Bipartisan Senate group pushes for hard line against Iran

The lawmakers said that ‘all options’ including military force should remain on the table in response to Iran and its proxies

Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) special forces are walking along the Azadi (Freedom) square in the west of Tehran after a rally to mark the 44th anniversary of the Victory of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution on February 11, 2023.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday calling for a hard line against Iran, including warning of further military action if attacks by the regime and its proxies continue.

The resolution, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Katie Britt (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) emphasizes “the urgency of responding to attacks in Israel and the greater region from the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies” and argues that “deterrence is most credible when the President keeps all options on the table, including the use of military force.”

The resolution also affirms Israel’s right to self-defense, broadly expresses support for the administration’s deterrent posture and actions thus far and calls on Saudi Arabia and Israel to continue normalization talks.

“If Americans are killed by any Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq, we believe that would be a provocation deserving a military response,” Graham said at a press conference yesterday, arguing for the U.S. to hit Iranian infrastructure inside Iran, potentially including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps training facilities and oil refineries. U.S. strikes so far have focused on IRGC and proxy facilities in Syria.

He said the U.S. should also respond forcefully to Iran if Hezbollah escalates its attacks on Israel.

“It says to Iran, we’re holding you responsible for your proxies,” Blumenthal said. “If this war widens as a result of what Hezbollah, or the Quds force or the IRGC, does, we’re holding you accountable.”

Sullivan said that, while he’s been critical of the administration’s policies toward Iran in the past, he’s “looking forward,” highlighting that there is also “strong bipartisan support” for heightened sanctions on Iran. He said he raised the sanctions issue in a recent meeting with President Joe Biden and  “the feeling we got” was “we’re pushing on an open door.”

Blumenthal agreed that the administration is likely to move toward stronger sanctions on Iran and heightened sanctions enforcement.

The press conference came mere hours before the administration said it would renew sanctions waivers allowing Iraq to continue to pay Iran for electricity, an announcement that’s prompting backlash from conservatives. The funds, administration officials stress, are restricted to humanitarian purchases.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced a bill that would revoke the tax-exempt status of any group that has provided “material support or resources” to a designated terrorist organization.

“A crucial pillar in the global fight against terrorism is dismantling the financial networks of terrorist organizations, including Hamas,” Kustoff said in a statement. “Under no circumstances should organizations supporting terrorism be allowed to receive preferential treatment under the U.S. tax code. I urge the swift passage of this legislation that will significantly diminish the ability of Hamas and other terrorist groups to finance their operations and carry out future attacks.”

A Kustoff spokesperson clarified that the legislation would not impact groups offering rhetorical support for Hamas.

“In the weeks following Hamas’s barbaric massacre of Israelis on October 7th, America has witnessed a dramatic increase in incidents of hateful speech, threats of violence and, shockingly, support for the Hamas terrorists,” Schneider said in a statement. “I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to prevent American taxpayers from directly or indirectly assisting any groups that support or advance the interests of terrorists.”

Additionally, Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Susan Wild (D-PA) are circulating for signatures a letter raising concerns about Israeli settler violence in the West Bank since Oct. 7.

The letter urges providing the “necessary financial resources” to the Palestinian Authority to stabilize the West Bank, focusing on tax revenues collected by Israel. The U.S. is prohibited by law from providing funding to the PA directly in most cases.

“By strengthening the PA, we can enhance its ability to uphold the rule of law, protect civilians, and deter extremist elements in the West Bank,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers raised concerns about a series of incidents in which Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinians “at times escorted by Israeli soldiers,” and significant numbers of killings and displacements of Palestinians.

“These actions are a serious violation of basic human rights and endanger the possibility of a two-state solution,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to immediately and strongly convey to the Israeli government its responsibility to uphold the rule of law in the West Bank and protect all civilians under its jurisdiction, while holding perpetrators of vigilante attacks and intimidation to account. The destabilizing consequences of vigilantism and lawless displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank threaten to expand the current war to another dangerous front.”

Reps. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) urged the administration to postpone new Food and Drug Administration regulations banning the sale of menthol cigarettes, warning that the ban could unintentionally open a “massive revenue stream” for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, they noted, has an extensive cigarette trade in the Western Hemisphere and has ties to Mexican drug cartels. They warned that the ban could create an enormous black market for menthol cigarettes. They urged the administration to pause the regulation pending consultation with Congress on its potential national security implications.

Rep. Keith Self (R-TX) introduced a resolution urging European Union and NATO members to bar Iranian airlines from their airports.

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