By Abigail Adams
As Secretary of State John Kerry returned from his trip to the Middle East, GOP and Democratic primary candidates ramped up their campaigns for Kerry’s former Senate seat. On April 30th, MA voters will decide which Republican and Democratic candidate will go head to head in the June 25th special election. The Jewish Ledger caught up with GOP primary candidates Gabriel E. Gomez, Daniel B. Winslow and Michael J. Sullivan and Democratic primary candidates Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch to learn their positions on Israel and the Middle East.
Gabriel Gomez is the only primary candidate that has never held political office. After his 2003 defeat against Michael Sullivan for Cohasset City Selectman, Gomez has been a politically active member of the private sector, working for the private equity firm Advent International and as a spokesman for Operational Security (OPSEC), an advocacy organization devoted to protecting Special Operations Forces and intelligence assets from political exploitation. Now, Gomez is facing off against a different Mike Sullivan in the Republican primary for one of the most powerful political seats in the federal government.
Gomez studied at the US Naval Academy and worked as a Navy pilot before joining the Navy SEALS where he served as a platoon commander in South America and the West Indies. Gomez retired from the Navy in 1996 and went on to earn his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
Mike Sullivan, former U.S. Attorney and acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), was the last Republican candidate to announce his bid for the Senate. Sullivan’s career has brought him from Beacon Hill to Baghdad. After a four-year term as a state representative, Sullivan served as the District Attorney of Plymouth. In 2001, George W. Bush appointed him U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts and, in 2006, acting director of the ATF.
In March, Sullivan’s campaign met with controversy over its website which was cut-and-copied from Richard Tisei’s unsuccessful Congressional campaign. The controversy extended to Sullivan’s eight-sentence statement on Israel and Iran, which campaign manager Paul Moore also lifted from Tisei.
State Representative Dan Winslow is one of the few politicians to have served in all branches of Massachusetts’ government. The Amherst native who formerly served as chief legal council to Gov. Mitt Romney hopes to win back a Massachusetts Senate seat for the GOP, the party, Winslow told the Jewish Ledger, “that stands for growth, opportunity and prosperity.” Despite a recent WBUR poll that showed Winslow trailing Mike Sullivan by 18 points, Dan Winslow’s grassroots campaign and commitment to serving as a citizen legislator has momentum. In March, Rep. Winslow won an informal Republican straw poll held by party loyalists and his tax plan that involves reducing small business tax rates while eliminating corporate tax breaks is getting traction across party lines. On his twitter account, Winslow stated that Democratic candidate Ed Markey’s campaign was keeping tabs on him, which he described as a good sign.
This is the third special election of Congressman Stephen Lynch’s political career. The first occurred in 1995, when Lynch moved from state representative to state senator. The South Boston native and former iron worker went on to win Massachusetts’ 9th congressional seat in a special election in 2001.
In Congress, Lynch sits on the Financial Services Committee, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and the subcommittee on National Security. He is co-chair of the Task Force on Terrorism and Proliferation Financing. His congressional work has made him a frequent visitor to the Middle East.
Lynch has been the signer of numerous congressional letters and bills expressing solidarity with Israel. In 2008, he co-sponsored legislation condemning rocket attacks on Israel. Lynch has, also, called on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and did not sign a congressional letter affirming Israel’s right to self-defense in the flotilla incident.
Elected to Congress as one of its youngest members in 1976, Democrat Ed Markey is now one of the House of Representatives longest serving members from Massachuetts. Born and raised in Malden, Markey served as an attorney and state representative, in addition to serving in the U.S. Army Reserves in his early years. While in Congress, Markey has developed a reputation as a staunch environmental advocate. He co-authored the Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the first piece of legislation that attempted to limit the green house gas emissions of major industries.
Markey co-founded the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, and has recently spearheaded an effort to reduce federal spending on nuclear weapons. In 2002, Markey co-sponsored a congressional resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism. While Ed Markey has supported a series of sanctions in Iran, he is a vocal opponent of any pre-emptive military action.
ON THE U.S.- ISRAEL RELATIONSHIP
JL: Although the relationship between Israel and the U.S. has been under a bit of strain in recent years, President Obama visited Israel recently where he reaffirmed America’s strong support for the Jewish state. In a broad sense, what is your perspective on the relationship between the U.S. and Israel?
