“Giving Iran $6 billion — even if for humanitarian aid — allows them to reallocate other funds to supporting terrorism,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted Tuesday morning. “Especially given Iran’s involvement in the Hamas attacks, Biden must immediately freeze the transfer.”
Twenty Republican senators, including Blackburn, sent a letter to the White House on Monday criticizing the administration for claiming that the funds are only available for humanitarian use.
“Money is fungible, and there is significant risk they could be used to further efforts by Iran or Hamas against Israel,” they wrote.
The Biden administration has repeatedly denied the $6 billion could be diverted by Iran for nefarious purposes, noting its use will be highly restricted and monitored. Still, the deal has come under persistent pushback from conservative lawmakers since it was first announced.
The Republican demands for new pressure on Iran come as many hawks suspect Tehran is the true culprit behind the attacks that began this weekend. But there have been conflicting reports about what role Iran may have played, and Biden administration officials say they do not yet have evidence that Iran directed the attack.
While it’s widely known that Iran supports and supplies Hamas militarily and in other ways, Hamas maintains a degree of independence from Tehran. It may be difficult to find a smoking gun proving Iran’s culpability.
“What we can be quite clear about is that Iran is broadly complicit in these attacks for having supporting Hamas going back decades,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, referring to Tehran providing weapons, training and other financial support to the militant group.
On Tuesday, Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied accusations that Tehran was involved. But he applauded Hamas’ actions and blamed Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip in past years for the recent violence.
“We kiss the hands of those who planned the attack on the Zionist regime,” Khamenei said on television, Reuters reported Tuesday. “The Zionist regime’s own actions are to blame for this disaster.”
Still, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) repeated the claim that Iran was directly involved and that the prisoner exchange deal fueled the attack against Israel.
“Iran knew they had $6 billion coming their way, and that windfall freed up resources to plan & execute the heinous terrorist attack from Hamas against our greatest ally in the region,” Braun tweeted Tuesday morning. “The U.S. should freeze these funds immediately & permanently.”
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also called for an investigation into the $6 billion deal and a hearing for Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to detail any “gaps” in Iranian sanctions.
GOP Rep. Brian Mast of Florida has called for new sanctions on backers of Hamas. Some hawks have gone even further, calling for U.S. military action against Iran.
“We call on our government in Washington, together with Israel, and our allies around the world to launch strikes against military and intelligence targets in Iran, including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sites, and missile and drone bases, where Iran’s proxy and partner network is trained,” the group United Against Nuclear Iran said in a statement Monday.
UANI’s chair is ex-Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Connecticut Democrat who later became an independent.
Many of the accusations that Iran played a role stem from The Wall Street Journal’s report on Sunday that Iranian security officials helped Hamas plan the surprise assault and ultimately gave the greenlight. The paper cited senior members of Hamas and Hezbollah, another Iran-backed militant group.
But many analysts and Israel’s military have been unwilling to embrace the claims.
“We have no evidence or proof” that Iran was behind it, but Israel also didn’t have intelligence to see the attack coming, Maj. Nir Dinar, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, told POLITICO on Monday.
“We are 100 percent sure that the Iranians were not surprised,” Dinar said. “Just because you don’t have that evidence doesn’t necessarily mean Iran isn’t behind it.”