Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representatives Phillips and Wilson Introduce Resolution Supporting Tunisian Democracy. On July 25, the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, Representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Dean Phillips (D-MN), introduced H.Res.613, a resolution recognizing Tunisia’s leadership in the Arab Spring and expressing support for upholding its democratic principles and norms. The resolution, if adopted, would condemn Tunisian President Kais Saied’s undermining of democracy and urge the Tunisian government to release political prisoners and to support open and transparent elections in 2024.

Representative Schakowsky Introduces Resolution Supporting Israeli Democracy. On July 27, Representative Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced H.Con.Res.61, a resolution supporting Israeli democracy and opposing “actions that undermine Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state.” The resolution also expresses congressional support for “all Israelis seeking to defend liberal democracy, judicial review, and independent political institutions acting in a system of checks and balances.”

Representative Meng Leads Bipartisan Bill on Security in Lebanon. On July 26, Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) led Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA), Mikie Sherill (D-NJ), and Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) in introducing H.R. 4929, the Strategic Lebanon Security Reporting Act. The bill requires the secretary of state to report to Congress about Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon, the capability of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and steps taken by the LAF to prevent the forced return of Syrian refugees back to Syria.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

McCaul and Wilson Lead 7 Colleagues in Letter Opposing Further Sanctions Exemption for Syria. On July 21, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) and MENA Subcommittee Chair Joe Wilson (R-SC) sent a letter to President Biden opposing the extension of Syria General License 23, which the administration promulgated after the February earthquakes in Syria and Turkey to clarify the role of sanctions and humanitarian relief. The representatives argue that the general license “authorizes direct transactions with the Assad regime related to ‘earthquake relief efforts.’” They also argue that because General License 23 “was framed as a specific, time-limited response to mitigate unforeseen consequences of a natural disaster,” it “should not serve as a long-term authorization.”

Senator Risch and Representative McCaul Block $75 Million in Food Assistance to Palestinian Refugees. Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch (R-ID) and Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul (R-TX) are blocking $75 million in food assistance to Palestinian refugees via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Senator Risch’s concern is reportedly whether UNRWA employs Hamas-affiliated individuals and whether schools in the Gaza Strip are being used to store weapons for the group. Representative McCaul’s office has not commented on the representative’s motivation for blocking the aid.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

White House Reacts to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Judicial Reforms. On July 24, after President Biden called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from advancing his controversial judicial reform bill, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Knesset’s having passed the reforms with only a slim legislative majority “unfortunate.” Jean-Pierre also said that the United States will support legislative consensus efforts led by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and other Israeli officials.

President Biden Hosts Italian Prime Minister Meloni, Discusses Tunisian Immigration. On July 27, President Biden met with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House to affirm shared strategic goals and discuss current events. In addition to discussing Ukraine and Taiwan with Prime Minister Meloni, President Biden expressed his support for Italy’s recent efforts to curb irregular migration flows from Tunisia. In a joint statement, President Biden and Prime Minister Meloni noted “the vital importance of shared efforts to promote stability and prosperity in the wider Mediterranean region, including by addressing the root causes of instability, terrorism, and irregular migration flows.”

National Security Advisor Sullivan Meets with MBS in Saudi Arabia. On July 27, President Biden sent National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to Saudi Arabia to meet Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to discuss “bilateral and regional matters, including initiatives to advance a common vision for a more peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable Middle East region interconnected with the world.” The two officials also discussed UN-led efforts to draw the war in Yemen to a close. On July 28, President Biden suggested that a Saudi Israeli normalization deal may be coming soon, stating, “There’s a rapprochement maybe under way.”

2) Department of State

State Department Reiterates Support for Israel After Judicial Reforms. On July 25, State Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel reacted to a recent judicial reform vote in Israel, saying, “There is not going to be any cut or stoppage of military aid, and that is because our commitment to Israel and our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad.” Spokesperson Patel’s comments echo July 21 statements by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who commented that, “President Biden, more than anyone I know, is…committed to Israel’s security, and that will never change.” Secretary Blinken also offered support for President Biden’s critiques of the judicial changes.

State Department Acknowledges Legal Case Against American Traveler in UAE. On July 25, the State Department acknowledged that it was “aware” that US citizen Tierra Young Allen is being prevented from leaving the UAE. The UAE seized Allen’s passport on April 28 when she got into a verbal altercation with an employee at a car rental company.

3) Department of Defense

Secretary Austin Urges Israeli Defense Minister Gallant to Seek Political Consensus, Address Settler Violence. On July 25, US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, underlining the United States’ “steadfast and unwavering” commitment to Israel’s security but also pushing for broader political consensus on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reforms. As part of ongoing protests, increasing numbers of Israeli Army reservists are threatening to refuse to show up for duty, thereby impacting Israeli military readiness. Secretary Austin also called on Defense Minister Gallant to address extremist Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

US Air Force Reports that Russian Aircraft Damaged US Drones over Syria. On July 25, US Air Forces Central reported that a US drone sustained damage from Russian flares while on a mission against the so-called Islamic State. Air Forces Central Commander Lieutenant General Alex Grynkewich called the incident, which is the latest in a series of encounters with Russian aircraft over Syria, “reckless, unprovoked, and unprofessional.”

CENTCOM Commander Kurilla Meets with Officials in Israel. From July 25 to 27, US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla traveled to Israel and met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israeli Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi. The officials discussed cooperation between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and CENTCOM, and General Kurilla visited with IDF specialized units.

CENTCOM Commander Kurilla Visits Egypt. On July 27, CENTCOM Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla traveled to Egypt where he met with Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Osama Askar in Cairo. The two officials discussed border security, the upcoming BRIGHTSTAR 23 military exercise, and Egypt’s role in conducting evacuations from Sudan. On July 28, General Kurilla traveled to the Rafah Border Crossing between Israel and Gaza in North Sinai, where he met with Commander of the 2nd Egyptian Field Army Major General Mohammed Rabie.

4) US Agency for International Development

Administrator Power Meets with UAE Deputy Minister Lootah. On July 25, USAID Administrator Samantha Power met with UAE Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs for Competitiveness and Knowledge Exchange Abdulla Lootah to discuss ways to deepen US-Emirati cooperation, including by “exploring opportunities for knowledge exchange and capacity building with partner countries in areas such as women’s empowerment, information technology training, and business competitiveness.” Administrator Power and Deputy Minister Lootah also discussed “opportunities to advance bilateral priorities at COP 28,” which will take place this November in Dubai.

III. Judicial Branch

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Bid to Resentence Guantanamo Prisoner. On July 25, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Guantanamo Bay prisoner Hamza al-Bahlul’s appeal to be resentenced, even though Guantanamo’s military commission system now prohibits the use of evidence “obtained by the use of torture or by cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” The three judges asserted that Bahlul’s lawyer, Michel Paradis, brought up the issue of torture too late in the appellate process.