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Hagerty: Biden admin’s foreign policy ‘has emboldened Iran and its proxies like Hamas’

The Tennessee senator suggested that the administration’s reengagement with Iran led Iranian proxy groups to ‘test’ Biden by attacking Israel

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Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) speaks during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 12, 2021.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) laid much of the blame for the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza on the Biden administration’s Middle East policies, in an interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday. 

Hagerty, who returned from a multi-day trip to Israel on Wednesday morning, said he traveled to the region to “show my unwavering support for Israel.” 

The Tennessee senator characterized the recent conflict as a “test of the will of the Biden administration” on behalf of Iran and its proxies.

“This onslaught of violence and terrorism has been encouraged by policy positions coming out of the Biden administration because their embrace of Iran has emboldened Iran and its proxies like Hamas to step up and test this administration,” he said. “I think the Biden administration has put us in great jeopardy by reengaging with the Iranians… I think that puts the entire region at risk.”

Hagerty’s comments stand in stark contrast to those of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who also visited the region this week. Graham argued on Tuesday that most Democrats, including Biden, are strongly pro-Israel.

“You’ve got to look at how they vote. It’s hard to know what’s in a person’s heart… When they vote in a way that’s not supportive, I think that sends a very bad message,” Hagerty said, before adding that his constituents in Tennessee are pro-Israel regardless of party affiliation.

Hagerty confirmed that Israeli leaders told both him and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), with whom Hagerty was traveling, that they plan to request $1 billion in additional funding from the U.S. to resupply and upgrade Iron Dome, as first announced by Graham on Tuesday. Hagerty declined to say if he expects — as Graham does — that Biden and congressional Democrats will support that request.

“If every member of Congress had the benefit of what Senators Graham, Cruz and I saw, in terms of the effectiveness of the Iron Dome… I think that they would be supportive of that,” Hagerty said.

While in Israel, Hagerty met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, as well as members of the Israeli Defense Forces and business and think-tank leaders.

Speaking to JI less than two hours after Israeli opposition party leaders announced they had agreed to form a new government, setting the stage for Netanyahu’s ouster, Hagerty predicted that U.S.-Israel relations would not be impacted by the potential change in government.

“It should have no change at all. Israel remains our ally. It has since 1948 and will continue with our ally,” Hagerty said. “I look forward to working with Israeli leadership, whomever it may be, over the course of the coming year… I’ve gotta believe that the strategic interests remain the same.”

Hagerty did not travel to the Palestinian territories or meet with Palestinian leaders during his trip. He told JI that “the Palestinian leaders have got some problems to clear up,” pointing to Hamas’ control of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing payments to the families of terrorists.

“I think we want to be engaged with the Palestinian people, but the Palestinian Authority and Hamas both are very challenged in terms of the lack of leadership there and the terrorism that results from that,” he said. “My most important point right now is for us to show our solidarity with Israel.”

Hagerty said that to advance permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the U.S. should continue to work to facilitate regional economic cooperation through agreements, pointing to last year’s Abraham Accords. Hagerty also suggested that the U.S. should restrict aid to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). 

“[The Palestinian Authority] walked away from the vision for prosperity that was placed before them. A plan was put before them that would have created a million jobs for the Palestinian people,” Hagerty said. “That’s why it shocks me that the Biden administration would come back, just in a knee-jerk fashion… to re-initiate aid to the Palestinian Authority with no preconditions, to re-initiate aid to UNRWA with no preconidtions.”

“We know we need to build economic prosperity in the region,” Hagerty continued, “and when the Palestinian Authority sees that it’s in their interest, which it should be, when the Palestinain people push them in that direction, I hope they’ll find their way to the bargaining table.”