The Biden administration spoke with one voice this weekend. In addition to expressing support for Israel in its war against Hamas, the administration's spokesmen wanted to make one thing clear: Not a single dollar of the $6 billion it sent to Tehran last month helped fund the Hamas terrorists who murdered, kidnapped, and raped Israelis over the weekend.
"Let's be clear: the deal to bring U.S. citizens home from Iran has nothing to do with the horrific attack on Israel," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Saturday as numerous analysts and GOP lawmakers blamed the Biden administration for helping to fund Hamas's historic war. "Not a penny has been spent, and when it is, it can only go for humanitarian needs like food and medicine. Anything to the contrary is false."
Other senior Biden administration officials, both on and off the record, have made the case that the deal it struck to bring five Americans home from Iran in no way aided Hamas's Saturday assault.
"Not a single cent from these funds has been spent, and when it is spent, it can only be spent on things like food and medicine for the Iranian people," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement. "These funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks today and this is not the time to spread disinformation."
That case got harder on Sunday when the Wall Street Journal reported that Iranian officials, in a series of meetings in Beirut, helped plan Saturday's assault, all while the country was negotiating the hostage deal with the United States. And a Hamas spokesman told the BBC on Saturday that Iran’s government provided backing for the mass terror spree in Israel.
Republican foreign policy leaders say that while the $6 billion in funds that were a part of that deal did not literally fund the Hamas attack, the U.S.-enabled payments likely allowed Iran to reallocate significant parts of its budget—including funds it would have been forced to spend on food and medical aid—toward its global terror operations.
"Iran normally has to allocate its limited foreign exchange reserves for food/medicine months in advance to facilitate trade flows. Not anymore," said Gabriel Noronha, a former State Department adviser on Iran. "The $6 billion payment freed up huge reserves to ensure that Iran could continue this support."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday seemed to concede the point, telling NBC News' Kristen Welker, "Iran has unfortunately always used and focused its funds on supporting terrorism, on supporting groups like Hamas, and it's done that when there have been sanctions, it's done that when there haven't been sanctions. It's always prioritized that."
A Treasury Department report in 2019 indicated that the Iranian military has sent tens of millions of dollars to Hamas’s military wing for terrorist activities. Iranian state news outlets reported in 2021 that the government was funding Hamas’s production of rockets used to attack Israeli civilians.
Jonathan Schanzer, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Biden administration’s decision to unfreeze the cash in exchange for U.S. prisoners also encouraged the mass hostage-taking by Hamas.
"Whether the cash has been transferred to Iran or it hasn’t, the message the United States sent to Iran was this: Hostage diplomacy is fair game," Schanzer said. "Hamas appears to have taken that message to heart. The end result is that five Americans have been sent home, but more than 100 Israelis are now held in Gaza."
Republican lawmakers are blasting the Biden administration over the Iran funding and blaming it for bankrolling Hamas’s attack.
"Money is fungible and regime officials calculate for it, including for shoring up their foreign exchange reserve," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), adding that the administration was "on track to send over $45 billion to the ayatollah this year through waivers and not enforcing sanctions, including this $6 billion they admit was ransom."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), a longtime member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is currently on the ground in the Middle East, said the connection between the Iran funding and the terrorist attack was predictable.
"The Biden foreign policy team came to power calling themselves the ‘adults in the room,’ but they’re really hopelessly naive appeasers on the world stage," said Issa. "It must be embarrassing for them to insist the $6 billion in ransom they paid to Iran would be spent on anything but terror—but perhaps they’re getting used to it."