Gomez: As a former Navy SEAL, I know how essential it is for freedom here and around the world that America maintains a strong national defense. We need to preserve our ability to stand up for our allies and protect ourselves.
America has no closer ally than Israel, and we must work together not only to ensure Israel’s security but also to promote freedom and encourage peace throughout the Middle East. I support a two-state solution that is negotiated by the parties and includes defensible borders for Israel.
I recognize Israel’s right to defend itself from the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and I believe the United States should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
We must confront the real threats to freedom and we must sustain the readiness we need to protect our security and sustain the cause of liberty.
President Obama’s recent trip was finally a step in the right direction from this administration and, hopefully, an indication of the positive relationship we can expect our President to foster and grow with Israeli leadership in his second term.
SULLIVAN: It’s critically important to have a great relationship between the two countries. We depend and rely on each other. We’ve been tremendous partners for decades and we should be doing everything within our power to reinforce that. We also need to send a message globally that we’re important allies to one another.
The nation of Israel is critically important to the work that we do in terms of anti-terrorism. They had tremendous intelligence sources that the U.S. oftentimes would rely upon in dealing with terrorist organizations. Obviously, the U.S. could benefit from all the experience in Israel and Israel has been a phenomenal partner in all the work that we’ve been trying to do to stabilize the Middle East.
I know the relationship [between Israel and the U.S.] has been strained, or at least it appears to be. But Obama visiting Israel is critically important in terms of reinforcing the message of the relationship between the two countries.
WINSLOW: I think that it’s true that under the Obama administration there has been some tension but if ever there were a time for the U.S. to show a commitment to its best ally in the region it is now. We cannot afford any daylight to appear between the interests of the U.S. and Israel when it comes to the Middle East at this critical juncture.
I’m glad that President Obama finally has turned his attention to the state of Israel by symbolically as well as practically meeting with the leadership. If I were elected to U.S. Senate, I would do everything in my power to ensure that the foreign policy of the U.S. recognized that our fortunes and our fates are inextricably linked and our security is critically dependent on a secure state of Israel.
Israel is facing an existential threat…this is no time to give any solace or ambiguity to our foes about our willingness and ability to stand firm with the state of Israel to ensure its continued survival and prosperity.
LYNCH: I was very happy to see the President visit. I think our relationship is moving in a new direction and I’m happy to see that. Friends visit one another. It’s pretty basic. That’s why I’m a frequent visitor of Israel. They are our friends. Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East and is a shining example of what democracy could bring to that part of the world.
It [the relationship] does sometimes vary with administrations, both on our side and their’s. That’s why [when] representing Congress, or hopefully the Senate, it’s important that regardless of who’s the head of state of either country that the dialogue between the Israeli parliament and U.S. Congress continue to move along. I think that we have a lot to learn from each other and much to share. We have major common interests both locally and globally. I think the relationship is moving in a good direction although I think we still have some challenges in front of us.
MARKEY: The United States’ commitment to Israel has never been stronger. And, if voters in Massachusetts send me to the Senate, I’ll take with me 37 years in Congress as a strong supporter and friend of the State of Israel. From visiting the Holy Land to supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, I have never wavered in my commitment to the Jewish State and its fundamental right to exist.
ON RESTARTING THE PEACE TALKS:
JL: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insists that Israel meet certain preconditions before peace talks can be resumed (specifically, a freeze on construction in the so-called territories). Do you think the U.S. should pressure Israel to meet the Palestinian’s preconditions?
GOMEZ: We must fully support Israel, and in doing so support their expectation that direct talks without preconditions are the best way to approach a peace agreement. The United States may act as a facilitator, but must not want this more than the two parties themselves. Palestine and Israel must find the common ground to enter into peace talks, and when they come to the table, the United States should be a mediator and strong supporter of any peace agreements that respect the security concerns of the region.
SULLIVAN: I don’t think that the U.S. should give in to the demands for preconditions from Palestine. The purpose is bilateral talks. Peace in the area is important, but there shouldn’t be preconditions. The goal and strategy should be a pathway to peace. The preconditions would prevent the ability to have the talks so they would be problematic.
I think we should obviously get the input of Israel first and foremost on how we can be helpful in terms of negotiating or playing some type of role—particularly in a mediator capacity. We need to find out from Israel first how can be helpful in terms of advancing the talks.
