‘I have chosen sides’: Graham wants tougher stance on Iran, prayers for Israel

United States Sen. Lindsey Graham said he is calling for a day of prayer Sunday for the nation of Israel in response to Hamas declaring Friday as a day of rage.
Published: Oct. 13, 2023 at 9:50 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2023 at 12:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - United States Sen. Lindsey Graham said he is calling for a day of prayer Sunday for the nation of Israel in response to Hamas declaring Friday as a day of rage.

Graham spoke to reporters Friday after a roundtable discussion with faith leaders in a roundtable discussion in Columbia about the terror attacks in Israel, American hostages and what he’s calling “the path forward for Israeli security.”

“They want rage. I want prayer. They seek destruction. We seek peace. They seek a one-state solution, Hamas, the destruction of Israel. I seek a world where Palestinians can live in dignity and in peace with Israel,” Graham said. “I have a simple message: I have chosen sides. Israel has nothing to apologize for. Israel did not cause this.”

Of Hamas, Graham said their chief goal is the destruction of the Jewish state.

“They are religious Nazis,” Graham said of Hamas.

Graham’s remarks came the same day Israel’s military told some 1 million Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza and head to the southern part of the territory, an unprecedented order applying to almost half the population ahead of an expected ground invasion against the ruling Hamas militant group. The evacuation order, which includes Gaza City, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, sparked widespread panic among civilians and aid workers already running from Israeli airstrikes and contending with a total siege and a territory-wide blackout.

The war has already claimed over 2,800 lives on both sides and sent tensions soaring across the region. Israel has traded fire in recent days with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, sparking fears of an ever wider conflict, though that frontier is currently calm.

Graham placed blame on the previous two Democratic administrations in their dealings with Iran, whom he said played “an absolutely crucial role” in the Hamas attacks.

“This is what happens when you appease terrorists for a long period of time. When you get the largest state sponsor of terrorism more money, they don’t use it to build hospitals and schools. They use it to build rockets,” he said. “The Biden administration and the Obama administration, in my view, have gotten it wrong regarding Iran for a very, very long time.”

Graham said a military leader of Hamas openly thanked Iran for military weapons, training and money to carry out this operation.

“The idea that Iran did not know about this is laughable. Iran is telling us today literally that if Israel goes into Gaza with force, they will unleash Hezbollah in the north. Hezbollah is a complete proxy subdivision of the Iranian Ayatollah. They have communicated to the United States through their militias in Iraq and Syria, that if we continue as Americans to continue to support Israel, they will come after our soldiers,” he said. “Here’s my statement that this war escalates if there’s an attack by Hezbollah against Israel and North if the hostages begin to be killed by Hamas if American soldiers are attacked in Syria and Iraq, we should go after Iran. The largest state sponsor of terrorism provides the money and the weapons for what happened in Gaza. It’s time they pay a price. If this war escalates, then we should destroy the ability of the Iranians to finance terrorism in the future.”

Israel has bombarded Gaza round-the-clock since a weekend attack in which Hamas fighters stormed into the country’s south and massacred hundreds, including children in their homes and young people at a music festival. Militants also snatched some 150 people and dragged them into Gaza.

Hamas said Israel’s airstrikes killed 13 of the hostages in the past day. It said the dead included foreigners but did not give their nationalities.

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari denied that, telling Al-Jazeera Arabic that “we have our own information and do not believe the lies of Hamas.”

Israel said Thursday it would allow no supplies into Gaza until Hamas frees the hostages.

The military urged civilians in Gaza’s north to move south — an order that the U.N. said affects 1.1 million people. If carried out, that would mean the territory’s entire population cramming into roughly the southern half of the strip, which is only 25 miles long, even as Israeli strikes continued Friday to hammer neighborhoods across southern Gaza.

Israel said it needed to target Hamas’ military infrastructure, much of which is buried deep underground. Another spokesperson, Jonathan Conricus, said the military would take “extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians” and that residents would be allowed to return when the war is over.

Hamas militants operate in civilian areas, where Israel has long accused them of using Palestinians as human shields. A mass evacuation of civilians, if carried out, would leave their fighters exposed as never before.

“The camouflage of the terrorists is the civil population,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “Therefore, we need to separate them. So those who want to save their life, please go south.”

But U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said it would be impossible to stage such an evacuation without “devastating humanitarian consequences.” He called on Israel to rescind any such orders, saying they could “transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”

Hamas, meanwhile, called on Palestinians to stay in their homes, saying Israel “is trying to create confusion among citizens and harm the cohesion of our internal front.” It urged Palestinians to ignore what it said was “psychological warfare.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry said it was not possible to evacuate the many wounded from hospitals — already struggling with high numbers of dead and injured — and that hospital staff would not heed the warning.

The evacuation order was taken as a further signal of an already expected Israeli ground offensive, though no such decision has been announced.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “crush” Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007. His government is under intense public pressure to topple the group rather than merely bottle it up in Gaza as it has for years.

A visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, along with shipments of weapons, offered a powerful green light for Israel to drive ahead with its retaliation. Defense Secretary Austin, who met with Israeli leaders Friday, reiterated the United States’ ironclad support for Israel, saying military assistance would flow in “at the speed of war.”

Still, a ground offensive in densely populated and impoverished Gaza would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.

Neighboring Egypt has meanwhile taken “unprecedented measures” to reinforce its border with Gaza and prevent any breaches, a senior Egyptian security official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago and has long served as a regional mediator, is staunchly opposed to resettling Palestinians on its territory, both because of the costs involved and because it would undermine their quest for an independent state. The Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt, the only one not controlled by Israel, has been closed because of airstrikes.

Hamas’ unprecedented assault last Saturday, and days of heavy rocket fire since, have killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, including 247 soldiers — a toll unseen in Israel for decades. The ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed more than 1,530 people in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Israel says roughly 1,500 Hamas militants were killed inside Israel, and that hundreds of the dead in Gaza are Hamas members.