Republicans squeeze Biden over Israel and Iran

The US president acted against Iran, but was it too little too late?


WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) speaks to reporters before a Senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on December 12, 2023 in Washington, DC. Fetterman spoke on military aid to Ukraine. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

V The shooting down of an Iranian aerial armada was a “win”, according to Joe Biden. For Republicans, it represented the culmination of a calamitous policy failure towards the terror state.

In a bid to fill the policy void, just a day after the attack, House Republicans proposed sweeping sanctions on Iran covering imports, oil and financial transactions.

With an astute eye on domestic politics and the impending general election, they also introduced a bill designating the phrase “from the river to the sea” as antisemitic.

A two-pronged strategy to press Biden domestically, and desperately try to assert even the barest semblance of a US policy towards the world’s biggest sponsor of terror, while also bolstering their unflinching support for Israel with a $14.1billion aid package that they separated from a Biden package for Ukraine and Taiwan.

The tough line clashes with Biden’s almost laissez-faire attitude towards Iran. His negotiations to encourage Tehran to rejoin Obama’s JCPOA nuclear deal have failed due to lack of interest from the Islamic regime. And there appears to be no Plan B to stop them building a nuclear bomb, which is now happening at pace.

Just last month, Biden extended a sanctions waiver that reportedly unlocked $10 billion in frozen funds for Tehran by allowing Iraq to buy energy from the country. In September, he paid $6billion to Tehran for six American hostages. And he has relaxed sanctions on Iran selling oil to China.

One can almost sympathise with Ayatollah Khamenei for thinking that America would not intervene on Israel’s behalf over the missile, rocket and drone barrage he ordered. After all, hadn’t Biden and his most senior team gone to great pains to publicly isolate Israel?

Biden himself sounded as if he was on the verge of condemning Israel as his rhetoric became more aligned with Hamas.

He separated the ceasefire deal from a deal for the hostages, urging an end to the shooting but not necessarily the immediate release of up to 130 hostages, including as many as eight Americans. He told Netanyahu to end the war in Gaza.

And after his State of the Union address, he was caught on a hot mic chastising Netanyahu, saying he would have to have a “come to Jesus moment”.

Kamala Harris warned Israel of “consequences” if troops went into Rafah, Chuck Schumer told Netanyahu to resign, and Nancy Pelosi joined with radical Democrats to sign a letter demanding a halt to arms sales to Israel.

Surely all were clear signals that Biden was walking away from America’s erstwhile staunch ally? They certainly sounded like it.

In any case, it was a perceived crack in the relationship that Ayatollah Khamenei believed he could exploit.

Contrast Donald Trump’s warning to Iran after he ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020: “Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have… targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” he said. “The USA wants no more threats!” with Joe Biden’s: “Don’t”.

Perhaps American military deterrence should not be conveyed by the president on social media in capital letters with an exclamation mark mic drop. But it probably should be conveyed in slightly stronger terms than a single word muttered in response to a reporter’s question.

Also relevant is a recent New York Times survey that found that 36 per cent of registered voters approve of Biden’s handling of foreign conflicts vs 48 per cent who approve of the way Trump handled them. While Biden frets about losing votes and indeed the entire election in Michigan for supporting Israel, his fellow Democrat John Fetterman, the straight-talking senator from Pennsylvania, knows that not supporting Israel is electoral suicide in much of the rest of the country.

Which is why he criticised Biden for ruling out joining Israel in offensive operations against Iran.

“I don’t agree with that, I just think we should follow and have Israel’s back in the situation,” he said. “I don’t agree with the President.”

Tehran knows that Biden has to win back the radical fringes of his party in must-win states such as Michigan.

And the Republicans know it too, which is why one of their bills would designate the phrase “from the river to the sea” as antisemitic. Will the Democratic Party reject the chant or embrace it?

With their flood of bills, the Republican Party is squeezing Biden on the international and domestic stage.

The Biden administration is crowing about the new Arab-Israeli alliance that helped shoot down the Iranian barrage and which, it believes, is the foundation on which broader regional success can be built. But such alliances do not necessarily stop missiles being fired. They don’t stop nuclear bombs being built.

Biden has had his head in the Middle-Eastern sand for too long. After popping up to deal with Saturday night’s near-catastrophe his impulse will be to wedge it in again, as deeply as he possibly can.

But if he doesn’t develop a policy to deal with Iran, he will have a much bigger impending catastrophe to deal with. No doubt he wants to avoid US boots on the ground.

The lesson of Saturday night is that such extreme military measures only become more likely if a strong deterrence isn’t established.

Iran is indeed watching and listening to America.

The Islamic regime is judging it on actions and words. It’s time America changes its message.

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