WINSLOW: First of all Israel is not with any preconditions on talks. I support bilateral talks, direct talks between the PA and Israel. I think the PA wants to continually involve the U.S. and others at the bargaining table. I think that direct bilateral talks without any preconditions from either side of the bargaining table are needed. There’s just no way for meaningful dialogue to occur [with preconditions].
I think bilateral talks are needed to ensure that the respective interests of the Palestinians and Israel are attended to and who better to ensure that than the parties at stake. I think the U.S. can certainly facilitate dialogue but the dialogue has to be bilateral. It has to be between the PA and Israel.
LYNCH: There’s no question that the issues of settlements is a point of friction. I think there are some that believe that the possibility of a two-state solution will disappear if development of settlements continues at the current pace. I would be cautious about any preconditions, however.
If I could use an analogy, in Ireland, the U.S. was successful at being an honest broker and peacemaker by providing a stable environment for those parties to engage. They didn’t necessarily pressure Northern Ireland or Ireland or the British. But we did provide a cover for those leaders to sit down and work through their differences and compromise where appropriate on their own.
The U.S. will not be the one to bring peace to the Middle East. It will be the Israelis and Palestinians. They’ll bring peace to themselves. I’d be cautious about directing pressure on any particular party. We should be using the same approach that we did in Ireland by creating an environment of dialogue and mutual respect and safety for parties to engage. I think that’s the most important role that we can play
MARKEY: The U.S. should continue to play an integral role in advancing a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. I’m confident that with Secretary of State John Kerry as our chief negotiator, we’ll be able to make progress. I will echo Secretary Kerry’s observation that we don’t want to put a strain on this early phase of peacemaking. But as a part of our unbreakable commitment to Israel, our country should aid in brokering and achieving a solution.
ON IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM:
JL: Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed his belief that the time to take military action to curtail Iran’s nuclear program may be drawing near. Would you support that course of action? What should our next move be to stop a nuclear Iran?
GOMEZ: The United States should support Israel as a true ally. In order to prevent war with Iran, the US must show we are serious about a credible military option in addition to diplomacy. Should Israel determine that Iran is approaching a zone of immunity in which a strike from Israel would lose its effectiveness, and a preventative strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons program should be launched, the United States should stand with Israel.
SULLIVAN: Military action should always be the action of last resort. A nuclear Iran would be potentially disastrous for the region and fatal for a nation like Israel so using a preemptive strike should be an option that should be available to Israel and to the U.S. It should be done as the course of a last resort—if it comes to a point of survival and stability in the Middle East.
You hope that there are other options like Iran abandoning their program in its entirety. You’d hope that some type of diplomatic pressures from outside Iran or, even better, from inside Iran would get them to reconsider advancing nuclear weapons. War is something that civil nations must do as a last resort. I think obviously Israel and the U.S. will maintain all options and exercise their options if and when we see necessary to do so.
WINSLOW: I think it’s clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. That’s a given. Before we get to that point the question is what alternatives to military action exist. My view is that the single greatest threat to the Iranian theocracy is the Iranian people. We have to have the international community led by the U.S. have sanctions that are serious to draw the theocracy to its knees and to separate the theocracy from its people.
In 2009, the Iranian people started to rise up against the theocracy. All they were waiting for was some sign, some indication of support from the U.S., or from anybody. It never came. It was a lost opportunity in 2009. Now it’s a race between the theocracy developing a nuclear capability and the Iranian people shaking off the theocracy.
The seriousness is that [nuclear] technology starts to proliferate. It’ll be unstoppable at that point and I’m not sure that Israel has the capability to take out military the [nuclear] operation under the mountain. There are operational considerations that are best left unsaid and not at the level of the Senate. The policy consideration is this—should we ever permit a nuclear-armed Iran. The answer is a resounding never.
LYNCH: I do not support a nuclear Iran. I think that would be very bad for the world and for Israel and for the interests of democracy in the Middle East. We need to do everything we can to prevent that from happening. I’ve supported many rounds of sanctions against Iran and their banking community and petroleum industry.
I’m cautious about talk of war right now. I think there’s some time. I think that if we do think that a military response is necessary that we do it with the international community because the consequences are quiet serious. Iran is a much different situation than Iraq. They have a much larger military, they are much better prepared for conflict, and since they have not openly been the aggressor beyond their borders they have not been seen by the international community as a great danger to the region.
