President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Defense Secretary, Ret. Gen. James Mattis, faced a series of rapid-fire questions at his confirmation hearing Thursday about the Middle East from Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a big player on military issues.
Graham put Mattis on the spot, asking what the capital of Israel is.
“The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are,” Mattis said.
Israel’s military officials are primarily based in Tel Aviv, but the rest of the national government is located in Jerusalem.
Many Republicans have long pushed for the US to recognize the capital of Israel as Jerusalem, a move seen by past administrations on both sides as inflammatory to Palestinians and Arabs if done outside of a peace agreement. Trump has pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as president, and his nominee for ambassador to Israel is a vocal advocate of such a move.
“Sir, right now I go with US policy,” Mattis said when asked whether he would support moving the embassy. “I would defer to the nominee of Secretary of State on that, sir.”
Mattis also said he supports a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict if it promotes peace, but that he would be open to other solutions.
Graham also peppered Mattis with questions about the Iran nuclear deal. Mattis has said he intends to let the deal stand unless there is a violation.
“It’s not a deal I would have signed, sir,” Mattis said.
He said he would ask Congress to have a joint committee to oversee the implementation of the accord, boost intelligence community monitoring and have “a combined missile defense, air and missile defense capability, for our Gulf allies.”
He appeared to displease Graham when he said he supports sanctions when they are supported internationally, prompting Graham to ask him if he’s giving the world a “veto” on US sanctions.
“I would never give the world a veto,” Mattis said.