Politics

Biden’s Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel Is Grilled by Senators

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As President Biden visited Israel on Wednesday to pledge U.S. assist in its battle in opposition to Hamas, his nominee to fill the conspicuously empty American ambassador’s submit to the nation confronted Republican opposition at house.

The nomination of Jacob J. Lew, who served as Treasury secretary throughout the Obama administration, was introduced final month however has gained urgency since Hamas attackers slaughtered a minimum of 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7. The assaults prompted Israel to launch an intensive bombing marketing campaign in opposition to the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas.

However regardless of pleas from the Biden administration and main Democrats to verify Mr. Lew rapidly, most Republican senators on the International Relations Committee expressed opposition to his affirmation, arguing he was unfit for the submit due to his previous work on a multinational deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We’d like this factor crammed. The issue I’ve is that it must be stuffed with the correct individual,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the highest Republican on the panel, mentioned throughout Mr. Lew’s affirmation listening to Wednesday. He accused Mr. Lew of appearing in “what I believe was a backhanded means of supporting Iran.”

As Treasury secretary, Mr. Lew performed a key function in negotiating and selling a deal that eased sanctions on Iran’s nuclear sector in alternate for Tehran’s accepting limitations on its nuclear enrichment and associated actions. However Republicans cost that Mr. Lew lied to lawmakers on the time about how the deal could be carried out, significantly when it got here to entry to beforehand frozen funds to Iran, which they consider Iran used to construct up terrorist proxy teams posing a risk to Israel, together with Hamas.

The Republican opposition will not be anticipated to kill Mr. Lew’s candidacy. Democrats — who expressed assist for him — maintain a majority on the panel. However it may complicate efforts to get his bid by means of the total Senate rapidly, by forcing Senator Chuck Schumer, the bulk chief, to make use of time-consuming procedural maneuvers to arrange a vote.

Israel has lacked a Senate-confirmed U.S. ambassador since Thomas R. Nides left the submit in July. Mr. Schumer and different Democrats have warned that persevering with to go away the submit empty could be detrimental to the USA’ potential to assist Israel.

“Delaying him could be egregious at a time like this,” Mr. Schumer mentioned of Mr. Lew on the ground Tuesday, including that the nominee was “a ferocious ally of Israel.”

Mr. Lew sought to show his pro-Israel bona fides on Wednesday, telling senators about his Jewish household’s Zionist roots and itemizing his efforts as Treasury secretary to impose and implement sanctions in opposition to each Hamas and Iran.

“I can not keep in mind a time when Israel’s wrestle for safety was not on the forefront of my thoughts,” Mr. Lew mentioned. He added that “Iran is a risk to regional stability and to Israel’s existence. If confirmed, I’ll uphold President Biden’s dedication to disclaim Iran a nuclear weapon.”

However his declarations did little to discourage Republican senators.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, accused Mr. Lew of getting stored secret from Congress a license that will have allowed Iran to transform funds held at a financial institution in Oman into euros, and pressured banks all over the world to do enterprise with Tehran, citing the findings from a 2018 report from Republicans on the Senate Everlasting Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, accused Mr. Lew of appearing because the Iranian regime’s banker, by negotiating offers to launch funds in alternate for American prisoners.

“The large inflow of money was in the end a direct deposit into Iran’s terrorism account,” Mr. Barrasso mentioned.

Mr. Lew argued that he had adhered strictly to the phrases of the deal easing nuclear-related sanctions, referred to as the Joint Complete Plan of Motion — and pissed off officers in Tehran by refusing to go any additional.

“They complained that my actions had been what stored them from getting full entry to the world monetary system,” he mentioned. “We did the letter of the J.C.P.O.A., nothing extra.”

If confirmed as ambassador, Mr. Lew might be beginning at a time of heightened fears that the battle between Israel and Hamas would possibly engulf the area, probably even pulling in U.S. forces.

“Stopping this from changing into a multifront conflict is vastly essential for Israel, for the area for the world,” he mentioned. He added that bringing house the People regarded as hostages of Hamas could be one in all his prime priorities. At the very least 13 People are unaccounted for, in response to the State Division, however it’s unclear what number of are being held hostage.

But Mr. Lew conceded that longer-term objectives such because the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and an eventual two-state answer with the Palestinians, would seemingly have to attend till hostilities died down.

He additionally promised that he would do his utmost to make sure that civilians in Gaza obtain humanitarian help, drawing a distinction between them and Hamas militants.

However he resisted Democrats’ efforts to get him to induce the Israelis to train restraint.

“This isn’t the time for us to be lecturing Israel on what they should do,” Mr. Lew mentioned, including that Israeli officers knew they needed to conduct the conflict “in a means that’s in step with minimizing the affect on harmless civilians.”