Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch


Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Taking Aim at Post-9/11 AUMF. On April 6, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (D-NY) led 7 other House Democrats in introducing H.J.Res.52, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Resolution of 2023. The resolution aims to repeal and replace the post 9/11, 2001 AUMF, which has been used by four US administrations to authorize counterterrorism operations in 22 different countries since it was passed. It would replace the current 2001 AUMF with a new AUMF with authorization for Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, and the new authorization would include sunset provisions to prevent its automatic renewal. The same day, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced H.R.2501, a bill to repeal Public Law 107-40, the 2001 AUMF.

2)Personnel and Correspondence

Representatives McCollum and Carson Condemn Israeli Raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque. On April 5, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) condemned an Israeli attack on Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque that resulted in 37 people being injured, stating, “No one should feel unsafe in their place of worship—let alone be beaten or attacked.” The next day, Representative André Carson responded to the Israeli government’s second consecutive attack on Palestinian worshippers, supporting an end to the Israeli occupation. In the past, Israeli incursions into Al-Aqsa have resulted in the Second Palestinian Intifada, which began in 2000, and the 2021 eleven-day war between Israel and Hamas.

Congressional Leaders Condemn Rocket Fire at Israel. On April 6, the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jim Risch (R-ID), Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) all expressed concerns about rocket fire from southern Lebanon into Israel. The lawmakers used the rocket fire to support US funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which intercepted some of the rockets.

Senator Ernst Comments on Israeli Judicial Overhaul, Prospects for Saudi-Israeli Normalization. Last week, co-founder of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus Joni Ernst (R-IA) spoke about the recently proposed Israeli judicial overhaul, commenting that the United States “shouldn’t be dictating to other countries what their judicial systems are.” Senator Ernst expressed her disapproval of President Biden’s response to protests in Israel, stating, “It’s important that we focus on our judiciary and other countries focus on theirs.” On hopes for Saudi membership in the Abraham Accords, Senator Ernst criticized the Biden administration for its recent diplomatic spats with the kingdom, arguing that Saudi Arabia has “a very big interest” in the regional cooperation agreements, but that intense US diplomacy will be required.

House Leadership to Visit Israel. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) are reportedly scheduled to visit Israel later this month. The visit will mark the first foreign visit for both McCarthy and Jeffries since assuming the top leadership roles in the 118th Congress. The visit also follows criticism of Israel’s judicial reform by President Biden and members of Congress. Representative McCarthy has offered his support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and for the previous government coalition led by former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Biden Administration Considering Freeze-for-Freeze Agreement with Iran. The Biden administration and its European and Israeli partners are reportedly discussing an interim agreement with Iran that would include a freeze on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The agreement proposes sanctions relief for a freeze on some aspects of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, including a halt on its uranium enrichment activities. According to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, Iran has enriched uranium to 83.7 percent, which is close to but still short of the 90 percent weapons grade uranium required to produce a nuclear bomb. So far, Iranian officials have reportedly rejected the proposed freeze-for-freeze approach, stating that it does not meet the standards of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Biden Administration Recognizes Anniversary of UN-Mediated Truce in Yemen. On April 2, the White House released a statement recognizing the one-year anniversary of the UN-mediated truce in Yemen. The truce has been responsible for the longest period of calm and stability since the war in Yemen began, and has marked both a halt on airstrikes and the resumption of regular civilian fights. The statement recognized the countless Yemeni lives that have been spared since truce began and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to working with its regional partners to reach a political solution to the conflict. State Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel also commemorated the anniversary, urging international partners to close the humanitarian assistance funding gap. On April 4, State Department Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking expressed optimism about the conflict, stating that, “This is a hopeful moment.” Lenderking also commented on the Saudi-Iran rapprochement and its potential effects in Yemen, arguing that Saudi Arabia is closely watching Iran and will need to see an end to Iranian weapons smuggling to the Houthis to trust the tentative commitments in the two countries’ recent agreements.

2) Department of State

State Department Concerned about Al-Aqsa Raid, Condemns Attacks on Israelis. On April 5, State Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the United States is “concerned by the scenes in Jerusalem” after Israeli forces attacked Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque two nights in a row. Patel said that the United States stands with the preservation of the status quo at the Jerusalem holy sites, and condemned rocket fire that followed the Israeli raids. The Israeli military responded to this rocket fire with air raids on Gaza and Lebanon. On April 7, the State Department strongly condemned the attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank that killed three and wounded eight people from Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The next day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant about the attacks.

State Department and CENTCOM Welcome Canada’s Repatriation of Nationals from Syria. On April 6, the State Department and US Central Command (CENTCOM) welcomed Canada’s repatriation of 14 women and children from displaced persons camps in northeast Syria. The Biden administration sees repatriation as a strategy to counter the so-called Islamic State’s (IS) recruitment efforts in displaced persons camps in Syria.

Family of Detained US Citizen Urges State Department to Facilitate Release. On March 31, the family of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a US citizen detained in Saudi Arabia, posted a public message urging the Biden administration to help facilitate his release. Qahtani’s family argued that the Biden administration is not doing enough to pressure Saudi authorities for Qahtani’s release, and his son called on “the US administration and the international community to help us save my father and to immediately and unconditionally release him.” State Department officials have reportedly said that they are working on the release of Qahtani and are “concerned about” his well-being, but did not add anything about the status of his detention.

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Kills Senior Militant in Syria. On April 4, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said that it had launched a strike in Syria killing a senior leader of the so-called Islamic State (IS) who was responsible for planning deadly attacks in Turkey and Europe. According to Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the strike “will temporarily disrupt the organization’s ability to plot external attacks.” According to CENTCOM, there were no civilian casualties.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Sanctions Lebanese Brothers for Corruption. On April 4, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned two Lebanese brothers, Raymond Zina Rahme and Teddy Zina Rahme, for taking actions, including acts of violence, that sought to undermine Lebanon’s democratic process and institutions. The brothers have used companies under their control and a corrupt bidding process to secure government contracts to import tainted fuel for use by Lebanon’s state-owned electricity utility. Through their UAE-based company, ZR Energy DMCC, the Rahme brothers have blended their compromised fuel with other fuel products, thereby causing harm to Lebanon’s energy infrastructure and increasing the number of daily electricity cuts.

5) Central Intelligence Agency

CIA Director Burns Makes Surprise Visit to Saudi Arabia. Last week, following an OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, CIA Director William J. Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly met with Saudi intelligence counterparts. Director Burns also reportedly expressed frustration with the Saudis over the kingdom’s rapprochement with both Iran and Syria, telling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the United States feels blindsided by the developments.

III. Judicial Branch

US Citizen Sentenced to Federal Prison for Joining Islamic State. On March 28, a US citizen was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison after moving his family to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS). The man, Emraan Ali, was sentenced in Miami federal court after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization. Ali reportedly told his family that they were going on vacation, but took them to Syria to join IS instead. According to officials, Ali underwent religious and military training there, including receiving instruction in the operation of various automatic weapons.