Bipartisan support in Washington for Israel is arguably at its strongest in years, following the murder spree by Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,400, with thousands wounded and as many as 200 hostages taken captive to the Gaza Strip. Still, fractures remain around certain policy issues, none more than the Biden administration’s apparent appeasement of Iran, the primary benefactor of Hamas.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a 2024 presidential candidate, garnered support on both sides of the aisle for the legislation he introduced this week “to freeze $6 billion of Iranian funds held in Qatar and for other purposes.”
If passed, the bill would “rescind the general licenses that enabled the release of the $6 billion to Iran and prevent the Iranian regime from accessing and using the funds held in Qatar to finance terrorist attacks against Israel or any other nation,” according to a release.
It would also require U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to provide Congress with a list of all high-value Iranian assets globally that are currently blocked by U.S. sanctions, allowing Congress members to target more sanctions if necessary.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who often caucuses with the Democrats, signed on to the Republican-led bill.
Democrats senators Jon Tester of Montana, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania have called publicly for the $6 billion to be refrozen but have not signed on to Scott’s bill. The latter decision may portend a difference of opinion about how the matter should be handled, and to what extent centrist Democrats are willing to challenge the Biden administration.
Scott remains optimistic, he told JNS.
“There’s a bipartisan coalition working on behalf of Israel and supporting my leadership as it relates to freezing those assets. And going a step further, my bill also suggests that Secretary Yellen should come before the Banking Committee and talk about all the assets that Iran has over $5 million,” said Scott. “We should be aware of where they are and how we can freeze them in the future when necessary.”
‘The tip of the iceberg’
Cruz believes that the bill will pass, citing the need for Congress to understand the assets, which Iran obtained in exchange for freeing American hostages this summer and which appeared to be a ransom payment.
“Some of us denounced that money at the outset—that the Biden administration would incentivize more Americans being taken hostage,” Cruz told JNS. “What’s important to understand is the $6 billion is just the tip of the iceberg.”
U.S. President Joe Biden has been praised widely for speeches about and sympathies with Israel over the last week. But Republicans told JNS that his policies are still misguided.
“I’m pleased that President Biden expressed his support for the government of Israel as they undertake this war to destroy Hamas,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told JNS.
“I worry that much of his rhetoric, though, sounds the notes of caution and restraint and proportionality, when Israel just suffered the most savage attacks against the Jewish people since American G.I.s liberated the concentration camps in 1945,” he added.
The last thing Washington should be doing is pressuring Israel, imposing timelines or “holding them to a higher standard than any other nation would face when they’ve been attacked,” he said.
‘The same pattern we’ve seen in past smaller operations’
Cruz cited two early tweets from the U.S. State Department after the Oct. 7 massacre that urged restraint by Jerusalem. Although they were deleted, the posts reflect erroneous and dangerous thinking, and are evidence that the Biden administration does not understand Israel’s situation, according to Cruz.
“I am glad that the president is at least expressing support for Israel that’s beneficial. At the same time, every time Joe Biden opens his mouth about the topic, his administration walks back what he says and actively seeks to undermine Israel,” he said.
Washington’s repeated admonishments about following the rule of law are “part of a left-wing effort to delegitimize Israel and prevent Israel from following through on its right to defend itself,” Cruz said. “In particular, its right and responsibility to utterly eliminate Hamas.”
The senator accused the White House of announcing $100 million in new Gazan aid while knowing, based on prior experience, that Hamas will appropriate the aid.
“They do not understand when you give evil people who want to murder you the financial resources to do so, it does not work out well,” Cruz said.
Cotton told JNS that the White House is tying Israel’s hands in its response to the massacre.
“We’ll see the same pattern we’ve seen in past smaller operations, like in 2012, 2014 and 2021, where the views of far-left and frankly, antisemitic Democrats increasingly become the mainstream Democratic view here in the Congress, sounding notes of restraint and caution,” Cotton predicted.
“I think it’s critical that we say to the people of Israel exactly what the president keeps saying about the people of Ukraine: We will back you for as long as it takes. And we want you to win as quickly as you can,” he said.
Scott thinks that bipartisan support can hold, even during a lengthy Israeli military campaign to decimate Hamas.
“I’m an optimist, so I’m going to encourage all members of Congress, including the ‘Squad,’ to get their act together,” he said. “Let’s do what we’ve always done: Have no daylight between America and Israel in a time of conflict and in the greatest times of need. You need to stand shoulder to shoulder.”