Mulling military aid

Sen. Angus King reconsiders position on Israel aid after Iran attack

In addition to defensive weaponry, Israel used F-35s, which are considered offensive military aid, to protect itself during Iran’s attack

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Chairman Angus King (I-ME) listens to testimony about the Department of Energy's atomic energy defense activities and Department of Defense nuclear weapons programs FY 2023 budget in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on April 27, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) is reconsidering his opposition to sending Israel additional offensive military aid after Iran launched its direct assault on the country over the weekend, he told Jewish Insider on Tuesday. 

Prior to the weekend strike, King was one of a handful of Senate Democrats who had begun voicing opposition to continuing to provide Israel with offensive weapons for its war in Gaza. King, who is a registered independent but caucuses with the Democrats, said in the wake of the World Central Kitchen strike earlier this month that killed seven aid workers that he was leaning toward only supporting the U.S.’ sale of defensive weapons to Israel. 

“I am mulling that very question and have not made a decision. I think that events over the weekend changed the situation sufficiently to give it some additional thought,” King, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, told JI when asked where he stands on offensive weapons aid after the Iran strike. 

King’s comments marked the most significant shift in response to the Iran strikes among Democrats who have been critical of Israel’s operations in Gaza. Other Democrats told JI that while the Iran attack did not impact where they stood on Israel aid, they were united in their opposition to Tehran. 

Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Peter Welch (D-VT) separately touted the importance of the U.S. relationship with Israel to successfully deter or combat Iran in the Middle East. All three legislators expressed skepticism that providing Israel with additional offensive weapons would help bring an end to the conflict. 

“There’s no doubt that the Iranian attacks underscored the need to continue to build the U.S.-Israel defense partnership,” Murphy said. “But we need to make sure that aid is getting into Gaza and until there’s certification that Israel has complied with the national security memorandum [conditioning aid], I think we should be careful of sending more offensive weaponry.”

Welch offered similar concerns about providing Israel with offensive weapons, separating them from the air defense weaponry that helped fend off Iran’s attack. But Israel also used systems that would be considered offensive weapons, such as fighter jets, to intercept the incoming Iranian drones and missiles. 

“There’s two issues that are really highlighted here. Number one, Iran is our adversary, it’s Israel’s adversary, and Israel and the United States and other allies did a great job of repulsing the unjustified attack. What Israel did there was good, with our help,” Welch said. “Number two, what Israel is doing in Gaza is over the top. It’s hurting us, it’s hurting Israel. So I support continuing working with Israel against Iran as an adversary. I continue to support conditions on offensive military weapons for Israel to use in Gaza. We need a cease-fire.”

Kelly called the attack “humiliating for the Iranians. They made this attempt and were completely unsuccessful. “I think it demonstrates the defensive capability of Israel, especially with our assistance and the assistance of our allies, and showed how formidable it is,” he said. “I think it’s important that we make sure that they maintain that defensive capability.”

“On the offensive stuff, what happened at World Central Kitchen a few weeks ago was really concerning for me and I think it demonstrates to some extent that the IDF has not been handling this appropriately,” Kelly added. “I think it’s fair to say that was reckless, and I want to see what they’ve learned from that and how they’re going to make some changes. And if they don’t make some changes, I think it’s appropriate based on a few weeks ago [to question] on offensive capability whether or not we would want to put conditions on it.”

Others, such as Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), both of whom have not shied away from criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the conflict, said that President Joe Biden should not lose sight of the suffering in Gaza while rallying around Israel in the wake of the Iran attack.

Reed, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reiterated his call on Tuesday for continued changes in Israel’s posture and approach in Gaza.

“Israel, I think, should restrain itself and re-concentrate on precise efforts against Hamas and also increase humanitarian assistance to an adequate level,” Reed told JI. “If those issues, together with this defeating of the attack, would really put them in I think a better position worldwide of support. I think an immediate escalation would be self-defeating for the Israelis.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) praised the successful efforts to defend Israel’s airspace from Iranian drones, but also urged the White House to hold firm on its push to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza. 

“U.S. forces in the Middle East, as well as Israel’s American-supported air defense systems, were critical to Israel’s ability to defend itself against Iran’s recent retaliatory attack, and the U.S. can and should continue to replenish those systems,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “At the same time, the Biden administration should use all the levers of its influence to prevent innocent Palestinians in Gaza from starving to death and to stop an invasion of Rafah.”

“The fastest way to achieve the Biden administration’s goal of preventing a wider conflict in the region — one that threatens to drag the U.S. in even deeper — is to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza and return of all the hostages,” he added.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that the attack highlighted the effectiveness of decades of joint U.S.-Israel training, without directly touching on U.S. aid.

“Anybody who thinks this is a good moment to test [Israeli] defense or U.S. support for [Israeli] defense realized over the weekend they’re wrong,” Kaine said. “I think that may create some space for better outcomes, that’s my hope.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.