Rob Portman: Don’t ‘squander’ peace opportunity


Rob Portman is the Republican senator from Ohio.

He is also a top contender to be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

He also just came back from Israel.

He sent supporters a long email, with lots of detail, covering areas you’d expect a pro-Israel stalwart to cover: Support for Israel; support for its missile defense system; support for isolating Iran; support for an Ohio military contractor building part of a new Israeli tank.

Buried in it was this:

My meetings with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad bolstered my belief that we must continue to press for a lasting peace in the region.  The unique opportunity presented by this unity government should not be squandered.

The unity government is Netanyahu’s. Is this a hint that it is up to Netanyahu to initiate a return to the peace table?

Synchronicitously, Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker spoke to folks in and close to the Obama administration about planning for a second term, and reports that Obama would not press for peace unless he felt Netanyahu was ready for it:

Obama’s other second-term foreign-policy priorities include a renewed push for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the President would not get personally involved, as his two predecessors did, unless he was certain that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wanted a deal. (The White House assumes that Netanyahu is hoping for a Romney victory.) In an Obama second term, containing Iran might take precedence over a Middle East peace agreement, even as the Administration continued to try to manage the post-revolution transitions across the region and North Africa.

Portman’s full email is below the jump.


I have just returned from a fascinating trip throughout the Mideast, including Israel, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan.  I went in my oversight role as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the lead Republican on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.

As someone who has expressed a special interest in Israel, I want to give you a report from that part of the trip.

My focus in Israel was on our shared security programs and developments in the region that increasingly threaten the security of the United States and Israel, as well as regional stability.  It was an honor to sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as several other government leaders, to discuss these many issues.

The recent establishment of a unity government in the Knesset, providing the ruling coalition with the biggest majority in decades, made this a timely visit.  I met with the new Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Kadima Party, Shaul Mofaz, to hear about his priorities for this new government, as well as with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor.  My belief, reinforced by the meetings, is that this new coalition provides a unique opportunity for a more unified approach to dealing with the myriad challenges facing the country.

I also met with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.  That meeting underscored the importance of Jerusalem as the capital and heart of Israel.

My conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu strengthened my belief that we need to remain vigilant in our support of our critical ally during an extraordinary time in the Middle East.  We discussed the threat that Iran poses to Israel and the United States, and ways our two nations can work together to enhance our mutual security in the face of the Iranian nuclear program.

We also spoke about Syria.  As the crisis in Syria grows and the humanitarian tragedy becomes more clear, I appreciated Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perspective on the changes and the volatility this situation has brought and could increasingly foster in the region.

In addition, I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on the state of the U.S. economy and the Israeli economy, which grew 4.8 percent in 2011.  It was encouraging to learn how the Israeli government and the private sector are developing newly discovered natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which will make Israel far less dependent on other countries in the region for energy.  The development of these resources provides economic opportunities not unlike those in Ohio with oil and gas produced from the Utica and Marcellus shale.

My meetings with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad bolstered my belief that we must continue to press for a lasting peace in the region.  The unique opportunity presented by this unity government should not be squandered.

I also had the opportunity to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss the United States’ long-term security commitment to Israel and emerging threats within the region, which inevitably led to the threat Iran poses to Israel and the United States, and the need to keep up international pressure.  The international community can’t allow the Iranians to stall further multilateral pressure through hollow talks.

We spoke about my visit earlier in the day to a battery of the Iron Dome anti-rocket air defense system, and how U.S. support for this technology is a win-win proposal for both of our nations.

The Iron Dome is a recent innovation.  As a result of Hezbollah rocket launches into northern Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, 44 Israeli civilians were killed, 250,000 others had no choice but to leave their homes behind, and approximately a million more were confined to shelters.  Similarly, for years Israelis in the south have been bombarded by rockets fired by Hamas in Gaza.  I heard about this firsthand in Sderot a couple of years ago.

In response to these rocket attacks, the Iron Dome system was developed in 2007 to defend against short-range rocket and artillery attacks.  It integrates vertically launched interceptor missiles with a mobile control center as well as an advanced radar component.  This air defense system was initially funded solely by Israel, but funding for the production and deployment of additional Iron Dome batteries was later approved by the United States.

Three weeks ago, with my strong support and involvement, the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized $210 million for the procurement of additional Iron Dome batteries as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.  As of now, there are three operational Iron Dome batteries, with another on its way.  However, Israel estimates it will need 10-15 to cover its population centers.

Having supported the program in the Armed Services Committee, I was glad to hear more about its highly successful track record and the Israelis’ commitment to the program, as well as see it firsthand protecting lives and significantly diminishing the effectiveness of a tactic used to inflict harm and escalate violence.  The Iron Dome system is now a proven way for Israel to defend its citizens from hostile threats and reduce the chance of war.  Very importantly, it will advance missile defense technology for us and other allies.

I was very impressed with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers charged with this mission.  Like all others who have and currently wear the uniform, their professionalism and dedication is the true backbone of Israel’s security.

Defense Minister Barak and I also spoke about Lima, Ohio’s Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, known as the Lima Tank Plant, where the IDF is having the chassis built for its new Namer fighting vehicle.  We reviewed the status of Namer production, and agreed to continue looking at ways we can further leverage the capabilities at Lima.

Lima is not the only Ohio town that stands to benefit from closer economic ties with Israel.  While in Israel, I had the opportunity to meet with several Israeli companies looking to expand their presence in the United States and I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss many of the benefits Ohio presents for growing companies.  From the development of innovative medical devices to homeland security and unmanned systems, these companies, and many more like them in Israel, are pushing technological innovation.  The expertise and workforce in Ohio complement these efforts and I look forward to strengthening these ties between Ohio and Israeli companies.

In addition to our economic relationship, U.S.-Israeli security cooperation is one of our most valued and important arrangements, ultimately enhancing our own capabilities.  I had the opportunity to review these military relationships in detail during my visit with IDF leadership.  I look forward to continuing to strengthen our two countries’ security relationship through shared projects like the Iron Dome as well as building upon other military-to-military training and cooperation programs.

And again, as on my visit to Israel in 2010, I was impressed by the resiliency of the Israeli people.  They continue to go about their business, building their country and economy with great hope for the future — even as the storm clouds of emerging threats gather on the horizon.

I left Israel both inspired and concerned, and already look forward to my next visit.

Please be in touch should you have any comments or concerns.


Rob Portman

U.S. Senator

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