis have been very positive, including many private discussions in the last few years on the Middle East,” a JINSA statement said. “We recently consulted several notable Israelis and Americans in the civic and military spheres who also have interacted with him and they share our confidence in his support for a strong US-Israel relationship.”

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