Biden Reiterates Ironclad Support for Israel Amid Attack from Iran

The Biden administration swiftly declared its “ironclad” support for Israel following news of Iran’s retaliatory attack on Israel, which saw Tehran launch hundreds of explosive drones and missiles late on April 13. Over the course of last week, President Joe Biden had directed the US military to move aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region, and they intercepted nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles. Shortly after the attack, the President spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm “America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.” Biden’s message was echoed in statements from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, both of whom emphasized that the United States does not seek escalation with Iran. The weekend also saw Biden and other US officials call regional partners, including the Israeli defense minister, Jordan’s King and foreign minister, and the Turkish, Saudi, and Egyptian foreign ministers, to discuss preventing regional escalation and coordinating a diplomatic response to Iran’s attack.

Also Happening in Washington Last Week…

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Republicans Oppose “One-Sided Pressure on Israel” for Gaza Ceasefire. Led by Rep. Maria Salazar (R-FL), on April 9 a group of House Republicans introduced H.Res.1117, which “opposes efforts to place one-sided pressure on Israel with respect to Gaza, including calls for an immediate cease-fire.” The resolution was reported to the House floor for a vote on April 10 but failed to pass.

Senate Republicans Announce Bill to Continue Support for Israel. Also on April 9, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and James Lankford (R-OK) announced a bill “reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning recent statements from US lawmakers, which interfere in Israel’s sovereign electoral process.”

Republican Senators Introduce Bill to Review Qatar’s Status as a Major Non-NATO Ally. On April 10, Senators Ted Budd (R-NC), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Rick Scott (R-FL) introduced S.4093, which seeks to “review and consider terminating” Qatar’s designation as a major Non-NATO ally. In a press release, Sen. Budd stated that Qatar’s “failure to take action against Hamas is beginning to look like tacit support for a foreign terrorist organization designated by the United States. This is not acceptable behavior for a Major Non-NATO ally.”

Rep. Good Introduces Bill to Limit Reentry into JCPOA. On April 11, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) introduced H.R.7950, which would impose requirements on US negotiation of or reentry into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.

House Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Sanction the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC). On April 9, Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA),  David Kustoff (R-TN), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced H.R.7914, which would sanction the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza, a group of armed Palestinian groups opposed to the Palestinian Authority and Fatah’s cooperation with Israel. In a statement, Rep. Sherman said that “despite multiple State Department reports identifying terror attacks committed by the Popular Resistance Committees, the group has never faced US sanctions. This legislation would finally hold the PRC accountable for its long history of heinous terror attacks by applying long-overdue sanctions on the group.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Says There is Enough Evidence to Call Israel’s Actions in Gaza a Genocide. Politico reported on April 8 that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), referring to Israel’s war on Gaza, said that there is “ample evidence” of genocide. Criticizing Israel’s military strategy, the senator added that “It is wrong to starve children within a civilian population in order to try to bend to your will. It is wrong to drop 2000-pound bombs, in densely populated civilian areas.”

Republicans Oppose PA Request for Full Membership at the UN. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) released a joint statement on April 9 opposing the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request for full membership at the United Nations. The statement asserted that the PA’s request “endangers national security” and noted that “US law requires the United States to cut off all funding to the UN if the UN admits Palestine as a member state.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi Calls for Independent Commission to Investigate World Central Kitchen Strike. In an interview with MSBNC on April 10, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an independent commission to investigate the Israeli strike in Gaza that killed seven staff members of World Central Kitchen. Pelosi mentioned an April 5 letter that she signed, along with some 40 other Democratic House members, calling on the United States to halt weapons transfers to Israel if the strike is found to violate US or international law.

Lawmakers Float Sanctions Against Turkey. On April 9, Turkey announced that it is restricting exports on a number of items to Israel until a ceasefire in Gaza is reached, a move that sparked criticism from several US lawmakers. Senators Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kennedy (R-LA), Todd Young (R-IN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) were among those who criticized Turkey’s decision and suggested that the United States should respond in kind.

