Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Neighbors Not Enemies Act. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) introduced H.R. 3621, which the congresswoman is calling the Neighbors Not Enemies Act, in an effort to repeal the 1798 law known as the Alien Enemies Act (AEA). According to a press release, the AEA was one of the legal underpinnings of former President Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” which barred the entry of refugees and migrants from places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) announced on May 28 that he intends to reintroduce the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act that aims to sanction any foreign individuals believed to be providing support to US-designated terrorist groups in the occupied Palestinian territories, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Iran Sanctions Preservation Act. Republican Senators James Lankford (Oklahoma), John Cornyn (Texas), and Tim Scott (South Carolina) are gearing up to introduce a bill, the Iran Sanctions Preservation Act. It would prohibit the Biden Administration from lifting a slate of broad sanctions, even if Washington and Tehran agree to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, until Iran “suspends all of its destabilizing terrorist activities.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

House Republicans Say President Biden Has Not Applied Syria Sanctions. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisconsin) and some of his Republican colleagues sent a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the administration to do more to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

Rep. Tlaib Tells Social Media Companies to End Palestinian Censorship. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) wrote to officials of social media giants Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok calling for an end to reported censorship of users who post in support of Palestinians and against Israel’s recent actions in the occupied territories.

Senate Republicans Meet with Israeli PM in Jerusalem. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Bill Hagerty (Tennessee), and Ted Cruz (Texas) traveled to Israel during the most recent congressional recess where they met with outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition to that meeting, Senator Cruz reportedly made a visit to an Israeli house that was destroyed by a Hamas rocket and met with a right-wing group in Israel. While in Israel, Senator Graham held a press conference where he explained that Congress intends to honor Israel’s request for $1 billion in aid—despite Israel netting some $8 billion in military exports in 2020—to replenish and upgrade its Iron Dome missile defense system. In addition, Graham expressed interest in proposing policies that would see Iran and Arab states in the region build and operate nuclear energy programs without the ability to enrich their own nuclear material. Graham and Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) later penned a joint op-ed outlining their proposal to establish Middle East nuclear energy programs under the auspices of the international community. Their plan is meant to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region, but the duo fails to address the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons, and they propose nothing regarding Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

Lastly, Graham hinted that he will seek to introduce policy to deepen US-Israeli military cooperation, including through a mechanism that would make the United States respond to any military attacks on Israel.

House Members Write to Secretary Austin ahead of Meeting with Israel’s Gantz. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), who is arguably the most conservative and holds the most pro-Israel positions of any House Democrat, spearheaded a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III ahead of the latter’s meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The letter urges the Biden Administration to agree to whatever supplemental defense aid Israel asks for after its 11-day bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza.

Liberal House Democrats Meet with State Department Officials on Israel. After criticizing Israel for its actions during the latest round of violence in the occupied territories, liberal House Democrats met with officials of the Biden State Department to discuss short-term goals like maintaining the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, in addition to the Biden Administration’s longer-term goals vis-à-vis Israel.

Senate Democrats Want Humanitarian Relief, Durable Cease-Fire for Gaza. Senate Democrats, in addition to Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont), penned a letter to Secretary of State Blinken urging the State Department to take necessary steps to ensure a durable cease-fire in Gaza and to allow the flow of humanitarian aid to the people of the ravaged Gaza Strip.

3) Hearings and Briefings

Addressing the Lebanese Social and Humanitarian Crises. On June 1, the Middle East Institute hosted a virtual event, as part of its Lebanon Policy Conference, to address the social and humanitarian crises in Lebanon. In opening remarks, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Illinois) expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis and the potential that Lebanon would become a failed state. LaHood called on the United States to take supportive action and put pressure on members of the ruling class in Lebanon to spur them to alleviate Beirut’s governing crisis. He advocated for the United States to provide humanitarian aid and work with nongovernmental organizations and allies such as France to make progress. He highlighted the importance of supporting credible Lebanese institutions including American universities and the Lebanese Armed Forces to promote US influence and stability, respectively. Condemning Hezbollah and Iran’s influence in Lebanon, LaHood showed support for sanctions on both Lebanese officials and Iran, though he cautioned against leveraging humanitarian and military aid to the country over Hezbollah’s influence.

