Former Sen. James Abourezk has some advice regarding the United States' foreign policy.
"I think it's in the interest of the United States to get the hell out of the Middle East," he said.
Abourezk spoke about the issue, as well as the rebellion in Syria and the influence of Israel on U.S. policies, Monday during a forum in Farber Hall on the University of South Dakota campus.
The U.S. government currently is aiding the ongoing rebellion in Syria by sending the rebels weapons through Saudi Arabia, Abourezk said.
"My theory is … the reason we're helping try to overthrow the Syrian regime is that we want to break the alliance between Iran and Syria," he said. "The reason we want to break the alliance – even though Iran is no threat to us – is because Israel wants the regime to be overthrown.
"And that's exactly what's happening."
Abourezk said the U.S. would be better off not to help the rebels overthrow Syria's current leader, Bashar al-Assad, because "that is the most progressive government you'll ever get in Syria.
"It's a dictatorship, but they're not making anything better," Abourezk said. "In fact, if the rebels take over, it's going to be worse. Much worse."
Approximately 75-80 percent to Syria's current population consists of Sunni Muslims, which is a more orthodox form of the religion, while the country itself is ruled by an Alawite group.
"The Alawites are considered by Sunnis to be non-believers because they are the progressive religious sect over there," Abourezk said. "For example, they don't require the women to wear veils, where Sunnis mostly do, and the dictator of Syria provides freedom of religion to everybody."
Abourezk said that "entire Alawite villages" are currently being slaughtered by the Syrian rebels.
"Pay no attention to what the American press says about this," he said. "They're following the government line. The government line is to support the rebels, and they're not going to run anything on television or in major newspapers that will help Assad. They want Assad out, so the press goes along with it."
The former senator's wife comes from Syria and is herself an Alawite. Her family still lives in an Alawite area, he said.
"She talks to them every day by telephone to make sure they're OK," he said. "They give her the news every day, and Alawite villages, one after the other, captured by the rebels, and they slaughter the people there. Then they take photos of it and they say, 'The government did this.'
"The propaganda machine by the rebels is almost perfect, and they're being aided by money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar," he said.
Abourezk added that if there were no involvement from Israel, "we wouldn't be involved as much as we are."
The main reason for this is lobbyists, he said.
"The Israeli government has a lobby in Washington that threatens and terrifies every politician in Washington, except for one or two," Abourezk said. "They didn't terrify me, although they came after me many, many times.
"The American government is virtually under the control of the Israelis when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East. I know it's harsh to say, but it's true, and I've seen it first-hand. It deals with money. … If they don't agree with your position on Israel, you don't get any money. You'll have money given to your opposition," he said.
As a result, Abourezk said the Israeli government gets a pass on issues such as the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the 2010 attack on flotillas that left nine people dead, including one American.
"Our government never said a word about it," Abourezk said.
The only solution is to pass a law regarding the financing of election campaigns, he said.
"If you have that, you don't have the Israeli lobby threatening people with cutting off their campaign money," he said.
Toward the end of the event, Abourezk said the U.S. would not support an occupation anywhere else in the world.
"In this case, we send Israel money," he said.
The event was moderated by Dr. Benno Wymar.