Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell Reuters

Future Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says President Barack Obama is not popular in Israel “and for good reason”.

Speaking to the Israel Hayom newspaper, McConnell, who has become one of the most powerful and influential people in Washington since November's midterm election, said, "It is no secret that president Obama isn't popular in Israel, and for good reason."

"In my view, he has tilted on numerous occasions in a direction that would lead Israelis to believe that he is not as solemn an ally as past presidents have been," added McConnell, a senator from Kentucky.

Asked whether Congress is as worried as Israel over the possibility of a bad deal between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, McConnell compared the issue with Obama’s decision to strengthen ties with Cuba, to which he has already expressed his opposition.

"If I were the Israeli government, looking at what the president did yesterday with regard to Cuba, I would be pretty nervous that the president is not above making a bad deal,” he told Israel Hayom, in the interview which took place a day after Obama announced the historic move and was published Friday.

“We are going to move legislatively sometimes in the near future. There are two different approaches being advocated here in the Senate: There is the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill, and there is another proposal to require that any such agreement come back before the Congress to be ratified. I expect the committees to start working on these bills right at the beginning of the next session of Congress, and we will be looking for an opportunity to bring them before the full Senate," stated McConnell.

“I do think, as I know the Israeli government thinks, that [a nuclear Iran] is an existential threat to the State of Israel. There are many days when I wonder whether the president's stated goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power is really what he has in mind, given the way this is being handled,” he added.

"So far everything in this process has been thoroughly predictable. Point number one: The sanctions that brought Iran to the table, to talk, the president did not even want. We passed them. He signed it when he got it, but he didn't ask for them. To his credit, he and other European allies did use them, they did bring the Iranians to the table. But last January, in the State of the Union address, the president threatened to veto the Kirk approach, which seeks to impose tougher sanctions if, at the end of a stated period of time, no agreement is reached. He thereby sent a message to the Iranians that maybe these talks really weren't that serious,” said McConnell.

"In July, when the time for discussion ended, nothing happened and there was another extension until November. My prediction was that there would be another extension, and there was. Now we have a third extension. I think that it makes elementary good sense to say to the Iranians, 'Look, if there is not an agreement by a certain period of time, things get worse, not better.'

"And the other proposal also makes sense because if there is a deal, in order for Congress to be able to express itself on whether it is a good deal, we want to approve it. In other words the president needs to send it back to us.

"I think both of these measures make a lot of sense. It will be my job to determine when we want to schedule either or both of them," he explained.

McConnell told the newspaper that he “would certainly hope” that Obama would use Washington’s veto power in the Security Council against the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid.

“I think it would be an outrage if the United States did not veto such an effort. I suppose that the president could do it on his own, or he could argue that he could do it on his own, because he has been doing a lot of other things on his own. But I think it would be a huge mistake for him and for his party. Just looking at the politics of this I can't imagine the American Jewish community would not be completely up in arms," he noted.

Asked how he would characterize the relationship between the U.S. and Israel right now, McConnell replied, "My impression is that the relationship between this president and Israel is the worst I have seen in the time that I've been in the Senate, and even before that, when I was an observer of the Senate. The relationship between Israel and Congress is quite good, on a bipartisan basis."

He was asked whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is “difficult to work with” and responded, "Not for me! I have known him for 20 years. I like him. He is thoroughly familiar with our country, as you know, which makes it easier to talk to him about things in the United States and I've enjoyed a good relationship with him as prime minister and in his previous roles."

McConnell, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader in January, said that he felt America's role as the leader of the free world is in jeopardy.

“I'd like to see us go in a different direction. I am not suggesting that we get involved in every conflict in the world, but there is no question over the last six years that America has lost a lot of respect around the world. Other countries look at the size of our debt, they look at the way the president seems to be so completely averse to sustaining the gains made by the previous administration, the tepid reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He is the president, but we control the purse and we are going to try to move the country in a different direction whether he is sympathetic to that or not," he said.

Finally, he reiterated again that Obama’s decision to strengthen ties with Cuba “was a big mistake”

“It is going to strengthen the Castro brothers providing them with the kind of foreign currency that will allow them to continue to prop up their oppressive regime. We have a couple of Cuban Americans in the U.S. Senate: Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey; Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida -- both of them spoke forcibly against what the president did. As, interestingly, did the Washington Post. So I think it was another example of the president's foreign policy, which seems to reward repressive regimes and raise doubts among our friends about whether we are truly going to be with them at times of crisis," said McConnell.