Biden urges Congress to act on Israel aid, says Iran aims ‘to destroy Israel forever’

After president’s op-ed calls for government to pass assistance packages for Israel, Ukraine, House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push toward vote, potentially risking his job

US President Joe Biden answers questions about Israel after speaking about the Special Counsel report at the White House in Washington, on February 8, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US President Joe Biden answers questions about Israel after speaking about the Special Counsel report at the White House in Washington, on February 8, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden called on Congress to immediately pass an aid package for Israel and Ukraine, in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Legislation has been stalled for months amid opposition from House Republicans fueled by former US president Donald Trump. House Speaker Mike Johnson, however, informed GOP lawmakers on Wednesday that he will begin the days-long push to hold votes on the funding packages for Israel and Ukraine, as well as one earmarked for allies in the Indo-Pacific.

While both Israel and Ukraine “can capably defend their own sovereignty, they depend on American assistance, including weaponry, to do it, and this is a pivotal moment,” Biden wrote, pointing to strikes by Iran and Russia on Israel and Ukraine over the weekend.

Iran, he wrote, seeks to eliminate Israel: “The government of Iran wants to destroy Israel forever — wiping the world’s only Jewish state off the map.”

“After years of backing Hezbollah, Hamas and other proxies in their attacks on Israel, including Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7, Iran launched a direct attack of its own,” Biden wrote, warning that “if Iran succeeds in significantly escalating its assault on Israel, the US could be drawn in.”

“Israel is our strongest partner in the Middle East. It’s unthinkable that we would stand by if its defenses were weakened and Iran was able to carry out the destruction it intended this weekend. We can make that outcome less likely by replenishing Israel’s air defenses and providing military aid now, so its defenses can remain fully stocked and ready,” he added.

A woman walks past a mural depicting US President Joe Biden as a superhero defending Israel on a street in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Iran’s overnight attack between Saturday and Sunday saw some 350 attack drones and missiles launched at the Jewish state, the majority of which were intercepted by Israel, the US and other allied forces.

Biden noted that the US-funded David’s Sling and Iron Dome air defense systems were critical in thwarting Iran’s missile and drone strikes and pointed out that the military equipment funded by Washington would be produced by American manufacturers, thereby boosting the US economy. “We’d help our friends while helping ourselves.”

Interceptor missiles are fired at Iranian drones and missiles launched at Israel, as seen over Tel Aviv on April 14, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“I’ve been clear about my concerns over the safety of civilians in Gaza amid the war with Hamas, but this aid package is focused on Israel’s long-term defensive needs to ensure it can maintain its military edge against Iran or any other adversary,” the US president wrote.

“Importantly, this bill has funding that will allow us to continue delivering urgent humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza as well as others who have felt the impact of conflicts around the world.”

The bills “shouldn’t be held hostage any longer by a small group of extreme Republican House members,” he wrote. “There are moments in history that call for leadership and courage. This is one of them.”

Hours after Biden’s op-ed was published, Johnson forged ahead in the House toward a vote later this week, potentially risking his job as he did so.

Johnson said he was proposing that some of the aid for Kyiv be structured as loans, along with greater oversight, but the decision to support Ukraine at all has angered populist conservatives in the House and given new energy to a threat to remove him from the speaker’s office.

Rep. Mike Johnson, Republican-Louisiana, takes the oath to be the new House speaker at the Capitol in Washington, October 25, 2023. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The bill for aid to Israel, meanwhile, would give it $26.38 billion in military aid, according to the text released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Some $4 billion of the funds would go to replenishing interceptor missiles for Iron Dome and David’s Sling short and medium-range air defense systems.

Another $4.4 billion would go to restocking depleted supplies of other Israeli arms, and $3.5 billion is earmarked for procuring “advanced weapons systems, defense articles and defense services,” according to a summary published by House Republicans.

The bill includes $2.4 billion to fund US forces operating in the Middle East in response to threats against Israel. It also funnels $1.2 billion to the Iron Beam program, which is developing a short-range rocket and mortar interceptor.

A David’s Sling interceptor missile is fired from a ship at a target simulating an incoming threat in December 2020. (Defense Ministry)

A Senate bill passed in February meant to fund Israeli defensive needs would have sent $14 billion to Jerusalem.

“By posting the text of these bills as soon as they are completed, we will ensure time for a robust amendment process,” Johnson wrote in his message, which was shared by two Republican lawmakers.

The votes on the package are expected Saturday evening, Johnson said. But he faces a treacherous path to get there. The speaker will almost certainly need Democratic support on the procedural maneuvers to advance his complex plan of holding separate votes on each of the aid packages.

It was not clear whether Democrats would assist Johnson. They were still awaiting the details of the legislation and have become increasingly impatient with his deliberations.

US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington. Standing at left is Vice President Kamala Harris and seated at right is House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)

Democrats have demanded that the foreign aid bill hew closely to the $95 billion foreign aid package that the Senate passed in February. That legislation would fund the US allies, as well as provide humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and Ukraine.

In a statement separate from his WSJ op-ed on Wednesday, Biden voiced support for the bills and urged the House again to ensure that they pass.

“I strongly support this package to get critical support to Israel and Ukraine, provide desperately needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, and bolster security and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden said.

“Israel is facing unprecedented attacks from Iran, and Ukraine is facing continued bombardment from Russia that has intensified dramatically in the last month,” he said in a statement. “The House must pass the package this week and the Senate should quickly follow. I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”

Meanwhile, the threat to oust Johnson from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, gained support this week. One other Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said he was joining Greene and called for Johnson to resign. Other GOP lawmakers have openly complained about Johnson’s leadership.

US Representative Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgian Republican, with Representative Matt Gaetz (L), a Florida Republican, speaks at a press conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 6, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

“You are seriously out of step with Republicans by continuing to pass bills dependent on Democrats,” Greene wrote on the social platform X. “Everyone sees through this.”

In an effort to satisfy conservatives, Johnson said he would hold a separate vote on a border security package that contains most of a bill that was already passed by House Republicans last year.

The precarious effort to pass the foreign aid comes as lawmakers who are focused on national security warn that the House must act after waiting for nearly two months for Johnson to bring up the foreign aid.

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