McCain Sets Stage for Second-Term Challenges of Middle East Policy

WASHINGTON – Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered a sharp critique of the administration’s Middle East policies, saying that the U.S. needs to get tougher with Iran.

Addressing the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference Monday morning, McCain said the only way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is to convince it that the U.S. and Israel would strike together.

The senator, who received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience, cautioned that the talks with Iran were doomed because of the West’s concessions.

“The latest efforts at conciliation have failed and it's very clear they [Iran] are on the path to having a nuclear weapon. I don’t think is a question of whether, but a question of when,” said McCain.

The P5+1 – a group including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – agreed last week to discuss lifting sanctions on Iran if the country promised to restrict its uranium enrichment program.

According to the senator, the administration’s latest effort was likely to fail because it sent the wrong message to Iran about the U.S.-Israel relationship. McCain stressed the importance of showing Tehran that the relationship between the two countries remains strong.

“It is vitally important they [the Iranians] must understand that there is no space between the United States and Israel…They believe in Tehran right now that there is space between the United States and Israel,” said McCain.

McCain also urged President Obama to show his commitment to the relationship.

“I hope that the president’s election motivates him to work more closely with Israel,” said the senator.

McCain also criticized the administration’s approach to the conflict in Syria, saying that it is time the US establishes a no-fly zone and provide arms and equipment to the resistance groups.

“It’s a national and international shame that we have allowed Bashar al-Assad the massacre of 80,000 people… Lebanon and Jordan are at great danger of being destabilized and the United States watches,” said McCain.

McCain, who told reporters a few weeks ago he believed Hagel was not qualified for the Defense secretary job, took a swipe at Hagel during the AIPAC conference.

“The United States needs members of the national security team to be pro-Israel, not anti-Israel,” said McCain.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and retired General Amos Yadlin also participated in the panel discussion.

Despite their disagreement on various issues, McCain praised Gillibrand’s work of promoting Israel.

Gillibrand condemned the United Nations Human Right Council’s findings earlier this year that Israel’s settlements violated the Geneva Conventions.

“When the UN makes statements [against Israel], particularly the Human Rights Council, we have to stand up to those,” said Gillibrand.

Gillibrand also echoed McCain’s remarks that the U.S. needs allies in the region.

“I agree with Senator McCain, we have to continue to be hand in hand as allies and as friends…fundamentally committed to not only Israel's security but to U.S. national security," said Gillibrand.

McCain, who believes these to be the most dangerous times in his lifetime, said the country’s commitment to peace is more important than ever. The senator’s strong admonishment of the administration’s policy in the region delivered at the policy conference suggests he plans on pushing the White House harder regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship during Obama’s second term.