Steven T. Dennis and Roxana Tiron — Bloomberg Feb 27, 2018
Senator Lindsey Graham said Iran is testing President Donald Trump and warned Israel was preparing to start a war in southern Lebanon over an Iranian-backed Hezbollah rocket factory.
“Southern Lebanon is where the next war is coming,” Republican Graham told reporters Tuesday at a press conference with Democratic Senator Chris Coons after lawmakers took a bipartisan trip last week to the Middle East.
While Trump has vowed to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East, accusing its leaders of fomenting terrorism, his administration has said its military goal in war-ravaged Syria is limited to defeating Islamic State and preventing it from regrouping. The limits of that mission are increasingly coming into question ahead of a White House visit next week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Countering Iran is not one of the coalition missions in Syria,” General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. But he also warned that “while we continue to confront the scourge of terrorism, Iran’s malign activities across the region pose a long-term threat to stability in this part of the world.”
Graham of South Carolina told reporters that Israeli officials made it clear to visiting lawmakers last week that they would have to act to target Hezbollah over the guided-rocket factory.
“They’ve told us in no uncertain terms that if this threat continues — they keep making rockets that can hit the airport and do a lot of damage to the state of Israel — they are going to have to go in,” Graham said.
Graham blamed a lack of a strategy to counter Iran in the region, including in Syria, for the rocket factory.
“They are testing Trump,” Graham said. “They are testing the international community.”
Graham said the major request from Israel in a meeting with that country’s leaders was “ammunition, ammunition, ammunition” and for diplomatic support if Israel strikes civilian targets in Lebanon where it believes Hezbollah is located.
Coons of Delaware also told reporters it’s clear after the trip that the Trump administration needed a clearer policy to counter Iran and Russia.
Votel also drew that connection in his testimony, saying “diplomatically and militarily, Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter, fueling tensions among all parties in Syria.” Then, he said, Russia poses “as an arbiter to resolve the dispute.”