Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) sits on the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, giving him a 360-degree perspective on both the context surrounding Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and its aftermath.
“At the end of the day, this administration has an Iran policy problem,” Waltz said of the White House’s reported efforts to appease Iran in exchange for restarting the 2015 nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2015.
“It has been obsessed with trying to re-enter into the JCPOA—the Iran deal 2.0,” Waltz said. “That means it has made concession after concession after concession.”
Waltz, a former Green Beret, told JNS at this past weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Summit in Las Vegas that he has fought people like the Hamas terrorists “all over the world.”
“I know when they smell weakness, they see opportunity. When they’re faced with strength and resolve, they back down,” he said. “Right now, they are on the march because they smell weakness in this White House.”
Waltz is confident that Mike Johnson—the relatively-unknown new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives—will have Israel’s back. The two have sat next to each other for four years on the Armed Services Committee.
“He has a great balance of issues that he’s been diving into over the years. He knows that we cannot allow this administration to keep providing concessions to Iran,” Waltz said of Johnson. “He knows that Israel—who we absolutely should support steadfastly—even if they are fantastically successful against Hamas and Hezbollah, you’re essentially mowing the grass.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told JNS in Las Vegas that he has every confidence that Johnson will move swiftly to provide emergency aid for Israel.
“The administration is asking for about $15 billion to go to Israel. It’s gonna have wide support. It will get done,” Bacon said.
“If we need to do more down the road, we’ll do more. We have a moral obligation—I’d say a spiritual obligation, a practical obligation, all of the above—to stand by Israel,” he added. “I do believe that Speaker Johnson feels the same way.”
Bacon urged a detwinning of Israel and Ukraine aid in contradiction to a larger security package being pushed by the White House.
He told JNS he didn’t want to see Israeli aid, which has stronger support across Congress, held up over battles regarding Ukraine.
“I do support Ukraine aid because it’s in our national security interests that Ukraine remain independent,” Bacon said. “And I think it is right from a strategic and a moral perspective to stand by Ukraine.”
But Bacon believes that aid for Ukraine, which is more of a Democratic imperative, will be linked to funding for border security—more of a Republican imperative.
Waltz said that as long as Iran is flush with cash, it will “keep feeding and funding its proxies. So, we have to go after the head of the snake.”
For Waltz, that means forcing the administration to enforce sanctions, and codifying them into law.
“And that’s exactly what we’ll be working on in both foreign affairs and armed services,” he told JNS.
‘Part of the solution’
In his remarks during an RJC summit panel discussion, Waltz intimated his belief that a failure of American intelligence was not to blame for the Oct. 7 disaster in Israel but a failure of policy.
“We knew that there were a series of meetings with a number of terrorist leaders—Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iraqi militias, the Iranian Quds Force and IRGC handlers,” Waltz told JNS, referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“They were happening in Lebanon. They were rehearsing, the ayatollah was amping up his rhetoric, talking about a ring of fire around Israel,” Waltz said. (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s supreme leader.)
“We knew that they hated and saw as existential the prospect of more Abraham Accords or Saudi-Israel normalization,” he said.
While Waltz concedes that intelligence operatives may have missed a few tactical items due to new encrypted communications or other inventive maneuvers, “we knew all the training, all the funding, all the weapons and all the rehearsals were being provided.”
He said that with the Biden administration wedded to the concept of an Iran nuclear accord and a balance of power in the Middle East—combined with the morass of Robert Malley, the U.S. State Department’s now-suspended negotiator with Iran who is suspected of security clearance violations.
“I think you had a real policy problem and a policymaker problem, not necessarily a massive collection gap,” he said. “We’ll still have to prove that theory to be true.”
Waltz also accused the Biden administration of a strategic mistake in linking Saudi-Israeli negotiation with the Palestinian issue, giving the Palestinians “a vehicle to interfere with and to blow up the deal, which is exactly what Hamas and their Iranian backers did.”
The leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to make normalization a priority, he said, but that is “on pause for the foreseeable future,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot harder, but I do still think it’s achievable.”
Israel needs to turn at least some of its attention to a plan for how Gaza will be governed once Hamas is eliminated, Waltz said.
He noted the “long, bloody and difficult” road ahead, and said the United States has the ability to tear down the terror infrastructure of organizations like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Colombian drug cartels.
“We do a terrible job of winning the peace afterwards,” he said.
Waltz envisioned some combination of Israeli and Gulf Arab governance and funding of Gaza, though noted that the Middle East is rife with actors who point to the Palestinian problem but take no action to fix it.
“I think it could be some combination of those entities—all of whom are going to be desperate for the fighting to stop,” he said. “While right now they’re incredibly reluctant to get involved, I do think, as we get into a long, bloody slog, it’s going to be that they’ll increasingly want to be part of the solution.”
But the question for him is whether the Biden administration will use its leverage to get those states to “stop complaining, pull out your checkbooks, pull out your political capital and help and be part of the solution.”