White House Cancels US-Israel Strategic Dialogue After Netanyahu Criticizes US Administration

On June 18, the White House canceled the US-Israel strategic dialogue on Iran, scheduled for June 20 in Washington, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video in which he criticized the Biden administration for “bottlenecks” in delivering US military aid to Israel. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre asserted on June 18 that administration officials “genuinely do not know what [Netanyahu’s] talking about.” White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby noted that the White House found Netanyahu’s comments “deeply disappointing and certainly vexing.” Kirby added that US aid to Israel “has continued to flow” despite the publicized pause on the delivery of 2,000-pound bombs (out of concern for their use harming civilians in Rafah). Speaking at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated that the United States will “make sure that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself…which is the best way to avoid more conflict, to avoid more war.”

Netanyahu’s comments drew mixed responses from Israel’s most ardent supporters in Congress. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), one of the most vocal Democratic supporters of Israel, took to X.com on June 19 to criticize Netanyahu’s video for “undermin[ing] the bipartisanship of the US-Israel relationship” despite the Biden administration holding “firm in support of Israel for eight months and counting.” Republicans, on the other hand, doubled down on Netanyahu’s comments. On June 18, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on Biden to “get out of the way” of Israel’s war against Hamas. On June 20, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter to President Joe Biden, accusing him of engaging in “bureaucratic sleight-of-hand” in withholding some weapons from Israel. On June 21, Senate Republicans introduced their version of the “Maintaining Our Ironclad Commitment to Israel’s Security Act,” introduced in the House, which encourages the delivery of previously approved arms sales and require notification and explanation of any pauses.

Also Happening in Washington Last Week…

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

SASC Completes Markup of Senate NDAA. On June 14, the Senate Armed Services Committee completed its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25). The bill provides  a defense topline of $923.3 billion. Of note, the bill calls for additional support for US-Israel cooperation on counter-tunneling, emerging technologies, and the military targeting of Hamas leadership. The bill also requires congressional notification of any weapons or related materials transferred by Iran to an Iranian-linked group or a second party, an assessment of the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces and a report on the Gaza humanitarian pier and extends authority to provide assistance to vetted groups for countering the so-called Islamic State.

Sen. Rubio Introduces Bill to Strengthen US-Jordan Defense Cooperation. On June 18, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S.4563 to improve defense cooperation between the United States and Jordan.

House Bill Seeks to Recognize Eid as a Public Holiday. On June 18, Reps. André Carson (D-IN) and Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced a bill to recognize Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr as federal holidays in the United States.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

House and Senate Letters Focus on Iran Sanctions. On June 13, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, sent a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen after the Department of the Treasury did not submit a report to Congress on high-value Iranian global assets that are blocked by US sanctions, as well as on Iran-related waivers and sanctions relaxation policies. The report was required by the national security supplemental appropriations legislation signed by President Biden in April. On June 17, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary Blinken and Secretary Yellen, requesting that the Biden administration enforce existing sanctions and utilize new authorities created by the supplemental.

Top Democrats Approve Weapons Sale to Israel. On June 17, after intense pressure from the Biden administration, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-NY) signed off on an administration plan to sell $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets (not to be delivered until 2029) and other defense articles to Israel. The two lawmakers had previously delayed their approval of the sale out of concern over Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza.

House Letter Expresses Concern over Additional Humanitarian Aid to Gaza. A group of Republican House lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary Blinken to express concern for the administration’s recently announced $404 million in additional humanitarian funding for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the region. The lawmakers argued, “We have major concerns that a significant portion of the funds will inevitably end of up” in the hands of Hamas. They demanded from the Biden administration a “clear and comprehensive strategy” to ensure that any additional US aid does not benefit Hamas.

Letter to Biden Seeks Humanitarian Parole for Sudanese Refugees. On June 20, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Sara Jacobs (D-CA) led a letter to President Biden asking the administration to create a humanitarian parole program for Sudanese refugees. The US government can grant humanitarian parole to foreign nationals who are otherwise inadmissible to temporarily enter the United States due to an emergency and urgent humanitarian reason.

Bicameral Letter to Blinken and Mayorkas Asks for Refugee Status for Gazans. On June 20, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and representatives Greg Casar (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) led a letter to Secretary Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas expressing “support for a Priority-2 (P-2) designation under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for Palestinians who are affected by the ongoing violence in Gaza and are relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.” Such a designation would open up refugee status for certain Palestinians fleeing Gaza.

Senate Republicans Press DOJ on ICC Stance. On June 18, a group of Senate Republicans sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting the Department of Justice’s position on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) actions against Israel. The senators condemned the investigation and expressed concern that it may set a precedent for ICC targeting US service members.

3) Hearings and Briefings

SFRC Subcommittee Holds Hearing on MENA Budget Request. On June 18, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism held a hearing on the FY25 Budget Request for the Middle East and North Africa. The hearing featured testimonies from Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Jeanne Pryor, deputy assistant administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East at USAID. Subcommittee members pressed Leaf on the Biden administration’s handling of Israel’s war on Gaza and escalating regional tensions. Notably, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) remarked that it is “extraordinary that we have no viable plan from the Israeli government as to what comes next [in Gaza].” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) floated the idea of sanctioning Israeli leaders who continue to engage in actions that threaten stability in the occupied West Bank.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Senior Advisor Meets with Officials in Lebanon. On June 18White House Envoy Amos Hochstein met in Beirut with Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Joseph Aoun, and Nabih Berri, speaker of Parliament and  head of the Lebanese Amal movement. Speaking to reporters, Hochstein urged Hamas to accept the current ceasefire proposal without delay, which he argued would help deescalate tensions between Israel and Hezbollah.

Jake Sullivan Meets with Israeli Officials. On June 20, following the White House’s cancellation of a strategic dialogue on Iran, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly met with Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer in Washington. The meeting was originally scheduled to take place in March, but the White House canceled it over concerns about an imminent Israeli invasion of Rafah.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Speaks with Saudi Foreign Minister. On June 17, Secretary Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to discuss the war in Sudan, the Houthis’ detention of international aid workers in Yemen, and ceasefire efforts in Gaza.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Cyprus Foreign Minister. On June 17, Secretary Blinken met in Washington with Constantinos Kombos, the foreign minister of Cyprus. The officials discussed bilateral issues, including the maritime aid corridor from Cyprus to Gaza.

Department Designates Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya as a Terrorist Organization. On June 17, the Department of State designated Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The Iraq-based and Iran-aligned militia has been connected to several attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria, including the January drone attack that killed three US service members in Jordan.

US Concern for Tensions along Israel-Lebanon Border Grows. On June 17, Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters that the United States continues to be “worried about” escalation between Hezbollah and Israel. Miller blamed Hezbollah for escalating the conflict “in the past few weeks.” On June 18, Secretary Blinken added that the Biden administration is actively working to find a diplomatic resolution, stating that the most effective way to lower tensions would be a ceasefire in Gaza.

Blinken Meets with Israeli Security Officials. On June 20, Secretary Blinken met at the Department of State with Israeli National Security Advisor Hanegbi and Minister of Strategic Affairs Dermer.  Blinken reaffirmed US support for Israel and discussed ongoing Gaza ceasefire efforts, plans for post-conflict governance and reconstruction, and avoiding further escalation between Israel and Hezbollah.

US Condemns Houthi Attacks on Merchant Ships. On June 20, the Department of State condemned recent Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea, which sank a Greek-owned carrier. The statement affirmed that the United States would continue to take necessary actions to protect the freedom of navigation and commercial shipping and called on the Houthis to cease attacks and to release all detainees.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Resigns. On June 21, the Washington Post reported that Andrew P. Miller, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs, had resigned, citing family reasons.

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Announces Syria Strike. On June 19, CENTCOM announced that it had conducted an airstrike in Syria that killed a senior official and facilitator of the so-called Islamic State.

CENTCOM Reestablishes Humanitarian Pier After Additional Delay. On June 19, US forces re-anchored the US-built temporary pier to the beach in Gaza, after they had temporarily relocated the structure to avoid inclement weather conditions.

4) Department of the Treasury

United States Sanctions Houthi Weapons Procurement and Funding Networks. On June 17, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned additional individuals and five entities involved in weapons procurement and fundraising for the Houthis.

5) United States Agency for International Development

USAID Announces $315 Million in Additional Funds for Sudan. On June 14, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced that the United States will provide more than $315 million in additional humanitarian assistance for conflict-affected people across Sudan and in neighboring refugee-receiving countries.

USAID Administrator Power Discusses Humanitarian Aid. On June 18, Administrator Power met with international humanitarian partners and Israeli officials to discuss obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Gaza.