By Keith Johnson
WASHINGTON--Top U.S. lawmakers on Sunday stressed Israel's right to self defense and questioned Egypt's ability to help uphold a regional peace it helped create more than 30 years ago.
The comments came as the U.S. continues to press Egypt and Turkey to help broker a diplomatic solution to the increasingly violent military conflict between Israel and Hamas.
With the prospect of an imminent Israeli ground offensive into Gaza, the conflict in the Middle East has overshadowed other pressing issues, including President Barack Obama's first post-election trip to Southeast Asia and congressional discussions over how to dodge the fiscal cliff.
Lawmakers from both parties reiterated their support for Israeli military actions, and Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.), suggested he would not look askance at an Israeli ground offensive.
"I'm not in a position--nor do I want to be--second-guessing what Israel has to do. Obviously, no one wants a ground war, but Israel has to determine what it has to do to preserve its security," Mr. King said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." That was echoed on CNN by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D., Md.), ranking member of House Intelligence Committee, who said that Israel has to protect its citizens "at all costs."
The U.S. is pushing both Egypt and Turkey, two regional powers, to help broker a deal between Israel and Hamas. However, the Arab Spring and the change in leadership in Egypt, which replaced a pro-U.S., military-dominated government with a president drawn from the same Muslim Brotherhood that spawned Hamas, has undercut Cairo's diplomatic heft and could imperil U.S.-Egyptian relations, lawmakers said.
"Egypt--watch what you do and how you do it. You're teetering with the Congress of having your aid cut off if you keep inciting violence," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, S.C.).
Egypt has traditionally been the second-largest U.S. recipient of direct foreign aid, behind Israel, a result of the 1979 Camp David accords. Since the Arab Spring that aid has been questioned in Congress--even though many diplomats say it's vital to maintaining leverage over Egyptian decision making.
Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described Egypt's response to the crisis as "pretty weak so far, from what I can tell.
The Egyptians have a real interest here in the region not exploding, in the peace agreement continuing to be abided by, by them, the agreement that they have with Israel, but I think that they're going to have to take some very serious steps diplomatically to make it clear to Hamas that they're going to lose support in the Arab world if they continue these rocket attacks on Israel."
Doubts about Egypt's ability to help maintain peace were echoed on CNN by Rep. Ruppersberger. "I think as far as the Arab Spring, clearly the dynamic has changed.
I think that the U.S. now is looking to [Egyptian president Mohamed] Morsi to use his influence with Hamas to get them to stop shooting the missiles." He also sounded a warning to Iran, saying that many of the rockets used by Hamas to attack Israeli civilians are Iranian-made.