While Washington isn’t planning to have boots on the ground in Israel, the American military does have a major role to play there, according to the first group of U.S. lawmakers to visit the country since the Hamas attacks.
U.S. “intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing” could be “extremely important” to Israel locating and freeing hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, said Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the top Republican on SASC’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities panel, who just returned from leading a congressional delegation to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The White House said Thursday there are no plans for U.S. troops to travel to Israel for combat. With 17 Americans missing and possibly among Hamas’ captives, the Pentagon has sent a small cell of special operations forces to help with intelligence and planning. However, those troops won’t be directly involved in hostage rescue operations.
“Soldiers and operators can assist in retrieving Americans. It is something we have seen in the past, with our operators, and their mission-set to retrieve Americans that have been taken by hostile forces,” Ernst said in an interview, adding that such a task would be “incredibly difficult” in densely populated Gaza.
The focus of the lawmakers’ trip was discussing the Abraham Accords for normalizing Arab-Israeli relations, but it took on new significance after the weekend’s attacks.
“This is a time for America and our allies and partners in the region to unite against Iran and its extreme terrorist proxies — and I made that very clear in all of my conversations with heads of state,” Ernst said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on Friday, where he met with Netanyahu and Israeli defense officials. Austin has directed significant military moves to support Israel in recent days, deploying an aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean and additional fighter aircraft to the Middle East.
Austin said U.S. military aid “rapidly flowing” into Israel includes Iron Dome interceptors. The first shipment of aid, including munitions, arrived earlier this week, DOD said Thursday.
Austin added that the U.S. military “would be happy to share” lessons it’s learned about “operating effectively in dense urban terrain, creating safe humanitarian corridors, making sure we’re thoughtful about how we shape the battle and making sure our objectives are well defined.”
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces ranking member, said the carriers the U.S. is deploying send an “incredible message.” They’re backing up Washington’s warnings for Israel’s other foes in the region not to join the fight, namely Hezbollah in Lebanon — which he said has “10 times the amount of missiles” as Hamas — and Hezbollah’s patron, Iran.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who left the lawmakers’ trip before the delegation made it to Israel, said the carrier groups could be used to “effectively blockade” Iran over its support for Hamas — but he voiced doubts about whether Biden would take that step.
“If Iran could sell no oil today, except by land … they would have to choose: get Hamas to stop or suffer the consequences,” Issa said.
“This president doesn’t have the cojones to do it, and it’s a shame because it’s the Reaganesque thing to do.”
President Joe Biden is expected to ask Congress soon to pass an emergency spending package that includes more aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. But the question is how, with Congress paralyzed by the House’s leadership crisis. Both Ernst and Norcross, who was part of the Israel delegation, vented about the situation.
“I can’t believe that here we have cast aside a Republican leader and speaker in the House, and now we’re at the point of not being able to move legislation,” Ernst said. “I hope that they are able to come to a conclusion. But once they do that, I do think things will move quickly as far as support for Israel.”
Norcross argued the GOP’s internal power struggles are impeding America’s business.
“Take care of your headaches in whatever way you want to, get your ass back in here, let’s get to work to make sure that our friends, our allies who we [share] values with are getting the support that they need,” he said.
Republicans in Congress have also pushed for Washington to put more pressure on Iran in the wake of the Hamas attacks, despite U.S. officials saying they can’t confirm Tehran’s involvement and intelligence suggesting the Islamic republic was surprised by the assault.
The delegation, aimed at discussing pathways to peace in the region, also met with Bahrain’s Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Norcross said he expects the Israeli government’s efforts to normalize Israel’s ties with Arab states would take a backseat to its campaign against Hamas and concerns about Iran and Hezbollah. But Issa expressed optimism, in spite of the conflict, saying bin Salman is determined to pursue a deal.
“Obviously you can’t sign the document at this point, so the hopes of doing it by year-end with the war that might go on until year-end are pretty shattered,” he said.
Source : POLITICO