SFRC Chair Pushes for Deal in Gaza, Reiterates Support for Israel. On April 10, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), called on the international community to pressure Hamas to accept the current deal to return hostages and stop hostilities in Gaza. On April 13, the chairman issued another statement following reports that Iran had launched an attack on Israel. “Israel has an inherent right to defend itself against attacks from Iran and its proxies — before, during, and after they occur… I support President Biden’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, and his Administration taking steps necessary to aid Israel in the last several days as it prepared for this attack. The United States will continue to stand with Israel,” Cardin said.

House Letters Reiterate Need for Humanitarian Aid to Gaza. An April 11 letter led by Rep. Troy Carter, Sr. (D-LA) to President Biden stated, “The conditions [in Gaza] are intolerable, and the Israeli government is responsible for addressing this humanitarian crisis, on par with the government’s duty to self-defense.” While affirming support for Israel, the letter stated that “foreign military aid generally should only be conditional under extreme circumstances. We are watching such extreme circumstances unfold and look forward to working with you to ensure any aid provided will not further deepen the crisis in Gaza.” Also on April 11, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in support of the Cyprus-led Amalthea maritime humanitarian corridor to Gaza, as well as for a ceasefire and hostage release agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli Opposition Leader Meets US Senators.  On April 1, Israeli opposition Leader Yair Lapid met Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in Washington. They discussed bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, ceasefire negotiations, a two-state solution, and the national security supplemental bill pending in the House.

3) Hearings and Briefings

USAID’s Power Tells House Lawmakers Reports of Gaza Famine Are “Credible.” The Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), and the House Appropriations Committee each held hearings on the Biden administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 budget request for USAID. USAID Administrator Samantha Power made headlines for stating during her testimony before HFAC that assessments of famine in Gaza are “credible,” adding that “food must flow, and food has not flowed, in sufficient quantities to avoid this imminent famine in the South, and these conditions that are giving rise already to child deaths in the north.” Power also addressed USAID programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, and Syria at the hearings.

Secretary Austin Rejects Genocide Claim During SASC Hearing. At an April 9 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Secretary of Defense Austin testified that the Department of Defense does not have evidence of genocide taking place in Gaza, and reaffirmed US support for Israel’s military campaign. Austin also reiterated the importance of Congress passing the national security supplemental bill to provide additional military support to Israel. The supplemental request was also discussed at hearings of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Adewale O. (“Wally”) Adeyemo testified before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee on April 9 about Treasury’s steps to “cut terrorist groups and other malign actors off from the traditional financial system” including “Hamas and other Iran-backed proxies.” Adeyemo noted the Biden administration’s concerns about efforts to circumvent sanctions by using cryptocurrencies and other avenues.

Banking Committee Holds Hearing on Bill on Preventing Iranian Access to Funds Held by Qatar. Also on April 9, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on S.3049, the Revoke Iranian Funding Act of 2023. Introduced last October by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) along with 26 other Republican senators and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), seeks to prevent the $6 billion in Iranian assets held in Qatar from being released to Tehran. The Biden administration announced in October that it was going to delay release of the funds, which are overseen by the Department of the Treasury and intended for humanitarian purposes, while it investigates possible Iranian influence in Hamas’s October 7 attack.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Says Netanyahu’s Approach to Gaza is a “Mistake.” In an April 9 interview, President Biden stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approach to Gaza is a “mistake” and called on his government to achieve a ceasefire deal. Regarding the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Biden said, “there’s no excuse to not provide for the medical and the food needs of those people. It should be done now.” At an April 11 press conference, Biden added that he expects Israel to facilitate greater humanitarian access to Gaza following the World Central Kitchen strike.

