As the Israeli-Hamas conflict enters its fourth week, U.S. Sen. Katie Britt called for the United States to increase economic pressure on Iran during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, sparring with Secretary of State Anthony Bliken in the process.
While neither the United States nor Israel have found any hard evidence that Iran played a role in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Iran has provided training and weapons to Hamas militants in the past, and continues to support several militant groups labeled as terrorist organizations.
In light of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict, Britt called on President Joe Biden’s administration to apply more pressure on Iran.
“In order for people in Israel to be able to tuck their children in at night, and people across this globe, we must eradicate Hamas,” Britt said during the hearing. “In doing so, we’ve got to take the threat of Iran seriously, and what they’ve been doing across the globe; what they’ve been funding, who they have been training.”
Britt further suggested that Biden’s stated intentions of reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal – were partially to blame for the recent flare up of violence between Israel and Hamas.
That suggestion was presented in the form of a question to Blinken, who has long been an advocate for the Iran Nuclear Deal, which removed sanctions on Iran in exchange for the placement of restrictions on its nuclear program.
“My question for you is, do you agree that the strategy of what I would call appeasement from this administration that occurred starting with the Obama administration, easing off of sanctions (and) even offering to enter back into talks about the JCPOA, that that type of behavior also contributed to where we are today?” Britt asked.
“It won’t surprise you that I wouldn’t agree with that statement,” Blinken responded.
“We’ve been engaged with going at Iran for its support for malicious activities throughout the region, including support for terrorism, including destabilization; that’s involved sanctioning more than 400 Iranian entities and individuals over the last two and a half years.”
Unsatisfied with his response, Britt argued that the United States should return to a “strategy of maximum pressure” in regards to Iran. Britt also attempted to get a commitment from Blinken that the Biden administration would not resume any talks to reenter the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Blinken declined to make that commitment.
“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about our diplomacy, I can simply say that it was a big mistake to walk away from the JCPOA because at least it took one problem off the table, which was Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. “Unfortunately, since we’ve moved (off the JCPOA), Iran has turned that back on, and so that just adds to the threat that Iran poses.”
“Obviously, we’re going to disagree on that,” Britt said.
With recent attacks on U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq by Iranian-backed militant groups, Britt asked Blinken if he believed Iran understood where the United States’ “red lines” were. Instead, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took the question, and suggested the United States would respond with military action were the situation to demand it.
“We’ve been clear that the protection of our troops is important, and we will do what’s necessary to protect them,” Austin said. “This activity has to change; if it doesn’t change, we will respond.”
Earlier this month, The Times of Israel reported that Biden officials had privately indicated to Israel that the U.S. Military would “join the IDF in fighting” were Hezbollah – an Iranian-back militant group – to initiate a war against Israel.
John Kirby, White House strategic communications coordinator, was later asked about this report and said that while there was “no intention to put U.S. boots on the ground in combat,” military force would be used were Biden to determine it was needed “to defend our interests.”