October 9, 2023 | Memo

Turning Congressional Outrage Into Action: A U.S. Response to Hamas’ War Against Israel

October 9, 2023 | Memo

Turning Congressional Outrage Into Action: A U.S. Response to Hamas’ War Against Israel

A wheelchair-bound elderly woman is dragged through the streets. Young children are pulled from their beds away from their mothers. Music lovers are shot in cold blood at a peace concert.

The horrific nature of the terrorist atrocities committed during the Iran-backed Hamas invasion of Israel has resulted in the deepest bipartisan support for the Jewish state in decades. Americans have seen savagery that they remember from their own experiences with radical Islamist terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Americans also see the clear hand of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has slaughtered or taken hostage American soldiers, diplomats, and civilians for decades. In this latest massacre, press reports confirm dozens of Americans taken hostage by Hamas and Iran-backed Islamic Jihad and at least nine Americans murdered.

What can U.S. policymakers do who are looking to turn their outrage into action?

Israel’s right to respond to Hamas’ war crimes. Hamas has committed a double war crime. First, it has savagely murdered, maimed, tortured, and taken hostage Israeli and foreign civilians, including Americans. Second, it is using Palestinian civilians as human shields to protect its fighters and weapons against Israeli military action. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) needs the time, space, and unwavering political support to do what is required to deal Hamas and Islamic Jihad a decisive blow. This will require new rules of engagement for the IDF that could lead to civilian casualties in Gaza because Hamas places innocent hostages in military areas. As Americans discovered in our own war on terrorism, it is impossible to successfully defend against ruthless terrorist groups in urban settings without sustaining casualties. These Palestinian terrorist groups also use Palestinian civilians to shield their fighters and weapons from lawful attack.

In 2018, the House and Senate unanimously passed the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act, which requires the president to impose sanctions on anyone involved in the use of human shields by Hamas or Hezbollah. Congress needs to insist that the Biden administration use this law to sanction those responsible for these war crimes. Rock solid U.S. support is critical for Israel’s operations. Furthermore, Israel should not be undermined with calls for cease-fires or hostage negotiations prior to achieving all military objectives against Iran’s terror infrastructure. Instead, Washington should pressure Turkey and Qatar to close their Hamas offices, expel Hamas officials, and cut off financial support to the Hamas government. The United States should also close off all funding spigots that subsidize the Hamas government, including the suspension of any State Department or USAID grants, and halt funding of UNRWA’s operation in Gaza.

Credible U.S. military threat against Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has funded, trained, weaponized, and directed Hamas and its other terrorist proxies to develop a “ring of fire” — in the words of the slain Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — on Israel’s borders. New evidence is emerging of Iran’s direct role in launching the Hamas attack on Israel. Iran has held scores of Americans hostage in the past; now its terrorist proxies Hamas and Islamic Jihad are holding dozens of Americans hostage in Gaza. Without a credible U.S. military threat against Iran and re-establishing deterrence, Khamenei will feel emboldened to open another front in the north against Israel using its terror proxy Hezbollah. This will make a broader regional war more likely, forcing the United States into it. Decisive action now would lessen the likelihood of such a regional war unfolding.

Deny Iran resources. What the U.S. government working in partnership with Congress has done many times before needs to be done again. The U.S. Treasury Department needs to threaten Chinese banks processing Iranian oil transactions that are filling Iranian coffers with tens of billions of dollars. When the United States has credibly done that in the past, China’s oil purchases dropped precipitously. Congress needs to legislate to freeze Iranian access to the $6 billion in Qatari banks (money transferred from South Korea) and the $10 billion in Omani banks (money transferred from Iraq) made accessible to Iran in connection with nuclear and hostage talks throughout the summer. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on October 8 that these funds have not yet been accessed. Notwithstanding assertions to the contrary, Treasury will be unable to restrict these funds to “humanitarian transactions,” as previous Iranian sanctions busting schemes reveal. Qatar supports Hamas. Oman is close to Iran. When Washington last devised such a scheme for another Hamas supporter, Turkey, Iran successfully looted $20 billion from Turkish banks using transactions disguised as humanitarian and gold sales.

Snapback United Nations (UN) sanctions. The UN missile embargo on Iran expires on October 18. The UN arms embargo expired in 2020. In a few days, there will be no international measures prohibiting Iran from providing even more sophisticated missiles and drones to Vladimir Putin in his war against Ukraine and to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad in their war against Israel. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France each can unilaterally snap back all UN sanctions against Iran. Congress should insist that the Biden administration snap back these sanctions immediately. The United Kingdom can also be asked to do more to increase pressure on Tehran — starting with proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Saudi-Israel peace deal. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees the emerging peace deal between Riyadh and Jerusalem as a threat to the Islamic Republic. The deal promises greater peace and prosperity for the region, including for Palestinians. That is anathema to Khamenei’s vision of revolution, bloodshed, and repression. Khamenei is using Hamas to try to kill the peace deal. The congressional message should be to the Biden administration and to the Saudi leadership that the deal is more important than ever. But these words of encouragement should be matched with a caution: The U.S. Senate, which is key to ratification of any U.S.-Saudi security treaty, is looking closely at Saudi words and behavior and will weigh that against Saudi demands of Washington when evaluating any agreement. At the same time, no one should attempt to use the prospect of Saudi-Israel normalization as a tool to pressure Israel to back down from its military objectives.

Mark Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor. Follow them on X @mdubowitz and @rich_goldberg.


Gulf States Hezbollah International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jihadism Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy