Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Legislation

Senate Confirms New Ambassador to Morocco. On September 8, the United States Senate confirmed Puneet Talwar as the next US Ambassador to Morocco. The State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs congratulated Talwar, stating, “Our partnership with Morocco is critical for regional peace, security, and prosperity.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Visits Israeli Prime Minister. On September 5, a bipartisan congressional delegation comprised of Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), along with Representative Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem. The parties discussed the US-Israel relationship and the potential for a new Iran nuclear deal. In a press conference before the meeting, Senator Menendez said that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, would review and vote on any future agreement between the United States and Iran. Senator Graham reportedly stated that he and Menendez have devised their own plan to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, which would allow the country to utilize nuclear power, but require that uranium enrichment take place outside of the region. Both senators have long stood in opposition to any nuclear deal with Iran.

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Ensure Saudi and UAE Aid Does Not Cause Civilian Deaths in Yemen. On September 7, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) released a pair of letters calling on the Biden administration to investigate US military aid to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to ensure that it does not contribute to civilian casualties in Yemen. The letters referenced a June 2022 report by the Government Accountability Office, which stated that the Department of Defense has not investigated allegations that military equipment sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE was used for unauthorized purposes. Additionally, the senators argue that the United States has not adequately assessed whether military aid in Yemen has caused harm to civilians. The US government has provided over $54.6 billion in military aid to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two states that have been leading a military coalition against Yemen’s Houthi Movement since 2015. The senators urged the State Department to “halt all arms sales to either country until it can verify they are taking steps to protect civilians,” and posed seven questions regarding weapons misuse that they want answered by October 7.

Republican Representatives to Seek Draft of Iran Deal. Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) and Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina), together with other cosponsors, are reportedly planning to introduce a resolution in the House Foreign Affairs Committee next week to force the Biden administration to provide Congress with a current draft of the Iran nuclear deal. According to a source familiar with the legislation, the resolution would aim to guarantee that the Biden administration complies with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which requires the administration to allow Congress to review any nuclear deal with Iran before it is signed. A democratic staffer stated that they consider the resolution an attempt to force the administration to release a text of the deal before it is ready to do so. However, it appears unlikely that the resolution will receive the votes it needs to be approved.

Representative Carson Responds to IDF Investigation of Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death. On September 6, Representative André Carson (D-Indiana) criticized a recent Israeli Army probe into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, tweeting that the resulting report, “doesn’t address the key questions around Shireen Abu Akleh’s death and falls short of what we expect when a US citizen is killed on foreign soil.” Carson also stated that he is “proud” to be leading calls for an independent investigation through the Justice for Shireen Act. The act, which he announced in July, calls for an independent investigation into the killing, led by the Department of State and the FBI, in consultation with the Department of Defense and the National Director of Intelligence.

European Diplomat Says Iran Nuclear Deal Likely on Hold Until US Midterm Elections. A senior European diplomat has reportedly cast doubt on the possibility that a US return to the JCPOA will happen before the US midterm elections in November. The source stated that, “Because of the last Iranian response, there can be no return to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] before the midterms.” The Biden administration has also received pushback from both parties in Congress concerning the deal. Following a trip to Israel where he met with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) echoed the diplomat’s statement, saying that a new deal will likely not be finalized until after the November elections.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Israeli Intelligence Chief Meets with CIA Director. Director of Mossad David Barnea met with CIA Director William Burns on September 8, following a series of meetings with other top Biden administration officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Barnea reportedly presented said officials with “sensitive intelligence” about Iran in hopes of preventing a US return to the JCPOA. In a meeting with CIA Director William Burns, Barnea said that “Israel will not stand by while Iran continues to defraud the world.”

President Biden and Prime Minister Truss Discuss Iran. On September 6, President Biden spoke with newly elected UK Prime Minister Liz Truss. In addition to conveying his congratulations and` reaffirming the two countries’ special relationship, Biden discussed with Truss support for Ukraine, concerns about China, and the importance of “preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

National Security Advisor Sullivan Expresses Concern about Famine in Somalia. On September 6, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed concern about a projection that Somalia will suffer a famine between October and December of this year. Sullivan’s statement also contained a call to action for the international community, stressing the need for international donors to join the United States in providing humanitarian assistance for famine recovery. According to the statement, the United States has spent $706 million this fiscal year to address the drought that is expected to cause the famine.

