trip talk

Israeli officials tell lawmakers they urgently need U.S. resupply, supplemental aid

House Foreign Affairs Committee chair and ranking member led trip to Israel

House Foreign Affairs Committee

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) leads a bipartisan delegation to Israel, November 2023

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who traveled to Israel last week warned, ahead of Congress’ weeklong Thanksgiving holiday, that Israel urgently needs a supplemental aid package — which remains mired in partisan divisions.

“They’re very worried in Israel,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) told reporters last week. “There’s all sorts of timetables [there], which is different than our timetables [on the Hill]… I’m not going to say how much they have or don’t have because that’s classified, but there’s a timetable here.”

Moskowitz noted that Israel has expended a significant number of Iron Dome interceptors amid Hamas’ ongoing rocket attacks over the past month and a half. He explained that Israel remains concerned about a second front opening in the north against Hezbollah, necessitating keeping sufficient supplies in reserve to prepare for such a conflict — ”and so it could affect the Hamas portion [of their supplies] if we don’t get our act together here.”

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) told Jewish Insider that Israel is concerned about threats from Iran, Syria and Iraq as well.

“Israel believes, and [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and Defense Minister [Yoav] Gallant believe that this is an existential fight for Israel’s existence,” Rep. Max Miller (R-OH) told JI. “So if you ask them, they will tell you that they need it as of yesterday.”

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) told JI she was “uneasy” that Congress was leaving Washington without first passing both Israel and Ukraine aid, including both military and humanitarian support for both regions.

The lawmakers, who joined a trip led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and committee Ranking Member Greg Meeks (D-NY), which also included two senators, made a brief stop in Israel that included conversations with Netanyahu, Gallant, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and families of hostages. In light of security concerns from the State Department, the lawmakers were unable to stay overnight in Israel.

The next phase of the war is likely to be slower, Lawler and Moskowitz said, given Hamas’ expansive tunnel system — parts of which may be booby-trapped and contain supplies for a long-term siege — as well as embedding within civilian locations. 

“[Winning] doesn’t mean that every single Hamas fighter or sympathizer or future sympathizer is going to be killed or arrested,” he said. “They’re going to dismantle the military structure and the government of Hamas, where there’s no more Hamas influence in Gaza, so that they can then try to prop up a new government.”

Lawmakers said that Netanyahu and Gallant affirmed during their meetings that they do not intend to occupy or govern Gaza after the end of the war, nor to allow Hamas to remain in power. They said Netanyahu had clarified that he’s opposed to the current Palestinian Authority leadership ruling Gaza, but not to any PA leadership in Gaza.

Lawmakers floated a variety of similar proposals for Gaza after the war, most agreeing that other Arab states would need to assist in the reconstruction.

Moskowitz and Dean said the war has highlighted the need to make concerted efforts to move toward a two-state solution.

Moskowitz urged moving quickly after the war ends to establish a Palestinian state including Gaza and as much of the West Bank as possible — without East Jerusalem — after the war, with the Arab League and Gulf states helping to prop up and reform the Palestinian Authority, bringing in new PA leadership that would recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Moskowitz called for a tunnel connecting the West Bank and Gaza to be constructed and controlled in the short term by Israel for security reasons. Dean endorsed a similar “transit corridor” concept and said there had been conversations during the trip about connecting the West Bank and Gaza.

Dean said that she’d like to see a multinational force — like the peacekeeping force in the Sinai — help rebuild Gaza, hopefully led by a “moderate and strengthened and democratic” PA. 

Moskowitz said he didn’t think elections would be appropriate in the short term as Gaza rebuilds, but should happen in the longer term, arguing that Arab states would not allow Hamas to be reelected into power in the territory.

Miller said he’d like to see the Abraham Accords states and the Saudis join a “joint policing effort” in Gaza to ensure terrorist groups cannot reassert themselves, joined by a Marshall Plan-style reconstruction effort in Gaza. Moskowitz also called for billions of dollars in Arab investment.

Although public reports and statements indicate that relations between Israel and Arab nations in the region are strained, Miller suggested there’s more happening behind the scenes. 

“That’s not the impression that I got talking to people… and that’s not what I heard over the weekend,” he said.

