Just hours before a Middle East cease-fire was declared Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he still had optimism that the fighting could end because of the devastating consequences for both sides.
Israel and Hamas have both been suffering casualties in a week-long battle that had intensified in Gaza in a resumption of fighting that has occurred historically in the past as Hamas fires rockets and Israel fires missiles from fighter jets.
“At this point, neither Hamas nor the Israelis want to deal with a ground war,” Lieberman told The Hartford Courant’s editorial board. “They’d much rather settle this – for different reasons. One reason for Hamas is it’s being decimated. If I lived in Gaza, as angry as I’d be at the Israelis for attacking, I’d also be angry at Hamas for getting Gaza into this position. … I personally believe that the escalation of rocket fire from Gaza by Hamas to Israel at this particular time was not in Hamas’s interest, but it was in Iran’s interest. We’ll find out at some point, but people know now that it was really ordered, if you will, strongly requested by Iran, which supplies these weapons. … The Israelis, they’ll lose a lot of people in a ground attack, for sure.”
Known as one of the strongest defenders of Israel in the U.S. Senate, Lieberman has been a leading voice on multiple crises in the Middle East during his 24-year Senate career. Lieberman will be stepping down on January 3 when he will be replaced by Democrat Chris Murphy, who defeated Republican Linda McMahon in the general election two weeks ago.
“The other thing going on here with Israel – what Israel is worried about and we’re worried about, it doesn’t get much attention in the media – is the Sinai has pretty much become a lawless, outlaw territory,” Lieberman said. “There are terrible consequences to this. First off, there is a poignant flow of refugees from Africa – Sudan and places like that – trying to go into Israel, and they get brutalized by people in the Sinai who charge them enormous amounts of money and threaten their families so that they can try to get to Israel. The other thing is that terrorists are beginning to get centered in the Sinai in a way that didn’t happen before.”
He added, “They are not African Jews. It’s fascinating. They are Africans who have heard that they can find sanctuary in Israel. It’s creating interesting problems for Israel. There are whole sections of Tel Aviv now that are African.”
The occasion Wednesday was Lieberman’s final interview with The Courant’s editorial board before he steps down from the Senate. While serious during much of the interview, Lieberman also had some lighthearted moments.
When asked about the Iraq War, Lieberman initially feigned ignorance. “The Iraq War?” he asked.
“Yeah, it was in all the papers,” responded Tom Condon, the veteran Courant journalist who is now the deputy editorial page editor.
On other issues, Lieberman does not agree with some lawmakers and conservatives who are calling for creating a special select committee to investigate the death of four Americans during a terrorist attack at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have all pushed for the new committee.
“I don’t believe it rises to the level of Watergate or Iran Contra,” Lieberman said. “I think the existing committees – mostly, our own committee, which is a general government-wide oversight committee in the Senate and the intelligence committee – are able to do an adequate investigation. When we’re done and we issue our conclusions, if people in the Senate, including my friend, John McCain, think there’s still a need for a select committee, then they can make that recommendation. But I don’t see the support for it now.”
Concerning the Senate committee, Lieberman said, “The intel committee and our committee are on it very aggressively, and we’re going to reach some conclusions by the end of this year.”
Lieberman said he still has questions about the highly controversial events in Benghazi.
“Why didn’t we either close the mission there or give adequate security for the Americans there?” Lieberman asked. “Why, once the attack occurred, … was there nothing nearby enough? At least an armed drone that I think could have saved the lives of those two former SEALs who were killed in the second wave of attacks. To me, those are really the most important questions.”