Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Ramirez Introduces Resolution Honoring Murdered Palestinian Boy. Representative Delia Ramirez (D-IL) introduced H.Res.942, a resolution to honor Wadee Alfayoumi, a 6-year-old Palestinian boy murdered as a victim of a hate crime in Chicago.

Senators Cardin and Risch Introduce Bipartisan Resolution Addressing Hostilities in Sudan. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Jim Risch (R-ID), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced S.Con.Res.24. The concurrent resolution condemns hostilities in Sudan and calls for a high-level special envoy to work toward ending the conflict.

Senator Coons Condemns Attacks by Iranian Proxies. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced S.Res.515. The resolution condemns attacks by Iranian proxies on US forces in Iraq and Syria, “emphasizing the urgency of responding to and deterring such attacks.” The resolution follows recent news of additional attacks on US forces in Iraq.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

House Democrats Send Letter to Biden, Urge Shift of Israel’s Military Strategy in Gaza. House Democrats on the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to leverage the United States’ position to compel a change in Israel’s military strategy and tactics in Gaza. The representatives cited concerns about the mounting death toll and humanitarian crisis, calling the situation “unacceptable and not in line with American interests.”

Senate Democrats Sound Alarm About Situation in West Bank. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led a letter by some his colleagues to President Joe Biden about the worsening security situation in the occupied West Bank. The senators highlighted economic deterioration in the West Bank and the rise in violent acts committed by extremist Israeli settlers as primary concerns. The letter follows a recent decision by Israel to withhold a significant portion of tax revenues that the government collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a decision that the senators say will undermine the PA’s civil administration and security capabilities.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Acknowledges Need for Greater Civilian Protection in Gaza but Still No Ceasefire. White House officials addressed questions about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. NSC’s John Kirby told reporters that the administration remains in close contact with Israeli officials about the need to prevent civilian casualties and to conduct operations “as surgically and precisely as possible.” Kirby discussed ongoing efforts to ramp up the delivery of humanitarian aid but reiterated that the administration is not prepared to consider a ceasefire at this time.

White House Officials Broker Talks to Ease Tensions on Israel-Lebanon Border. The New York Times reported that the Biden administration has been holding talks with Israel, Lebanon, and intermediaries for Hezbollah with the aim of reducing tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border. The focus of the talks has been to address cross-border skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah and prevent the escalation to a wider conflict.

2) State Department

US Abstains from UN Security Council Vote on Gaza after Series of Delays. On December 22, the United States abstained from a United Nations Security Council resolution vote on Friday, allowing for the passage of a resolution that calls for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” US officials had taken issue with previous versions of the resolution that more directly called for a ceasefire.

State Department Officials Reiterate Support for Israel. State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller commented on US support for Israel’s war on Gaza, telling reporters that “it’s important that the Israeli Government be able to continue to carry out the campaign which has a very legitimate objective.” At a separate press briefing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that the United States will continue to work toward “bringing the conflict to an end as quickly as possible while minimizing the loss of life and the suffering of civilians, getting the remaining hostages back home to their families, preventing the conflict from spreading, and once and for all breaking the devastating cycle of violence and moving toward durable, lasting peace.”

Secretary Blinken Holds Calls with Saudi Foreign Minister. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The officials discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza, US commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Egyptian Foreign Minister. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss developments in Gaza, including Egypt’s role in increasing the volume of humanitarian aid and commercial products, the release of hostages, among other things. Blinken and Shoukry discussed the need for concrete steps to protect Palestinian civilians and prevent their displacement.

Acting Deputy Secretary Travels to Jordan and Iraq. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to Amman, Jordan to meet with Jordanian officials. The meetings covered bilateral and regional priorities, including the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Nuland then traveled to Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq, where she discussed security challenges with Iraqi officials, entrepreneurs, and humanitarian actors. In Erbil, Nuland met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials and local leaders to discuss ongoing efforts to foster KRG’s resiliency.

3) Department of Defense

Secretary Austin Wraps Up Trip to Israel. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III concluded a trip to Israel following meetings with Israeli officials. The secretary discussed the United States’ “ironclad” support for Israel’s operation in Gaza, reiterating that the United States will not dictate its timeline or terms. Austin also discussed ongoing efforts to prevent regional escalation of the conflict and the urgency of stabilizing the West Bank.

While in the Middle East, Secretary Austin announced the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a new multinational security initiative to combat a recent rise in attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea. The operation will include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain. The secretary also stopped in Qatar and Bahrain. In Qatar, he met with officials to discuss the US defense partnership, joint efforts to negotiate the release of hostages in Gaza, and Houthi threats to commercial vessels in the Red Sea. In Bahrain, Austin discussed the recent Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement (C-SIPA) and US-Bahraini efforts to bolster maritime security in the region.

US Holds High Level Defense Group Meeting with Turkey. US and Turkish officials held high level meetings to discuss cooperation on regional security issues. Officials discussed bilateral defense cooperation and a shared goal of increasing defense ties between the nations.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Imposes New Sanctions Targeting Iran’s UAV Production. The Department of the Treasury announced new sanctions on a network of ten entities and four individuals connected to Iran’s procurement of goods for its one-way attack UAVs. The sanctions build on previous actions taken against illicit procurement networks and schemes tied to Iran’s weapons programs.