We should look to protect Israel of course. We should also look for an international response that would be overpowering and would leave Iran isolated. We would need the support of the Russians and the Chinese, as well as other NATO members. In this case, I’m not so sure about the position taken by China and by Russia and it [military action] could invite an international conflict there.
MARKEY: I’ve been clear that we cannot allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. I’ll repeat my emphatic support, just as I expressed last year when I spoke to AIPAC, for putting the tightest sanctions on Iran that the world has ever seen. The United States must continue our comprehensive approach to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. In addition to sanctions, I also supported a bill advocating the U.S. taking specific actions to assist in Israel’s defense, including preserving its military edge and encouraging further development of advanced technology programs between our two countries. Moving forward, we must ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power.
ON THE CRISIS IN SYRIA:
JL: It’s been reported that Syria has begun using chemical weapons against rebels and that Assad’s government may be passing chemical weapons into the hands of Hezbollah terrorists. Should the United States step in and play a more active role in that country’s civil war? What should our role be in the current crisis in Syria?
GOMEZ: The United States should act swiftly to resolve this situation without getting militarily involved in Syria’s civil war. We should enforce a no fly zone to prevent the arms support that Assad is currently receiving from Iran, as well as provide arms to rebel leaders who oppose Assad’s regime. The situation in Syria is destabilizing the entire region and taxing our allies, while creating chaos in which thousands of terrorists are gaining training and weapons. The United States must endeavor to hastily end this situation.
SULLIVAN: One of the disadvantages that you have as a candidate is that you don’t have all the necessary intelligence to make a full and thoughtful decision. Again, it’s a last resort [military involvement.]. Early efforts should be diplomatic. They should be to try to advance democracy and to empower the people that want to see a democratic government. You want to make sure that if you’re arming the opposition you pick the right group to align yourself with. If it empowers the people that are interested in a democratic government it’s certainly an option the U.S. should consider. Particularly if they think it’s going to add an opportunity for a more peaceful region.
WINSLOW: It’s a complicated situation on the ground and we have the lessons of Afghanistan when we armed what became al-Qaeda as the lesson to draw upon. The rebel factions consist of both potential friends and actual foes to the interests of Israel as well as the West and the U.S. in general. We can’t assume just because somebody is anti-Assad regime that they’re necessarily friends of ours. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is not the case in Syria.
I do think we need to take our engagement to the next level and start to provide offensive technology to the factions that are supportive, or at least not hostile to the US and Israel. But we have to be smart about it because weapons are fungible so we have to assume that any weapon provided could be used against the U.S. or Israel.
The French President suggested we equip rebels with anti-aircraft missiles. I oppose that because they could be used against Israel or U.S. civilian jetliners. By contrast we could provide the factions with anti-tank weaponry effective against soviet era tanks in the Syrian army, but ineffective against more modern U.S., or Israeli tanks.
That’s an example of fine-tuning our response with respect to equipment. We need to move to the next level of arming the offensive capabilities of potential allies. Otherwise, if move past a stalemate it could be a repetition again of Egypt where we have a vacuum created by the downfall of a regime only to see hostile forces take their place.
LYNCH: I think we should keep doing what we’ve been doing by supporting the rebels, but not with lethal support. The rebels have some elements of al-Qaeda within their ranks. We are trying now with some of our international neighbors in Amman to train some of the secular militia within Syria to counterbalance the radical Islamic factions within the rebel leadership and armed forces.
I would be very reluctant to give heavy weaponry to al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria. We had a bad experience with that in Libya so now we need to be very careful about what we give to the rebels in Syria. There are other countries like France that are already providing weapons there. I understand that decision, but I think we need to be very careful about what our position is.
MARKEY: I support Secretary Kerry and his efforts to build a coalition with our allies to end the slaughter in Syria. The United States should continue to work with the international community to increase pressure on the Assad regime to step down and begin the transition to democracy. The U.S. has been and should continue to provide non-lethal assistance to the oppositions. And, as conditions change, we may need to revisit arming certain, carefully vetted elements of the resistance, while ensuring that those arms are not used against America or its allies, especially Israel. While reports of chemical weapons use remain unconfirmed, I will echo the President’s words that we cannot and will not tolerate any use of chemical weapons.