ICYMI – Hagerty Op-ed: The U.S. must do more to help Israel, its strongest Middle Eastern ally

May 20, 2021

The U.S. must do more to help Israel, its strongest Middle Eastern ally

By Bill Hagerty

May 20, 2021

Link here.

Iran-backed Palestinian terrorists are launching indiscriminate attacks that kill innocents while the terrorists shield themselves behind civilians — a familiar and predictable pattern. In response, Israel is rightly exercising its sovereign and inherent right to defend itself and its people, but the United States must do more to help its strongest Middle Eastern ally.

I will soon introduce legislation for the United States to help Israel resupply its Iron Dome missile and rocket defense systems that have saved the lives of countless Israeli civilians who have been the targets of Palestinian rockets. My bill would authorize the Biden administration to transfer funds from U.S. assistance that the Biden administration has earmarked for Hamas-controlled Gaza, and instead redirect this money to replenish the expensive Iron Dome interceptors used to shoot down Hamas’ Iranian rockets.

Given how disastrous the last few days have been for Israel and U.S. national security interests in the Middle East, it is both sobering and chilling to contemplate just how much worse things might get. If President Biden does not change his dangerous course in the region, and quickly, then it will be incumbent on Congress to act for him.

Why does the current situation require Congress to act?

Because the present crisis affecting Israel was avoidable.

It is happening because the Biden administration — in a kneejerk anti-Trump convulsion — reversed course on the momentum that the previous administration had built in the region with the historic Abraham Accords, under which the U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco each agreed to normalize relations with Israel, with other nations ready to follow. The Abraham Accords broke with the conventional wisdom by demonstrating the viability of cascading and sustainable paths to peace in the Middle East: peace by peace, piece by piece. 

Upon taking office, Mr. Biden should have immediately engaged others in the region, ready to join the Abraham Accords with the right incentives. And he should have been laying the groundwork to press Palestinian leaders ultimately to engage with the 2020 “Peace to Prosperity” plan.

Instead, as part of a blindly pre-cooked campaign to rejoin the failed Iran nuclear deal from which President Trump rightly withdrew, Mr. Biden has resumed President Obama’s doomed efforts to appease the Iranian regime using Western-style conciliation that Iran sees as weak. In one egregious example, the Biden administration foolishly lifted sanctions on Iran-backed terrorists in Yemen even as they were attacking our allies.

Moreover, the Biden administration has not only sidelined efforts to expand the Abraham Accords, but also delayed U.S. support to those who were bold enough to make peace with Israel. It even froze security assistance to our allies under active attack by Iran.

Instead of pressing Palestinian leaders to see a path to peace, Mr. Biden is fecklessly rewarding their recalcitrance, including by resuming frozen U.S. foreign assistance that will benefit the Palestinian Authority.

It was in this context that Hamas and other extremists hijacked a complicated, decades-old real estate dispute in Jerusalem as their cause to incite recent violence. The emboldened terrorists then doubled down with waves of indiscriminate attacks, launching thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets against Israeli civilians.

As Mr. Biden dawdles to avoid the wrath of the far left of his party, Hamas will see its use of civilians as human shields as an internationally acceptable practice.

Mr. Biden should take four critical steps immediately.

First, stand strong with our allies and stop appeasing our adversaries. The president should immediately recall his delegation from Vienna and end talks to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. But if he cannot bring himself to do that, then he should at least pause the negotiations to focus on assisting Israel.

Second, Mr. Biden should also immediately determine whether Hamas used Gaza apartment buildings as military headquarters, as it appears they did. If so, Hamas’ actions would violate the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act of 2018, triggering mandatory sanctions — and would also be war crimes.

Third, the Biden administration should have an honest conversation with Israel about whether the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) related to U.S.-Israel assistance is sufficient. Congress has long interpreted the MOU’s prescribed levels of security assistance as the minimum — rather than the maximum — level of appropriate cooperation. Congress and Mr. Trump codified that interpretation in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

Fourth, the Biden administration should end its blind hostility to Trump-era foreign policy successes in the Middle East and throughout the world. 

As long as the Biden administration fails to see and speak to the difference between our allies and terrorists, our adversaries will continue to push boundaries and spark more and more violent division. Peace can be far better promoted through strength.

• Bill Hagerty is a U.S. senator from Tennessee. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration.