Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

 1) Personnel and Correspondence

Rep. Foxx Disapproves of Amnesty International’s Report on Israel’s Apartheid. During the House of Representatives February 1st session, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) addressed the House stating that “Israel has never been and will never be an apartheid state.” She also claimed that Amnesty’s report must be condemned immediately as it is the “textbook definition of anti-Semitism.”

Sen. Menendez Condemns Amnesty’s Charges of Apartheid against Israel. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement on February 1 that Israel is the only democratic country in “a region of autocrats, and human rights abusers.” By identifying Israel’s regime as one of apartheid, he continued, Amnesty is denying Israel’s right to exist through slander and misinformation.

Sen. Risch, Rep. McCaul Express Concern about Gas Deal for Lebanon. On February 1, Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), who serves as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern that the deal to supply gas to Lebanon for electricity production will benefit the Syrian regime. They also warned that the deal would circumvent the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which sanctions that regime, and would exacerbate the problem of corruption in Lebanon.

Sen. Baldwin, Rep. Moore Demand Investigation into Palestinian-American Man’s Death. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Representative Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) wrote a letter to Secretary Blinken asking for an investigation into the death of Palestinian-American Omar Asad at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Asad died when he was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint near his village in the West Bank and handcuffed. An autopsy determined that he died from a heart attack after being subjected to violent treatment.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House  

President Biden Designates Qatar a Major Non-NATO Ally. During the visit by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on January 31, President Joe Biden announced he is notifying Congress of his intent to designate Qatar a major non-NATO ally of the United States. The designation confers on Qatar a status that allows it to benefit from advanced security, political, and economic cooperation with the United States.

President Biden Announces the Death of Islamic State Leader. On February 3, President Biden announced that US special forces killed the leader of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, in his hideout in northern Syria. Al-Qurashi became leader after his predecessor, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, was also killed in a US military operation in October 2019.

US Rejects Amnesty’s Labeling of Israel as Apartheid State. On February 1, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price announced that the United States rejects Amnesty International’s report that accuses Israel of subjecting Palestinians to an apartheid system where the policies of “segregation, dispossession, and exclusion” dominate. The accusation comes after other organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and the Israeli B’Tselem, declared the same designation in 2021.

NSA Sullivan Praises SDF Forces in Syria. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan congratulated the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on regaining control over a prison in northern Syria that IS militants had attacked a week earlier. In his statement, Sullivan acknowledged that IS remains a serious threat and reiterated the US commitment to eradicate it.

2) State Department

US Expects Full Accountability in the Case of Omar Asad’s Death. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price noted the public report of the Israeli army’s investigation into the killing of Palestinian American Omar Asad. He reiterated that the case is ongoing and disciplinary action is being taken against the commander of the unit and officers responsible for the killing.

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Israeli Foreign Minister. On January 31, Secretary Blinken and Israel’s Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid discussed during a call the two countries’ relationship and the risks and challenges facing them, including the Russian aggression on Ukraine’s borders and Iran. In addition, they conferred about Israeli-Palestinian issues, and Blinken emphasized the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security.

Secretary Blinken Spoke with Palestinian President. Also on January 31, Secretary of State Blinken spoke on the phone with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and discussed strengthening the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and people, and the importance of improving the quality of life for Palestinians. Their talks also considered the PA’s challenges and need for reform. Blinken reiterated the US commitment to a two-state solution.

Acting Assistant Secretary Lempert Visits the Middle East. Acting Assistant Secretary for the Near East Yael Lempert is on a trip to the Middle East from February 3 to 11. She and an interagency delegation will meet with officials in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

3) Defense Department

Defense Secretary Austin Meets with Qatar’s Emir. On January 31, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III met with the visiting emir of Qatar. According to the Department of Defense readout, the secretary expressed his gratitude to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for Qatar’s assistance on Afghanistan issues. The two also discussed cooperation on security matters and de-escalation in the Middle East region.

Saudi Arabia and Israel Join Same Naval Exercises. On January 31, US Central Command announced that 50 ships from over 60 countries participated in US Navy-led naval exercises in the East African and Western Indian Ocean regions. Many Arab countries that have not normalized with Israel also participated in the exercises, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Comoros, and Djibouti.

Defense Secretary Austin Promises UAE Fifth-Generation Fighters. On February 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III told Abu Dhabi, UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed that the United States will deploy fifth-generation fighters to his country. Over the last few weeks, the UAE has sustained missile and drone attacks from Yemen’s Houthis that, on January 17, killed three and injured six others.