Tillerson Offers Full-Throated Support for Israel

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson issued a statement of support for Israel during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

“Israel is, has always been, and remains our most important ally in the region,” Tillerson said. “They’re important to our national security.”

Tillerson also criticized the United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSC 2234), which assailed Israel. “The UN resolution that was passed in my view in not helpful. I think it actually undermines setting a good set of conditions for talks to continue.” The former ExxonMobil CEO said Secretary of State John Kerry’s December 28 speech on the peace process was “quite troubling because of the attacks on Israel and in many ways undermining the government of Israel itself in terms of its own legitimacy of the talks.”

Earlier during his testimony, the Secretary of State nominee singled out Israel as an example of “long-standing friends who honor their promises and bolster our own national security.”

Prior to the hearing, Tillerson’s public record on Israel had been limited and hazy. The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported last week that the nominee “doesn’t have any background, for example, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is learning the history and nuances from scratch.” But, Tillerson emphasized on Wednesday, “We have to recommit… that we are going to meet our obligations to Israel as our most important strategic partner in the region.”

While Tillerson headed ExxonMobil, the company conducted business through a European subsidiary with Iran and Syria, countries under U.S. sanctions for supporting terrorism.

When pressed by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) on the importance of pursuing a two state solution to resolve the conflict, the silver-haired Texan appeared hesitant of any active engagement. “Conflicts like this take a long time. Sometimes it takes another generation to have a changed view,” he said. Under the current conditions, Tillerson contended, it is “extremely challenging” to bring the two parties together.

The Secretary of State nominee also assigned blamed upon Palestinian officials for the ongoing stalemate. “In the case of the Palestinian leadership, while they have renounced violence, it’s one thing to renounce it, it’s another to take concrete action to prevent it,” he stated. “The Palestinian people have suffered a lot, under their own leadership in many cases,” Tillerson added. Calling the two state solution a “dream that everyone is in pursuit of,” the Secretary of State nominee cautioned, “whether it can ever be a reality remains to be seen.”

In rhetoric that appeared similar to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tillerson commented on the changing regional dynamics. “Today because of Iran and the threat that Iran poses, we now find that Israel, the US, and the Arab neighbors in the region all share the same enemy. This gives us an opportunity to discuss things that previously could not have been discussed,” he emphasized.

Sanctions against Iran and Russia remained a divisive topic throughout the hearing. “I never lobbied against sanctions. To my knowledge, ExxonMobil never directly lobbied against sanctions,” Tillerson noted. However, the Huffington Post reported that while Tillerson headed ExxonMobil, firms representing the oil giant repeatedly lobbied lawmakers against economic penalties targeting Tehran.

Regarding the controversial Iranian nuclear deal, the Secretary of State nominee called for a “full review” of the accords signed by the Obama Administration. In contrast to Netanyahu who has on numerous occasions argued that Tehran is the main adversarial threat in the Middle East, the former corporate CEO contended that the Islamic State was the region’s most significant danger.

Tillerson offered a mixed review of Moscow. He acknowledged that Russia “has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war.” At the same time, Tillerson refusing to label Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” despite intense prodding by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) about atrocities in Aleppo. The former GOP Presidential candidate shot back, “I find it discouraging, your inability to cite that.”

Throughout the testimony, Senators asked the nominee whether he supported specific policies advocated by Trump including a national registry of Muslims. Tillerson did not reject this idea out of hand, but rather called for greater inquiry. “We would need to have a lot more information around how such an approach would even be constructed,” he concluded.

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