National Security Council Condemns Iran’s Cyberattack against Albania. On September 7, National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson released a statement condemning Iran’s cyberattack against Albania, a NATO ally. In the statement, Watson said that the United States will stand with Albania and join Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s call for Iran to be held accountable. Earlier that day, Prime Minister Rama directly accused Iran of committing the July 15 attack, which he said aimed to “paralyze public services and hack data and electronic communications from…government systems,” and announced that Albania has cut all diplomatic ties with Iran.

Biden Administration Official Reports “Good Progress” in Lebanon-Israel Border Dispute. On September 9, Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein wrapped up a trip to Lebanon to mediate negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime dispute. Following meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Hochstein reported that “good progress” had been made on the dispute, but maintained that “more work needs to be done.” The two states have been in negotiations over an 860 km2 area in the eastern Mediterranean that is believed to contain offshore gas reserves.

2) Department of State

Assistant Secretary Leaf Visits Iraq. On September 5, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and expressed US support for the Prime Minister’s calls for a constructive dialogue to end the current political and economic crises in Iraq. Leaf also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Mohammed al-Halbousi, to discuss various issues. On September 6, Leaf held a roundtable with Iraqi reporters to demonstrate US support for freedom of the press. She also met with Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Safia al-Souhail and female members of the country’s Council of Representatives to discuss the importance of an inclusive government that features a diversity of voices. And on September 7, Leaf met with officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), emphasizing the need for cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to solve recent energy disputes.

Biden Administration Pressures Israel to Reexamine its Rules of Engagement. On September 6, following the release of an Israeli Army report on its investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the Biden administration will press Israel, “to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement” in the occupied West Bank. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also reportedly spoken with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz about Israel’s rules of engagement. On September 7, Defense Minister Gantz said that the Israeli army will determine its own rules of engagement, and that, “There will not be any political involvement in the matter.” Also on September 7, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid stated, “No one will dictate our open-fire policies to us….Our soldiers have the full backing of the government of Israel and the people of Israel.”

US Embassy in Jerusalem to Investigate Ultra-Orthodox Battalion Attacks. The US Embassy in Jerusalem will reportedly produce an internal report on attacks by the Israeli Army’s ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. The battalion has been accused of multiple human rights abuses, including the death of US citizen Omar Assad in January 2022. On September 2, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, visited Assad’s family in the West Bank, where he expressed the United States’ condolences and supported calls for a criminal investigation and full accountability.

Special Envoy Lenderking to Travel to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. On September 8, US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking began his travel to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. During his visit, Lenderking is expected to urge all parties to intensify their efforts in negotiations over the UN-mediated truce in Yemen. A State Department release stated that, “A truce expansion increases tangible benefits to all Yemenis, making indispensable progress on paying civil servant salaries, expanding flight destinations, and opening roads. It would also pave the way for a permanent ceasefire and an inclusive, durable Yemeni-led resolution [to the conflict].”

State Department Representative Meets with Senior Emirati Diplomat. On September 7, Counselor of the Department of State Derek Chollet met with senior UAE diplomat Anwar Gargash. The two discussed a range of issues related to the Middle East and the rest of the world.

State Department Sanctions Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. On September 9, the State Department announced its sanctioning of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, as well as its Minister of Intelligence, Esmail Khatib. The sanctions are being instituted for these actors’ “engaging in cyber-enabled activities against the United States and its Allies,” with the statement specifically referencing a July 2022 Iranian cyberattack on Albania, a NATO ally.

US Counterterrorism Coordinator Visits Israel. Over the weekend, the State Department’s Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tim Betts traveled to Israel, meeting with Israeli officials to discuss regional security and counterterrorism cooperation. Additionally, Betts attended the 9/11 commemoration ceremony at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism alongside US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides. At the event, Betts spoke about US support for Israeli security and for counterterrorism.

