This week, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., questioned U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing regarding the State Department’s foreign policy strategy and FY22 budget request.
“America’s foreign policy strategy must fully defend our allies and support stability in the Middle East,” Steube said. “Without being able to ensure that U.S. assistance to Gaza or the Palestinian Authority will not be used to fund global terrorism or get funneled to our adversaries in Iran, the Biden Administration is recklessly trying to abandon our Israeli allies and risking all Americans’ security.”
Steube’s full remarks can be found below.
Steube: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I signed onto a letter urging President Biden not to rejoin the JCPOA and provide sanctions relief to Iran. This would directly and negatively affect not only our own national security, but Israel’s security as well. Since President Biden took office, Iran has started enriching uranium at its highest level ever and Israel was under a multi-day assault from Hamas. Hamas is financially and materially backed by Iran. Lifting sanctions on Iran – a well-known financer of terrorism – is a gift to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups that will threaten both Israel and our troops in the region.
I also cosponsored a bill that would enable any remaining funding appropriated for Gaza assistance to be repurposed for Israel to support the Iron Dome. President Biden even mentioned support for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, which receives U.S. funding. The system intercepted most of the 3,000 rockets Hamas fired in the recent conflict, keeping Israel’s death toll relatively low.
However, President Biden also promised $110 million to go towards rebuilding Gaza with assistance and funding through the U.N. efforts. Hamas controls Gaza through its security forces and obtains resources from smuggling, informal ‘taxes’ and reported external assistance from some Arab sources and Iran.
How do you plan on ensuring that Hamas does not benefit from $110 million in U.S. assistance?”
Sec. Blinken: “Thank you. I was just- I think if you know in Israel, about a week 10 days ago, a meeting with officials from the government across-the-board. And I think there is an increased understanding that Hamas has fed off of misery, fed off of a lack of hope, and if that is perpetuated that its, unfortunately, likely to get stronger, despite the fact that itself has been responsible for bringing much of that misery onto the Palestinian people. There is an understanding and a commitment I think on the part of Israel both to respond to the real humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza now. Water, electricity, sanitation, sewage… if you look at what is happening it is on a human level and our Israeli counterparts agree with us, it is unacceptable, and we need to do something about that.
When it comes to reconstruction, there is both a belief and a commitment I think on the part of Israel, the United Nations, Egypt, ourselves, and others, that we can do this in a way that does not result in materials being syphoned off by Hamas to rebuild the tunnels or reconstitute more of their rocket course. I agree with you, it is very important that we have a mechanism that we are confident in, that the Israelis are confident in, that allows us to do that, and that’s exactly what we’re working on.”
Steube: “Well how are you gonna do that if Hamas controls Gaza, how are you going to ensure that American taxpayer dollars are not going to be inadvertently directed to Hamas?”
Sec. Blinken: “We’ve worked in the past, and others have worked in the past, including Israel, with other organizations, institutions and entities, to make sure that first of all we know exactly what needs to be legitimately rebuilt, and then that the resources are allocated to do just that, and nothing more. And we certainly look forward to be able to come to Congress as these plans develop with how that would work.”
Steube: “Yes, I would look forward to us doing oversight on that after resources are spent. Mr. Secretary, you would not admit when asked during the conflict that Hamas was getting their arms from Iran. But then after the war ended, the head of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh thanked Iran for the weapons. The other terrorist organizations in Gaza — the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — is a direct proxy of Iran. How can you say you support Israel’s security while wanting to enter a deal where Iran is going to get billions in new weapons?”
Sec. Blinken: “Iran’s support for Hamas has been persistent problem for a long time. The problem that existed before the nuclear deal, that continued during the nuclear deal, and continues today despite the so-called “maximum pressure campaign” when we’re out of the deal. And that’s a problem that we have to address. When I was asked about this, I needed to make sure that I understood from our own intelligence, from the Israelis, from others, exactly what was going on. I think Hamas has provided, has been provided, by Iran in the past with key components, technical knowledge for the program. The best assessment, public assessment, that we have is that in the most recent incident most of the rockets were indigenously produced in Gaza by Hamas. That does not in any way excuse Iran’s support for Hamas, including very strong rhetorical support in this most recent incident.”