Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

Personnel and Correspondence

Congress Calls for Renewal of Syrian Cross-Border Aid. On June 30, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), urged members of the UN Security Council to “renew and extend” Syrian cross-border humanitarian aid despite Russia’s perennial veto of the measure. On July 3, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee for the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia Dean Phillips (D-MN) led 13 Democratic colleagues in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield calling for the same. The UN has operated the cross-border aid mechanism since 2014, yet because of Russia’s objection to the supposed “violation of Syrian sovereignty” and its veto power on the UN Security Council, the extent of humanitarian assistance to Syria through this mechanism has shrunk year after year.

Representative McCaul Criticizes Biden Administration Decision to Rejoin UNESCO. On June 30, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) criticized the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Representative McCaul argued that the administration’s decision “puts US taxpayers on the hook for over $612 million in back payments and future payments without advancing any national security interests.” The United States and Israel left UNESCO in 2011 after Palestine was recognized as a full member of the organization.

Representative McCaul Sends Letter to Secretary Blinken on Iran Envoy’s Security Clearance Suspension. On June 30, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the suspension of Biden administration Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley’s security clearance “amidst an investigation into potential handing of classified documents.” In the letter, McCaul expressed concern that the State Department may have “misled Congress and the American public.”

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

US Government Responds to Israeli Attack on Jenin. On July 3, a White House official defended the Israeli raid on a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin that killed 12 Palestinians, expressing support for “Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups.” In Congress, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Cori Bush (D-MO) condemned the violent attack and called for an end to US funding for Israel, while Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY) defended the Israeli incursion as self-defense. On July 6, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant about the operation, again reiterating the Biden administration’s support for the operation. The Israeli raid also came just after reports that Israel is purchasing twenty-five F-35 fighter jets in a new $3 billion deal.

2) Department of State

State Department Welcomes New UK Sanctions Regime for Iran. On July 6, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller welcomed the United Kingdom’s decision to establish a new sanctions regime for Iran that will allow it to more easily target Iranian officials, stating that the department encourages any additional measures to target “Iran’s hostile actions.”

Secretary Blinken Presses Turkish Foreign Minister Fidan on Sweden’s NATO Membership. On July 5, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, stressing the “importance of NATO unity in such a critical time” and encouraging Turkish support for Sweden to join NATO. Secretary Blinken also discussed extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative that governs the export of Ukrainian and Russian wheat to the world.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Emirati Foreign Minister. On July 5, Secretary Blinken spoke with Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The two officials discussed bilateral and regional issues, including a “shared commitment to peace in Yemen,” and a UN Security Council vote to reauthorize Syrian cross-border assistance for another 12 months.

3) Department of Defense

US Navy Prevents Iran’s Seizure of Oil Tankers. On July 5, the US Navy responded to two attempts by Iran to seize commercial oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. In both cases, the Iranian Navy pursued the commercial vessels to seize their contents, and although it opened fire against one of the ships, no further incidents occurred after the US response.

US Air Force Accuses Russia of “Harassing” Drones in Syria. On July 5, US Air Force Central Command released a video documenting the “unsafe and unprofessional behavior” of Russian military aircraft interfering with US drone operations in Syria. Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich, Commander of the Ninth Air Force in the Middle East, accused Russian aircraft of “harassing” US drones, and CENTCOM Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla commented that Russia’s activity “increases the risk of escalation or miscalculation.”

US Airstrike Kills Islamic State Leader in Eastern Syria. On July 9, CENTCOM announced that a US drone airstrike two days earlier killed Usamah al-Muhajer, an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria. It also said that it appears that no civilians were injured in the strike.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, its Board of Directors, or the author’s current employer.