Dean said she had urged Israeli officials to carefully “micro-target” their attacks in Gaza and said she does not believe Israel had done so in the early phases of the war. She said that she told Netanyahu that, “as powerful and as horrifying… what happened [on Oct. 7] is, you will be faced with similar video as Gazans are brutally killed.” She told the prime minister that Israel’s operations seemed “quite cavalier.”

Dean also lamented the lack of justice and accountability for the rising violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and argued that Israel should have done more to build support among its Arab neighbors and partners before launching its offensive into Gaza.

She said she emphasized the need for longer pauses in the fighting and a more well-established protected zone in southern Gaza. But she also said Israeli officials told the group that the pauses in fighting in northern Gaza over the previous week had allowed 100,000 people to move south.

Other lawmakers took a more generous view of Israel’s efforts.

“Israel is doing everything they can to avoid civilian casualties,” Lawler said. “Hamas is doing everything they can to use civilians as human shields. Israel has sought to provide humanitarian relief.” 

Moskowitz said that the initial wave of heavy Israeli airstrikes was targeted particularly at taking out Hamas’ rocket launch sites — pointing to a decrease in the volume of rocket attacks as a sign of its effectiveness.

Miller highlighted that some Palestinian civilians not affiliated with Hamas joined the attack on Israel as it unfolded, but said there are also “Palestinians that are good people. And we have to recognize that and make sure that they’re taken care of and Israel is doing everything they can. And that’s why this is taking so long, Israel is trying to save every civilian life that they possibly can as they’re going through Gaza.”

He also lamented that Israel is not being “given the same latitude” by the international community to respond to terrorism as the U.S. was in Afghanistan after 9/11.

“I’m sick of Jews being killed like sheep,” he said. “We need tough Jews, and Jews need to fight back.”

Miller added that he’s not confident, based on what he saw and heard in Israel, that humanitarian aid from the U.S. wouldn’t reach Hamas, giving him reservations about approving that request.

Moskowitz, Miller and Lawler generally agreed that U.S. and Israeli efforts to deter Iran, Hezbollah and other proxies from entering the war have — despite sporadic attacks — been largely successful and properly calibrated at this stage.

They seemed dubious of calls from some other lawmakers to launch direct attacks on Iran, although they did not entirely foreclose the option should the conflict escalate.

“That’s obviously something that needs to be considered over the course of the next few months, as we see how this unfolds,” Lawler said. “We want to make sure that Israel has the ability to wage this war effectively and eliminate Hamas. You don’t want to be waging war on three fronts here. So I think [we should be] cautious in our approach in dealing with this.”

The four lawmakers, all of whom have visited Israel before, some earlier this year, said they found a country that had been deeply changed and shaken by the events of Oct. 7.

“Things are quieter, wounded,” Dean said. “It felt like a country badly, badly wounded.”

The attack “set [Israel] back decades in their thought process and feeling safe,” reigniting existential fears about Israel’s continued existence in a way not seen since the Yom Kippur War, Moskowitz said.

Lawmakers also emphasized the barbaric violence committed by Hamas on Oct. 7, and several highlighted the surge in antisemitism worldwide that’s come alongside the conflict in the Middle East.

“I find it very upsetting that Jews are now being targeted for responding to one of the most gruesome terrorist attacks that’s ever happened in world history,” Miller said.

Dean, referencing footage of Hamas’ massacres, said that “the greatest takeaway is to never forget the barbaric attack on Israel. Just evil kinds of joy, glee in mutilating people, killing babies, beheadings, charred bodies. It is something the world cannot close its eyes to because if we do, it will happen again.”

Due to travel restrictions, the group stopped in London ahead of its time in Israel, in the midst of a massive anti-Israel street protest.

“I feel as if we’re slipping back into the ‘30s and ‘40s,” Miller said. “I sat there and I started thinking to myself, is this how my family felt, in Białystok, Poland, before they were pulled out of their homes, put into cages and murdered by the Nazis? That’s how I felt that day and that’s how I feel now. We have a fight on our hands. It’s an existential threat, not only for Israel but for every Jew in the world.”

Lawler said that the group’s time in London, particularly a visit to the war bunkers used by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill, also resonated with him.

“Thinking about the lead up to, the execution of World War II, how important it is to have moral clarity here, and for us not to be Neville Chamberlain in that moment, but to be Winston Churchill,” he said. “I think that’s important as we look at the biggest slaughter of Jews [since the Holocaust] to have that clarity of mind.”

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