U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, today joined several of his Republican colleagues in reaffirming their support for Israel, America’s friend and ally, and its sovereign right to defend itself against Hamas:

“Mr. President, I’d like to echo what my colleagues the senator from Kentucky, our leader, Senator McConnell, has said, Senator Graham, Senator Ayotte, and I appreciate Sen McConnell’s leadership in making very clear what’s at stake here, pushing hard to make sure that the United States Senate is doing its job in support of Israel, making sure that they are able to defend themselves, and that the funding for the Iron Dome which has been so effective as a defense mechanism against these rocket attacks is funded in a way that allows them to continue to use it in that capability.

“As we look at the situation in Gaza, Mr. President, I just want to start by taking a step back and looking at this conflict in both its historic and its regional context.

“In Israel, we have the only, the only, functioning democracy in the Middle East.

“Israel is a nation that emphasizes human rights and tolerance.

“Its population includes religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity.

“In Jerusalem, you can hear the Muslim call to prayer, the bells from Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, and the prayers of the Jews at the Wailing Wall, all at the same time.

“There is no other place like this on earth.

“This democracy, however, is situated in a region of intense brutality and extremism.

“Historically, that has meant seemingly endless conflicts, with Israel’s neighbors intentionally targeting civilians in order to maximize casualties.

“One need only look across the border into Syria to get a glimpse of this brutality.

“When Syrians made the first attempts at striving for democracy, the Assad regime began systematically slaughtering opponents, including gassing civilians with chemical weapons.

“As that violence spread into Iraq, radical terrorist organization ISIS began killing not only Shia opponents, but also other Sunni clerics who would not swear allegiance to ISIS.

“Communities with ancient traditions, such as the Christians in Mosul, who just 10 years ago numbered 60,000, have been forced to flee for their lives.

“Mosul has been completely emptied of Christians for the first time in 1,600 years.

“Mr. President, it is in this context that the people of Israel have built their nation.

“And it is in this context that we now view the conflict in Gaza.

“The current conflict in Gaza is one that Israel did not start.

“It started with Hamas firing over 2,300 rockets from Gaza into Israel – specifically targeting civilian populated areas to maximize potential casualties.

“In response, Israel has conducted a methodical and forceful response, just as you would expect any nation to do.

“First, Israel locates the source of the rocket.

“Then an attempt is made to call the residents by phone to tell them to evacuate.

“In many cases, a flare is sent onto the roof as a warning that the location is about to be hit before that location is ultimately destroyed.

“In a region where neighboring leaders indiscriminately drop barrel bombs on residential areas for the sole purpose of slaughtering civilians, Israel goes out of its way to save lives.

“These are not just civilian lives Israel is saving, because they know that by their efforts they’re giving the aggressors a chance to escape as well.

“After Hamas continued to launch rockets into Israel – even when Israel agreed on multiple occasions to cease-fires – tunnels were used to insert combatants near Israeli settlements.

“Israel responded, with a ground assault to destroy the tunnels and eliminate Hamas’ stockpile of weapons.

“As attacks and rocket launches continue, it is understandable that Israel would want to seek out and destroy stockpiles of weapons to keep this cycle from being repeated a few months from now.

“Mr. President, like all of my colleagues on the floor today, I want to see peace in the Middle East.

“Specifically, I want to see peace in Gaza and the West Bank.

“I want to see peace in such a way that the Palestinian people can live with the prospect of a better life.

“But as we have seen, peace is not possible when a terrorist organization continues to pursue its cause of annihilating Israel.

“Peace cannot be achieved while Hamas rejects cease-fire agreements and continues to fire rockets.

“Mr. President, as violent as the current conflict in the Gaza strip is, it would be far worse, it would be far worse, if Israel did not have the Iron Dome.

“In any conflict, civilian casualties are a tragedy.

“And if Israel did not have the sophisticated, purely defensive weapons system that allows it to shoot these rockets out of the sky, the number of civilian casualties would be far greater.

“Hamas does not drop leaflets telling civilians to evacuate.

“Hamas does not send flares to warn residents to get out of harm’s way.

“If not for Israel’s Iron Dome, the civilian casualties in Israel, Mr. President, would be staggering.

“The United States must continue to support Israel by ensuring that Iron Dome missile defense systems remain an effective deterrent to even greater civilian casualties.

“For as long as Israeli men, women, and children need to run to bomb shelters ahead of Hamas rocket attacks, we must support Israel’s ability to defend itself.

“Mr. President, United Nations Council on Human Rights, other countries around the world, can choose to do things that are consistently at odds with the facts and with reality.

“But here in the United States, we need to do, as my colleague from South Carolina said, the right thing and the smart thing.

“And in this case, the right thing and the smart thing are one and the same.

“So I hope that my colleagues here in the United States Senate will make a priority, of providing the necessary funding for Iron Dome and to standing united, united, behind our ally and our friend Israel as they defend themselves from these attacks.

“Mr. President, I see my colleague from Texas is here, and I would simply ask him what role he sees the United States playing in both supporting Israel and in providing support for Iron Dome?”

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