Sen. Lindsey Graham praises Biden admin’s ongoing efforts to normalize Israel-Saudi Arabia relations

WASHINGTON — Normally a staunch critic of the president, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday praised the Biden administration’s efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as an important step toward stabilizing the Middle East after the war.

Graham, of South Carolina, in an interview with NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” said that normalized relations between Israel and the Saudis would be a setback for Iran, a U.S. adversary that opposes a rapprochement between Israel and Arab states.

The Biden administration views the creation of formal diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia as an important foreign policy goal, though progress toward an agreement has been upended by the war between Israel and Hamas. The U.S. hasn’t given up on normalized relations, seen as a potential linchpin in any long-term peace plan between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Graham told moderator Kristen Welker that “the Biden administration is trying to revive the normalization efforts, and I think they’re right to do so. If you really want to hurt Iran long term, don’t let them get away with destroying efforts to reconcile between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Israel’s counterattack against Hamas following the Oct. 7 assault has complicated hopes of durable diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. More than 18,700 Palestinians have been killed thus far, according to health officials in Gaza. Saudi leaders risk angering their own population if they pursue normalization with Israel amid images of Palestinian women and children dying in Israel’s offensive.

“I can tell you, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries cannot normalize with Israel if they’re having been seen as throwing the Palestinians under the bus,” Graham said. “We have two choices: Continue the death spiral or use Oct. 7 as a catalyst for change.”

Israel is facing pressure from the Biden administration to scale back its offensive so that fewer civilians in Gaza are killed. If Israel follows through, that could potentially revive interest in what Graham called “the big prize”: normalized relations between Israel and oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to reporters last month, John Kirby, the White House’s National Security Council spokesman, said: “We still believe that an integrated Israel is good for the region. And we still believe that that is a path worth pursuing. And we’re not giving up on that. I think you’ve heard me say we’re still interested in pursuing this normalization arrangement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Graham is an ally of former President Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s not typically inclined to give Biden any political cover. Yet when asked about GOP efforts in the House to impeach Biden, Graham showed little appetite for the inquiry that lawmakers authorized last week.

“If there were a smoking gun, I think we’d be talking about it,” Graham said of Biden’s conduct.

“I’m not worried about impeaching the president right now,” Graham continued. “You know what I’m worried about? Helping the president bring the Mideast to a better spot; trying to convince the Arabs and the Israelis to not let Iran get you off track; give Israel the space to destroy Hamas.”


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