White House Issues Notice of Continuation of National Emergency with Respect to Somalia. On April 9, Biden notified Congress of his decision to continue the national emergency declared for Somalia in President Obama’s 2010 Executive Order 13536. The announcement stated that “Somalia continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Urges Israel to Better Protect Gazans but Reserves Blame for Hamas. At a press briefing with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron on April 9, Secretary Blinken told reporters that the United States has not yet received notification from the Israeli military of any Rafah operation, and that the administration remains concerned about the impact of such an operation on Gazan civilians. Blinken stated that there has been progress in Israel allowing more humanitarian aid access to Gaza, but that “a lot more needs to happen to make sure that people in Gaza have what they need.” Regarding the ongoing ceasefire negotiations, Blinken stated that “we have an offer that’s on the table now to Hamas that is very serious and should be accepted…I think the fact that it continues to not say yes is a reflection of what it really thinks about the people of Gaza, which is not much at all.”  The Secretary also remarked, “It remains astounding to me that the world is almost deafeningly silent when it comes to Hamas. We would not be where we are had they not chosen to engage in one of the most horrific acts of brutality and terrorism on October 7th and had they then, having done that, not refused these many, many months to get out of the way of civilians, to stop hiding behind them, to put down their arms, to release the hostages, to surrender. Where’s the outrage there?”

Department Approves Sale of Surveillance Technology to Saudi Arabia. On April 10, the Department of State announced approval of the possible sale of Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at an estimated cost of $101.1 million. In a press release on the same day, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated that the systems “will improve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s surveillance capability to counter current and future regional threats, strengthen its homeland defense, and improve interoperability with systems operated by U.S. forces and other Gulf Region partners.”

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Israeli Defense Minister. Secretary Blinken spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on April 10 about efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza. The Secretary stressed that the United States expects Israel to implement its commitments to ensure greater humanitarian access to Gaza and to prevent strikes like the one that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers.

Department Calls for Greater International Support for Sudan. On April 11, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Special Envoy to Sudan Tom Perriello, and Spokesperson Matthew Miller held a press briefing ahead of the first anniversary of civil war breaking out in Sudan. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stated that if the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) do not cease their interference in humanitarian aid crossings, “the Security Council must intervene to ensure lifesaving aid is delivered and distributed, including, if necessary, through a cross-border mechanism.” She also stated that the United States and others must continue to urge the warring parties to return to the negotiating table and called on “outside supporters prolonging this conflict and enabling these atrocities to stop sending weapons to Sudan.” On April 12, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) called for sanctions on the SAF and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and for the Department of State to “urgently provide the special envoy with the required resources and staffing to realign U.S. policy.”

3) Department of Defense

Inaugural US-Iraq Higher Military Commission Principals Meeting. Chief of the General Staff of the Iraqi Armed Forces Gen. Abdel Emir Rashid Yarallah and the Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla co-chaired the inaugural US-Iraq Higher Military Commission Principals Meeting on April 8. They discussed efforts to prevent resurgence of the so-called Islamic State (IS), support to Iraqi sovereignty and stability, and the US-Iraqi relationship. The Higher Military Commission is a military-to-military dialogue between Iraqi and US defense leaders and professionals to discuss the IS threat and the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces.

CENTCOM Leader Travels to Israel Amid Reports of Possible Iran Strike. CENTCOM head Kurilla traveled to Israel on April 11 to coordinate with Israeli security forces in preparation for an Iranian retaliatory strike on Israel. US officials had reportedly expressed frustration that Israel did not inform the United States before conducting its April 1 strike on Iran’s Damascus consulate, the attack that triggered Iran’s retaliation.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Targets Hamas UAV Capabilities with New Sanctions. On April 12, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Hamas, targeting Gaza- and Lebanon-based leaders of the group’s offensive cyber and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations. The sanctions were announced concurrently with the European Union. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson reaffirmed a “collective focus on disrupting Hamas’s ability to conduct further attacks, including through cyber warfare and the production of UAVs.”

5) United States Agency for International Development

USAID Announces Additional $100 Million for Sudan Crisis. On April 14, USAID announced an additional $100 million in emergency food assistance, nutrition support, and other life-saving aid to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. USAID also called on the SAF and RSF to allow humanitarian access and reach a ceasefire and appealed for greater international attention to the crisis.