Senator Menendez on Israel-Palestine. During a recent virtual conference, Senator Bob Menendez took time to address viewers about the fundamental tenets of US-Israeli relations. Menendez assured viewers that the US-Israel relationship is underpinned by shared values and democracy. Menendez also plainly stated that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas rockets, which he intimated was the reason for the start of recent fighting—despite facts to the contrary. As for policy proposals, Senator Menendez argued that efforts to scuttle US assistance to either Israel or Palestine are misguided and advocated for maintaining assistance to both parties.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Releases FY22 Budget Request. On May 28, President Joe Biden released his first federal budget request as president. At a whopping $6 trillion, it largely seeks to boost domestic spending in an effort to stem the remaining economic threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to help address a number of US domestic concerns. As for foreign affairs, the Biden budget allocates $715 billion for the Department of Defense—and $752.9 billion total for national security—and $63.6 billion for the Department of State and foreign aid. The request maintains a number of initiatives, like billions in security guarantees to states including Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. The budget also proposes funds for maintaining a forward deployed US troop presence in the region to combat the so-called Islamic State (IS) and deter Iran. Biden’s proposal, which is unlikely to be appropriated by Congress in full, renews US diplomacy as a top priority, including by providing funds for peace and development policies in the Middle East, including the occupied Palestinian territories.

NSA Sullivan, Secretary Blinken Meet with Israel’s Gantz. As one of many meetings during his time in Washington, Israeli alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan this week to discuss the recent events in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition, Gantz met with Secretary of State Blinken as well to discuss US-Israeli relations.

2) Department of State

Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Travels to Arabian Gulf. Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, departed for a trip that will take him to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. According to the department’s press release, Feltman will meet with foreign officials to discuss several issues of import to countries on the Horn of Africa, including the dispute between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia regarding the latter’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project on the Nile River.

State Offers Reward for AQ in North Africa. Although the al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa—known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)—tends to get less attention than IS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a recent State Department announcement makes clear that the group remains a counterterrorism priority for Washington. As such, the State Department announced a $7 million reward for information on the leader of AQIM, Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi.

Lenderking Returns from Middle East, Thomas-Greenfield Visits Turkey. Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking returned from his visit to the region, making stops in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Jordan. In addition, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield departed for Turkey, where she was to meet Turkish officials to discuss US-Turkish relations as well as developments regarding Syria and the United Nations’ ability to provide humanitarian relief to Syrians through the Turkish-Syrian border.

Joey Hood on Israel-Palestine. During a recent conference held by the Israel Policy Forum, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood provided a brief update on Biden Administration efforts to ensure that the current cease-fire between Israel and Hamas holds and what the administration is doing to help facilitate a more durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Hood outlined the recent visit by Hady Amr, the State Department’s point person for Israel-Palestine policy. Despite statements about how Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live side-by-side in peace and prosperity, Hood went to great lengths to assure viewers that the Biden Administration supports Israel unconditionally and will continue to provide military aid no matter what Israel does with that assistance.

3)  Department of Defense

Secretary Austin Holds Phone Call, In-Person Meeting with Israel’s Gantz, Arab Officials. On May 28, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III held a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz before conducting a separate, in-person meeting with Gantz almost a week later. Secretary Austin also held phone conversations with Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah and Saudi Defense Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Future of US-Lebanon Defense and Security Cooperation. On June 1, the Middle East Institute hosted a virtual event as part of its Lebanon Policy Conference on defense and security cooperation between the United States and Lebanon. The panel included Dana Stroul, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, and Brig. Gen. Duke Pirak, the Deputy Director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy at US Central Command. The discussion focused on the US security partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), through which the United States provides the LAF with funding, equipment, and training. The two officials highlighted the importance of maintaining long-term US support to the LAF in an effort to promote stability in Lebanon and develop a viable security alternative to Hezbollah. Both speakers praised the LAF for its successes in counterterrorism and border security, the provision of relief during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, its response to the recent protests, and its popularity in Lebanon.

Marcus Montgomery is a Congressional Resident Fellow at Arab Center Washington DC. To learn more about Marcus and read his previous publications click here