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Congresswoman McCollum’s Statement on H.R. 4133

May 9, 2012
Statements For the Record

Mr. Speaker, once again the U.S. House is acting on legislation, this time H.R. 4133, to restate what has been stated frequently in Congress, by President Obama, and by virtually every candidate running for federal office in the United States:  that the U.S. and the State of Israel have a special bilateral and a very important strategic relationship.  Congress strongly supports the State of Israel and we demonstrate our support annually by providing many billions of dollars in direct taxpayer funded assistance to ensure Israel’s security.  As a former member of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, I have helped to pass funding, often in excess of $3 billion in foreign aid, to ensure Israel’s security.

While Congress is ever mindful of Israel’s security, we have a Constitutional duty to first and foremost protect and defend the security of the United States. No one is more aware of this than President Obama.  Over the past year, the Obama Administration has been leading a coalition of nations to peacefully prevent Iran—through tough economic sanctions—from starting down the path to developing a nuclear weapon.  These sanctions are working and they must be allowed to continue to work. I fully support the efforts of the Obama Administration and our allies to keep the pressure on Iran.

The Government of Israel has also been focused on Iran and has articulated repeatedly that a unilateral military strike against Iran is a possibility.  According to the Washington Post on February 2, 2012:

  • “U.S. officials fear being blindsided by an Israeli strike that could have widespread economic and security implications and might only delay, not end, Iran’s nuclear pursuit.”
  • “The Obama administration is concerned that Israel could attack Iranian nuclear facilities this year, having given Washington little or no warning,” said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official who specialized in Iran policy during the Clinton administration and recently returned from meetings with Israeli officials. He said Israel “has refused to assure Washington that prior notice would be provided.”
  • “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is one of several administration officials to express concern publicly that Israel is positioning itself for a surprise attack. Last month, the administration dispatched the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to the Israeli capital for high level discussions about the possibility of a unilateral Israeli strike. “Israel has indicated they’re considering this, and we have indicated our concerns,” Panetta told reporters.”

While Israel’s prime minister has not been shy about the possibility of an Israeli military strike, the consequences of such action would be significant for the U.S.  According to the New York Times on February 29, 2012, “American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas.”

Despite the strong belief that Israeli military action against Iran would result in direct attacks on Americans and American interests, many right-wing politicians seem to believe that Americans and members of our armed forces, after eleven years of war in Afghanistan and nine years of war in Iraq, are desirous of a war with Iran precipitated by unilateral Israeli military action.  As one Middle East expert stated, “Israel can commence a war with Iran, but it may well take U.S. involvement to conclude it.”

Let me be clear, I do not want U.S. forces engaged in a war with Iran.  My constituents do not want a war with Iran.  Clearly, I do not want to see Iran developing nuclear weapons, but the Obama Administration and the international community are working to keep the pressure on the leadership in Tehran.

In February and March of 2012, the neo-conservative “go to war with Iran” echo-chamber was appallingly reminiscent of 2002 when the Bush Administration (along with many of the same conservative pundits who are supportive of an Israeli attack on Iran today) declared the definitive presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq a threat to U.S. national security.  The result of their deception is now well-known. We have seen this same march to war before, built on a foundation of half-truths, distorted intelligence, and politically motivated deceit.

President Obama has called out those who would send other peoples’ sons and daughters to war, but never put themselves in harms way.  Addressing the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 4, 2012, the New York Times reported President Obama as saying, “Already, there is too much loose talk of war.  Over the last few weeks such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel's security, America's security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.''

To be clear, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be a serious threat to the stability of the Middle East and to the security of the United States and our allies.  America’s top intelligence analysts, however, have repeatedly stated that there is no concrete evidence that Iran has yet decided to build a nuclear bomb.  In his January 2012 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that “they are certainly moving on that path, but we don’t believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon.”

Yet today, the House of Representatives is voting on H.R. 4133 which calls upon the U.S. to provide Israel with “defense articles and defense services through such mechanisms as appropriate, to include air refueling tankers, missile defense capabilities, and specialized munitions.”  By providing this specialized military capacity—all required by Israel for an airstrike on Iran—the U.S. would be removing the very limiting factors that may be preventing Israel from launching an attack that could draw the U.S. into another war.

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009, Michael Hayden, has been quoted as saying that airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were “beyond the capacity” of Israel, in part because of distance that aircraft would have to travel and the scale of the task, according to a February 19, 2012 New York Times article entitled, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets.”

The same Times article states, “Israel has American-built F-15I and F-16I fighter jets that can carry bombs to the targets, but their range – depending on altitude, speed and payload – falls far short of the minimum 2,000-mile round trip…Israel would have to use airborne refueling planes, called tankers, but Israel is not thought to have enough.”

The same article identifies “another major hurdle is Israel’s inventory of bombs capable of penetrating the Natanz (nuclear) facility, believed to be buried under 30 feet of reinforced concrete, and the Fordo site, which is built into a mountain.  Assuming it does not use a nuclear device, Israel has American-made GBU-28 5,000 pound ‘bunker buster’ bombs that could damage such hardened targets, although it is unclear how far down they can go.”

By supplying air refueling tanks and bunker buster bombs to Israel that would then be used in a military strike against Iran, the U.S. would be explicitly supporting the military action in the eyes of the Iranians and the world, even if Israel never notified the U.S. of its actual intent to strike.  Such a level of vulnerability and exposure on the part of the U.S. is not tolerable.  Israel is an ally, but their primary interest is their own national security, not the security of the U.S.

On a final note, the fact that the New York Times referenced that Israel has the option of using a “nuclear device” against the Iranian targets should be cause for tremendous alarm for Americans.   Even the consideration of using a nuclear weapon against Iran to prevent it from pursuing a nuclear weapons program should be categorically rejected by Israel, the U.S., and all nations committed to nuclear non-proliferation.  The worst kept secret in the world is that Israel possesses nuclear weapons.  The U.S. and this Congress should be guaranteed that our ally, Israel, will never use those weapons as a first-strike capability.

Israel’s security is important and I have voted dozens of times provide funds, weapons, and support. H.R. 4133 is more than “a sense of Congress,” more than feelings.  It sends a signal to the world that Israel should be provided with the military capacity by the U.S. to strike Iran.  That I do not support.

Out of respect for the importance of the U.S. – Israel relationship I intend to vote “present” on H.R. 4133, but I must express my strong opposition to endorsing any actions by a foreign power that could potentially drag the U.S. into a military conflict with Iran.