Is Netanyahu trying to draw US into Middle East war?

Members of Congress told The Independent they do not believe Israel wants conflict with Tehran

John Bowden
Washington DC
Wednesday 17 April 2024 06:57 BST
Iran did not provide early warning of attack on Israel and did not mean it to fail, White House says

Members of the House of Representatives loaded up the schedule with several bills strengthening US sanctions and other financial pressure against the Iranian government this week and fought back against the idea that Israel is trying to lead the US into war.

That charge was levelled in an article published by NBC News on Sunday; the news outlet reported that Mr Biden had “privately” expressed to aides and staff that Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu “is trying to drag Washington into a broader conflict”.

The accusation, not yet levelled or defended publicly by the White House, insinuates that Mr Biden and his administration have even less pull in Jerusalem than previously thought.

On Tuesday, lawmakers who gathered on Capitol Hill for a briefing hosted by the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) spoke to The Independent about the president’s reported worry. Those who attended Tuesday’s briefing did so in support of a resolution sponsored by dozens of Republicans and Democrats affirming support for the right of Iranian demonstrators to seek a democratic alternative to the regime and trended on the hawkish side of the foreign policy aisle.

Brad Sherman, the number two Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, firmly rejected both the idea that Israel’s leadership was trying to drag the US into a broader conflict as well as the concept that such a development was even possible. He also cast doubt on NBC’s reporting.

A battery of Israel's Iron Dome defense missile system, deployed to intercept rockets, sits in Ashkelon, southern Israel, August 2022
A battery of Israel's Iron Dome defense missile system, deployed to intercept rockets, sits in Ashkelon, southern Israel, August 2022 (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press All rights reserved)

“A lot of things are reported in a lot of places,” he said with some scepticism. “I don’t believe he’s said that.”

“I don't think that Israel wants a war with Iran. I don't think Israel wants to, quote, ‘draw America into a war with Iran.’ And I don't think it's possible to draw America into a war against Iran. And I don't think Israel would try to do something that was so manifestly impossible,” Mr Sherman went on.

Republicans who spoke to The Independent about the view of Israel’s government were in agreement. Pete Sessions, a GOP congressman from Texas, added that the US could do much more to pressure Tehran without crossing the bridge into the realm of military aggression.

“It was a mistake for this administration to take their foot off the brakes on Iran's economy,” Mr Sessions said in an interview. “I think we should squeeze it as hard as we can out of every dollar and weaken that government.”

A ballistic missile lies on the shore of the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel
A ballistic missile lies on the shore of the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel (REUTERS)

When asked about Mr Biden’s reported view of the Israeli strategy, Mr Sessions joined his colleague in rejecting the assertion while admonishing Democrats for their rhetoric about the prime minister and his government.

In recent weeks, Democrats have made clear their disgust over the way Mr Netanyahu has handled the war in Gaza, where more than 30,000 are now dead including thousands of children. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led the charge with a floor speech calling for new elections in the country.

“I think it's wrong how he's treated Benjamin Netanyahu,” said Mr Sessions of the incumbent president. “If we were the Israelis, we would be doing pretty much exactly what Netanyahu was doing.“

The White House said Tuesday that Mr Biden’s team was preparing a new set of sanctions in response to the drone and missile attack against Israel over the weekend.

Congress is also passing legislation aimed at adding pressure to Iran’s energy sector, some of which headed through the lower chamber this week. One resolution passed on Tuesday affirmed that the US Congress believes the pro-Palestinian slogan “from the river to the sea” to be inherently antisemitic.

“These new sanctions and other measures will continue a steady drumbeat of pressure to contain and degrade Iran’s military capacity and effectiveness and confront the full range of its problematic behaviors,” Mr Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

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