The Biden administration's decision to award the Palestinian government with millions of dollars in U.S. aid violates the law and will directly benefit Hamas, the Iranian-backed terror group that recently launched a 12-day war against Israel, according to Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.).
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon following a trip to Israel this week, Hagerty said Israeli leaders he met with expressed concerns about the Biden administration's Middle East policies, particularly its most recent effort to push through more than $100 million in aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Concerns about this aid money are mounting in Congress in the wake of the State Department's admission that it cannot guarantee taxpayer dollars will be kept from enriching Hamas.
Hagerty, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spent several days in the Jewish state with Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) meeting with top Israeli officials, including Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and National Security Adviser Yuval Steinitz, among others. The senators also met with Israel Defense Forces commanders and toured the country to assess the damage caused by Hamas's nearly two-week-long attack on the country, as the Free Beacon first reported ahead of the trip. Cruz and Hagerty are now spearheading efforts to fast-track emergency security funding for Israel, including for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which shot down scores of Hamas missiles before they landed, saving countless lives.
"Hamas is taking their toll, they're involved in everything that moves in and out of the Gaza Strip," Hagerty said. "They will redirect [the aid money]. If you send in money and materials for reconstruction, the concrete that's being utilized there in Gaza is actually being used to build tunnels for [Hamas], not rebuilding houses."
There is no way the administration can "provide aid to them under current conditions and not have Hamas benefit from this," Hagerty said. "What's more than likely to happen, whether it's Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, they are going to benefit from the aid we are flowing into that area."
Hagerty also said the State Department's decision to immediately deliver aid to the Palestinian government violates a bipartisan 2018 law known as the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits American assistance from being delivered to the Palestinian government until it stops using this money to fund terrorists and their families. The State Department disclosed to Congress earlier this year that the Palestinian government continues to spend international aid dollars funding terrorists, as the Free Beacon first reported in March.
Hagerty said he was struck by the Israeli leadership's disclosure that many Arab nations are declining to send aid to the Palestinian government and Gaza Strip out of fear the money will enrich Hamas.
"The leadership in Israel said, ‘You'll notice that Arab countries are going to have a very hard time doing this and America should think very hard about it, too," the senator recalled.
Iran's role in arming, funding, and directing Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups overshadowed much of Hagerty's discussions with Israeli politicians and top businessmen. These leaders expressed concern the Biden administration's renewed diplomacy with Iran, which funds Hamas, will lead to massive sanctions relief that will help Tehran fund future attacks on Israel. There are also fears the United States' engagement with Iran will undermine the historic peace agreements reached last year between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
"Are the people in Israel concerned, the leadership, with our movement toward Iran? Absolutely. They were very clear to me that Iran is the existential question here," Hagerty said. "At the root of all of this is the Biden administration's stated movement back toward the flawed Iran deal that will put millions of dollars back in the hands of Iran and embolden our enemies."
America's diplomacy with Iran, which is aimed at cementing a revamped nuclear agreement, is not only concerning to Israel but also leading Arab nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, both of which inked peace accords with Israel last year as part of an effort to undermine Tehran's growing influence in the region.
In conversations with Israeli business leaders who are working to increase economic ties with these Arab nations, Hagerty was told that "the UAE and other partners are going to be increasingly skeptical as they see us move closer to Iran. That's their greatest concern." This could also push these countries "back in the direction of Iran," he said.
Hagerty also said that a growing movement in the Democratic Party to extinguish the U.S.-Israel relationship and cut funding for joint security initiatives is generating much discussion among Israel's political class.
"It is quite concerning to leaders in Israel, leaders of all stripes that I met with are quite concerned" about the Democratic Party's divide on Israel, Hagerty said.
Published under: Israel