Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Gottheimer Introduces Bill to Improve US-Israel Cooperation in Combatting Drones. On October 31, Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey) introduced H.R. 9256, the “US-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act of 2022.” If passed, the bill would amend the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 to increase cooperation between the United States and Israel in combatting the threat posed by unmanned aerial vehicles. The text of the bill cites numerous Iranian or Iranian-backed drone attacks on US allies and partners, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, and calls for further cooperation to defend against such attacks.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Lawmakers Call on Biden to Hold Egypt Accountable for Human Rights at COP27. On November 2, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and Representative David Cicilline (D-New Jersey) sent a letter to President Biden urging his administration to engage with the Egyptian government at the COP27 climate conference on its detention of environmental activists and political prisoners. The letter has gained bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and its 56 signatories demand that the United States “send a clear message that respect for human rights and civil society is a core dimension of both US national security interests and our collective ambitions toward climate action.”

Egypt Human Rights Caucus Co-chairs Release Statement Ahead of COP27. On November 3, Representatives Don Beyer (D-Virginia) and Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), co-chairs of Congress’ Egypt Human Rights Caucus, released a statement calling on President Biden and Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry to raise human rights issues and Egypt’s imprisonment of political and environmental activists with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi during COP27. The statement also urged President Sisi to release detained climate activists and stated that the $1.3 billion that the US sends to Egypt for weapons purchases should instead be used to address the country’s environmental crises.

Senator Murphy Calls for National Security Review of Saudi Investment in Twitter. On October 31, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) requested that the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States investigate the national security implications of Saudi Arabia’s investment in Twitter. Murphy’s request follows Saudi businessman Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud’s announcement that the Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) has an estimated $1.89 billion stock rollover from before Elon Musk’s recent purchase of the platform, making him and KHC the largest investors in the company after Musk. Murphy argued that the United States “should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting US politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform.”

Representative McCaul Calls on Biden to Stop Iranian Weapons Proliferation. On November 1, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to President Biden urging him to take immediate action on Iranian weapons proliferation, especially in light of the fact that Iran has been sending weapons to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine. In the letter, McCaul cited the use of Iranian drones on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and warned of reports indicating that Iran may send ballistic missiles to Russia. McCaul urged the administration to deploy a more “proactive” approach to sanctions that is “integrated into a wider counterproliferation strategy designed to deter and prevent Iran’s malign activity.”

3) Hearings and Confirmations

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hosts Hearing on Upcoming Bahrain Elections. On November 1, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hosted a briefing on human rights in Bahrain ahead of the country’s November 12 legislative elections. The briefing featured opening remarks from Representatives James McGovern (D-Massachusetts) and Ro Khanna (D-California) and expertise from four human rights defenders, including Maryam al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini activist and daughter of imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. The panelists discussed the grave situation in Bahrain ahead of elections, citing laws that ban civil society participation and opposition parties, and that prevent citizens who voted for opposition parties in the past from voting again.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

Biden Administration Officials Warned about Potential Iranian Attack on Saudi Arabia. On November 1, three US officials from the National Security Council reportedly said that Saudi Arabia had shared intelligence indicating that Iran could be preparing for an attack on the kingdom. One of the officials described the attack as a credible threat that could occur “soon or within 48 hours.” But so far the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and regional consulates have refrained from issuing warnings. Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder stated that the US military is in regular contact with Saudi partners about the situation. On November 2, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani called reports of an attack “baseless accusations.” And on November 3, US officials reportedly said that the threat of an Iranian attack has eased, but has not yet entirely disappeared.

White House Says North Korea is Sending Weapons to Russia through the Middle East. On November 2, White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said that North Korea is shipping artillery shells to Russia for use in Ukraine “by funneling them through other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.” Kirby did not specify through which countries the weapons are moving, and expressed that American officials do not expect that the arms will significantly alter the course of Russia’s invasion.

White House Announces US-UAE $100 Billion Clean Energy Partnership. On November 1, the White House announced that the United States and the UAE have signed a $100 billion clean energy deal. The new Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy (PACE) aims to finance and invest in technology globally and to deploy 100 gigawatts of clean energy by 2035. On November 2, President Biden spoke with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to celebrate the cooperation framework.

Biden Administration Officials May Refuse to Work with Israeli Minister Ben-Gvir. The Biden administration is reportedly unlikely to engage with Israeli right-wing politician and Jewish supremacist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is expected to become a minister in an Israeli government led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan suggested in a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog last week that they will not work with right-wing members of the Israeli government. However, the two officials made clear that as of yet there is no formal US policy regarding Ben-Gvir.

Biden Extends National Emergency for Sudan. On November 1, President Biden sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and President of the Senate Kamala Harris stating that the administration is extending the national emergency with respect to Sudan, which was set to expire on November 3. In his letter, President Biden cited the country’s October 2021 coup and subsequent democratic crisis, as well as the situation in Darfur as security threats to the United States necessitating the continued national emergency.

Vice President Harris Calls for Iran’s Removal from UN Commission. On November 2, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the United States will seek to remove Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women following the country’s response to protests over the death of Mahsa Amini. Harris argued that the commission’s goal of promoting women’s rights is undermined by Iran’s membership and reiterated the United States’ support for protesters in Iran, while also calling for officials and entities engaged in violence against protestors to be held responsible.

2) Department of State

US Issues Guarantees to Israel and Lebanon over Maritime Deal. The Biden administration reportedly made guarantees to both Israel and Lebanon to preserve a recent maritime agreement between the two countries. According to Israeli officials, President Biden will sign a letter of guarantee with Israel promising to support its security and economic rights and to prevent any violation of the agreement. Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, meanwhile, said that the United States has guaranteed Lebanon that it will uphold the deal following the conclusion of Israel’s elections, which will likely bring in a right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said that he will “neutralize” the agreement.

Ambassador Nides Congratulates Netanyahu on Electoral Victory. On November 3, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides called Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his electoral victory in Israel’s recent parliamentary elections.

Secretary Blinken Pushes Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry on Human Rights Ahead of COP27. On November 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry ahead of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. During the call, Blinken welcomed reports of Egypt’s release of political prisoners ahead of the event and pushed for more pardons and releases, the strengthening of due process, and the protection of fundamental freedoms. Blinken’s conversation with Shoukry followed mounting pressure from human rights organizations and Congress urging President Biden to advance a human rights agenda during his travel to Egypt for the conference.

Iran Envoy Casts Doubt on Nuclear Deal. On October 31, State Department Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley said that the United States is not going to “waste time” on trying to renew a nuclear deal with Iran amid tensions over Iran’s violent suppression of protests and Russia’s use of Iranian drones in Ukraine. Malley also reportedly stated that military options are on the table to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but made clear that the Biden administration is still pursuing a diplomatic solution.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Lapid. On November 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to commend Israel for its recent “free and fair elections,” and to thank Lapid for his partnership throughout his term. Blinken also emphasized US concern over rising violence in the West Bank.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister. On November 2, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Blinken thanked Cavusoglu for Turkey’s efforts in encouraging Russia to resume the Black Sea Grain Initiative that secured grain shipments out of Ukraine despite the ongoing war, and discussed NATO unity amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Iraqi Prime Minister and President. On November 3, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani on forming a new government last week. Blinken welcomed the prime minister’s calls for reform against corruption and stressed the United States’ commitment to Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty. On November 4, Blinken congratulated Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid on his election to office and discussed similar issues.

Special Envoy Lenderking Travels to UAE and Saudi Arabia. On November 2, State Department Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking traveled to the UAE and Saudi Arabia to support efforts to renew and expand a UN-mediated truce in Yemen.

Assistant Secretary Medina Travels to Israel and Egypt. On November 2, the State Department announced that Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica P. Medina would travel to Tel Aviv to collaborate with Israeli government officials and NGOs on water reuse issues. Following her travel to Israel, Medina will join the US delegation to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Palestinian President, Reaffirms Two-State Commitment. On November 4, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two leaders discussed increased violence in the West Bank and Secretary Blinken reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

US Commemorates Anniversary of Iran Hostage Crisis. On November 4, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis, condemning Iran for its “history of unjustly imprisoning foreign nationals for use as political leverage.” Price called for Iran’s release of imprisoned US citizens Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and Siamak Namazi.

3) Department of Defense

Turkey Says US May Approve F-16 Sale within Months. On November 3, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said that the Biden administration is making efforts to approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after its having requested the weapons in October 2021, and stated that the sale could be completed in the coming months. Last month, the Senate dropped two amendments that would have restricted the potential sale, but Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) remains staunchly opposed to it.

Secretary Austin Calls Israeli Minister of Defense Gantz. On November 2, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. The two officials discussed Russia’s use of Iranian drones in Ukraine, the resolution of the Israel-Lebanon maritime dispute, and the importance of deescalating the security situation in the West Bank.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Announces Sanctions on ISIS-Somalia Arms Smugglers. On November 1, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on eight individuals and one company associated with the so-called Islamic State in Somalia. The new sanctions are a first for ISIS-Somalia, but they follow an October 17 round of sanctions on members of Somalian terrorist organization al-Shabab. The November 1 sanctions targets weapons smugglers who facilitated arms trafficking between Yemen and Somalia, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al-Shabab.

Treasury Department Announces Sanctions Targeting IRGC-Hezbollah Oil Network. On November 3, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions on members of an international oil smuggling network that helps facilitate oil trade between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRCG-QF) and Hezbollah. The sanctions target Gulf-based individuals and companies involved in the oversight, shipping, and revenue of the oil trade.

Treasury Department Weighing Investigation into Saudi and Qatari Twitter Investment. The Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is considering pursuing an investigation into business leader Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, including the matter of investments from a Saudi prince’s holding company and a subsidiary of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. The Treasury is reportedly concerned about the uses to which Twitter’s ownership of user information and personal data could be put.

III. Judicial Branch

Federal Court Sentences American IS Battalion Leader to 20 Years. On November 1, a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia sentenced US citizen Allison Fluke-Ekren to 20 years in prison for her role in fighting for the so-called Islamic State (IS). Fluke-Ekren, a 42-year-old from Kansas, admitted to leading an IS battalion in Syria comprised of women and girls, including some as young as 10. Fluke-Ekren trained the battalion to use automatic weapons and to detonate grenades and suicide belts. Raj Parekh, an assistant US attorney on the case, described Fluke-Ekren as an “empress of ISIS” and said that her actions “added a new dimension to the darkest side of humanity.”