Iran attack places spotlight on dithering in Washington over passing aid Bill

Latest flashpoint will indicate how much weight Netanyahu places on US president’s words

By mid-afternoon on Saturday, president Joe Biden had abandoned plans for a sunny weekend watching the Masters tournament at his Delaware beach house and flown hastily back to the Situation Room in the White House to monitor information of Iran’s imminent air attack on military facilities in Israel.

By evening, he once again found himself on a phone call with Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Little over a week ago, he delivered a warning to Netanyahu in relation to the devastating humanitarian consequences of its attacks on Hamas in Gaza. This time, he was there to reaffirm “America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel” while stressing the importance of de-escalating the soaring tensions and averting a generalised conflict in the region.

The barrage of weapons included more than 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles, all of which were neutralised and taken down by a combination of US and Israeli missile defence destroyers. The Biden administration had moved aircraft and ballistic missile defence destroyers over the past week at the president’s direction and the attacks caused little damage, prompting Biden to urge Netanyahu to treat the engagement as an effective victory. A senior White House official was reported as saying that Biden told Netanyahu, “You got a win. Take the win”, which, in the formal language of the White House statement translated as: “I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel.”

For Biden, this latest flashpoint in the region will provide another indication of how much weight Netanyahu places on his words. While the US president engaged fellow G7 leaders to formulate a cohesive diplomatic response to the Iranian aggression, persuading Israel from a response that would further destabilise the region is key. The president’s foreign policy record was attacked by his Republican rival in the November elections, Donald Trump, who, speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania, used the Iranian attack as another example of US diplomatic weakness under Biden.


Republican senator Marco Rubio, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, told CNN on Sunday that while the air strike was interpreted as “performative”, Iran’s broader goal was to render Israel “an impossible place to live”. He cited the impact the attack would have on Israel’s tourist economy – declining to note that the six-month conflict can hardly have helped with domestic tourism – and castigated Biden’s reported advice to Netanyahu to interpret the attack as “a win”.

“Then his people leaking it to the media. They know that Israel is going to respond. So why would the White House leak it? There is only one reason they leaked that and that is when Israel does respond the White House can say: we told them not to do it and appease the so-called peace activists, the ceasefire now people who were out there cheering the launch of hundreds of rockets and drones against Israel.”

Shortly after the attack began, Tennessee Republican senator Marsha Blackburn posted a social media message urging president Biden, through his account on X, to “launch aggressive retaliatory strikes on Iran”.

In a week when recent polls found that Biden has made steady advances on the lead Trump enjoyed in the election race, the outcome of this flare-up offers an opportunity to demonstrate his experience and inherent faith in diplomatic solution. But it also places the spotlight on the unforgivable dithering in Congress in passing legislation, with the February Bill on foreign aid yet to go before the House of Representatives.

“The timing is ... it’s right there before us, this bill that the Senate passed in an overwhelming bipartisan way, I think it was 70 to 29 back in February,” said Democratic senator Tim Kaine on Sunday.

“That Bill is right on the floor ready for the House to act. And I think it is very important, this bill has defence aid for Israel, defence aid for Ukraine and humanitarian aid for Gaza in this bill. It has just taken way too long. My hope is that the challenges of the weekend will promote action. The events of the weekend make it clear that congress cannot just twiddle our thumbs.”

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times