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Menendez: 'Not a Time to be Naïve' About Iran, Russia, Assad Alliance

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference on, March 28, 2017, at the Washington Convention Center. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose defiance of the Obama administration on key foreign policy issues including the Iran nuclear deal has made him an annual rock star at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, closed out this year’s confab by reminding the current administration that the alliance of Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran cannot be ignored.

“You know that no matter which way the political winds are blowing, or which way the news cycle is going, when it comes to standing up for Israel, you will never – ever– find me spinning like a weathervane, but rather a strong moral compass that bears due east the 5,879 miles from Washington to Jerusalem,” Menendez told activists this morning at the Washington Convention Center, before the some 18,000 attendees left for lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill.

“You know that I will not be intimidated by political opponents,” he added. “I will never hesitate to disagree with my closest friends, I will never shy away from standing up to any president, of any party. And while I’ve paid a price for my beliefs, I would do so all over again.”

Menendez thanked AIPAC for “working to ensure continued military assistance for Israel” as well as “advocating that the United States continue to fully fund foreign aid and diplomatic outreach as well.”

“Today, we see extremism and hate casting dark shadows around the world. We see a cynical, intentional effort to delegitimize the State of Israel in the international community, in the global economy, and even academia. And finally, we see an Iranian regime that has — in my view, quite predictably — been emboldened by sanctions relief and is more committed than ever to destabilizing the Middle East,” he said.

“Each of these threats are serious in themselves. But to have them converging all at once should make one thing clear: In times like these, we cannot afford a shred of daylight between the United States and Israel.”

The former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized the Obama administration’s December decision to not use its veto power at the UN Security Council to quash a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.

“It was wrong to betray our longstanding commitment to defending Israel on the world stage precisely because it is our one reliable and steadfast ally in the Middle East,” he said. “It was wrong to condone a biased resolution that treats Israel as the source of all things broken in the region. And it was wrong to abstain at a moment when the world needs the United States of America to stand up for our values, to speak up for our allies, and to lead by the power of our example.”

Menendez slammed boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists — “a movement stained by anti-Semitism” — as turning “the other way as Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin bomb civilians without hesitation” and ignoring “the cries of people being persecuted in Venezuela or Cuba.”

“Whether it is the delegitimization of Israel by the UN, the intimidation and isolation promoted by BDS, or the white nationalist dog whistles blown by Steve Bannon from the West Wing, it is up to all of us to stand up, to stand together and to speak out against anti-Semitism in all its forms,” he continued. “And that includes raising our voices together in rejection of anti-Semitism’s close friends: racism and xenophobia.”

Menendez reminded AIPAC that “the entire Middle East is increasingly under siege” as evidence by the scope of the Syria conflict and humanitarian crisis.

He added that it’s “no surprise” that “Iran has not suddenly transformed into a responsible member of the international community” after reaping a sanctions-relief windfall in the nuclear deal.

“Consider Syria. Even as the United States and our partners make progress at beating back ISIS, and work together to deliver desperately- needed humanitarian relief to besieged civilians, Bashar Al-Assad presses on with his brutal campaign. And let’s be honest: we all know that Assad’s continued grip on power is thanks in large part to his allies in Moscow and his friends in Tehran. By aiding Assad, Russia is prolonging this conflict, all for the purpose of trying to maintain one friendly government in the Middle East who will stand by its own brutal leader,” Menendez continued.

“Meanwhile, as Russian bombs rain down on Syrian hospitals, as Russian bombs rain down on Syrian homes, as Russian bombs rain down on humanitarian aid convoys, Putin is content to sit back and watch Western Europe struggle with the displacement of millions of people — all the while spreading white nationalist and anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at swaying elections and undermining the post-World War II international order,” he added.

“Simultaneously, the Iranian regime is emboldened by sanctions relief and undeniably invested in Assad’s grip on power. Iran continues to funnel cash and weapons to its pro-Assad, terrorist proxy Hezbollah – weapons that at a moment’s notice could be turned on Israel. Israel has every right to be concerned, and every right to defend itself against any and all threats.”

The senator said Israel “has shown extraordinary restraint” throughout the Syrian conflict, but “no country can endure this kind of provocation for long, and we may be facing a change in calculus.”

“In recent days, we saw Syria launch missiles at Israeli air forces as they returned from destroying a convoy of weapons headed to the terrorists in Hezbollah. Those missiles triggered Israel’s missile defense system for the first time since the conflict began,” he said. “My friends, this is not a time to be naïve.”

Last week, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Menendez introduced the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act, which targets Iran’s ballistic missile program, support of terrorism and conventional arms trade.

“With no indication this administration has any proactive strategy to counter Iran, the time is ripe for Congress to assert its influence in our foreign policy, to provide guidance and to develop a framework for securing our interests in the region,” Menendez told AIPAC. “This bill contains meaningful steps to counter Iran’s most egregious behavior – and I want to thank all of you for your steadfast support of it as you head to Capitol Hill today… Now is not the time for the United States to turn a blind eye to Iran’s hostile behavior.”