Rubio: U.S. should follow Israel’s lead in making Iran, Syria priorities

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The United States should follow Israel’s lead in making Iran and Syria priorities over advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, Sen. Marco Rubio said.

Rubio (R-Fla.), who just returned from a short Middle East tour, spoke Wednesday to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Rubio, considered a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, said he understood Israel’s priorities to be in order: Iran’s potential nuclear threat; the turmoil in Syria; the direction that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement plan to take; and peace with the Palestinians.

Israelis still ardently desired peace, Rubio said, but needed to address these urgent issues first, so it made sense for the United States to have the same priorities.

"The right approach for the United States right now is to view all these issues through the lens of Israeli security," he said.

Israelis were particularly worried about anti-aircraft weapons in Syria that could fall into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Israel would regard as a "game changer," Rubio said.

He also said that the Obama administration should supply rebels in Syria not only with armor but with ammunition in order to help reinforce rebel factions who likely would be pro-American after the fall of the Assad regime.

Rubio said Israelis were convinced that sanctions would not convince Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

"They believe no amount of sanctions is going to stop Iran from moving forward with a weapons program," he said.

President Obama will visit Israel in late March and is likely to address Israeli demands that he make clearer whether and when a military strike should take place to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Rubio said he shared Israel’s skepticism but advocated giving sanctions a chance for now. 

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