3) Department of Defense

US Forces Travel to Jordan for Exercise Eager Lion. From September 4 to 15, US military forces will join military personnel from twenty-nine other countries to take part in Exercise Eager Lion in Jordan. The joint military exercise is intended to improve military expertise and interoperability between participating nations, and to strengthen the ability of the US and Jordanian Armed Forces to collaborate against threats in the region. The exercise will include a long-range bomber mission, fictional cyber threats, interagency communication and coordination, counterterrorism, air and missile defense synchronization, maritime and border security, disaster response, and humanitarian aid.

US Flies B-52s Over Middle East. On September 5, the United States military flew two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers across the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Red Sea, alongside Kuwaiti and Saudi warplanes. In what was a thinly-veiled allusion to Iran, US Air Force Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich said in a statement on the mission that, “Threats to the United States and our partners will not go unanswered.” According to the Israeli military, three Israeli F-16 fighter jets flew alongside the American planes as they crossed Israeli airspace.

US to Sign New Deal with Kurdistan Region’s Military Forces. The US Department of Defense is reportedly intending to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. According to KRG Spokesperson Lawk Ghafuri, the deal will provide “more military training for the Peshmerga forces through the US-led coalition force.”

CENTCOM Comments on SDF Security Operations in al-Hol Camp. On September 7, Colonel Joe Buccino, communications director at US Central Command, released a statement regarding the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) recent security operations in the al-Hol displaced persons camp in northern Syria. The operations resulted in the arrest of dozens of operatives belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS) who were residing in the camp, and in the dissolution of a major IS network. The SDF also liberated four women who had been chained and tortured by IS supporters. According to the statement, the Combined Joint Task Force, in which the US military participates, was heavily involved in the operation.

US Says Cameras Are Missing from Two Iranian-Seized Navy Drones. Two US drones that were seized by the Iranian Navy last week are reportedly now missing their cameras. On September 2, the Iranian Navy briefly seized two American drones in the Red Sea before releasing them. On September 6, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said that it is unclear whether Iranian forces have the cameras, or whether they were lost at sea during transit.

CENTCOM Commander Visits Syrian Refugee Camp, Calls for Urgency. On September 9, CENTCOM Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla visited the al-Hol displaced persons camp in Syria. Following his visit, Kurilla made an urgent call to the international community, describing the camp as a “humanitarian catastrophe” and a “flashpoint of human suffering.” The general argued that the so-called Islamic State (IS) will exploit conditions in the camp if they are not dealt with. Al-Hol is a makeshift camp housing roughly 56,000 detainees and families of IS members. Kurilla stated that most of the residents “reject” IS, arguing that countries like Iraq must work to repatriate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate their citizens. On the United States’ position, Kurilla argued that there is “no military solution” to the threat posed by al-Hol, and that the United States must use a “whole-of-government” approach to improve security and humanitarian conditions in the camp.

4) Department of the Treasury

US Sanctions Iranian Companies After Drone Shipment to Russia. On September 8, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added four Iranian companies and one Iranian individual to its sanctions list. The companies and the individual were sanctioned for coordinating Russian military flights to transport Iranian-made drones to Russia, and for producing said drones. Referring to the drone transfer between Iran and Russia, a Treasury Department representative stated, “Russia is making increasingly desperate choices to continue its unprovoked war against Ukraine.”

III. Judicial Branch

US to Return 16 Antiquities to Egypt. On September 7, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced that the US will return 16 antiquities to Egypt, including five that were seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an investigation into international art trafficking. The pieces being returned were looted from archaeological sites in Egypt and smuggled through Europe to Michael Steinhardt, a noted collector of ancient art.

Ben and Jerry’s to Amend its Lawsuit Against Unilever Over Ice Cream Sales in the West Bank. On September 6, American ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s filed a letter in a Manhattan federal court stating that it intends to amend its complaint against its parent-company Unilever prior to September 27, which would require Unilever to respond by November 1. In 2021 Ben and Jerry’s announced that it would no longer sell its ice cream in the occupied Palestinian territories. In response, Unilever decided to seek a workaround by licensing the sale of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the occupied West Bank to a third party. In July 2022 Ben and Jerry’s filed a lawsuit against Unilever, seeking to stop the licensing agreement. On August 22, a district court in Manhattan ruled against Ben and Jerry’s, leading the company’s decision to amend the suit.