Hours after Palestinian militants launched a deadly multi-pronged assault on Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip yesterday, and Israel responded with a barrage of airstrikes, several Republican presidential candidates tried to lay blame for the escalation in the decades-long conflict at the feet of President Joe Biden.
The Republican candidates claimed Saturday’s attacks—which have led to a mounting death toll of more than 900—were linked to recent hostage negotiations with Iran, which has historically funded Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. Last month, Iran allowed five imprisoned American citizens to return home in exchange for the United States unfreezing $6 billion in South Korean payments to Iran for oil.
Republican candidates cited that agreement to blame Biden more or less directly for Hamas’ attack. “Joe Biden funded these attacks on Israel,” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott claimed in a statement. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Cristie wrote on X that “This terrorism is funded by Biden’s idiotic release of $6 billion to the Iranians.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released a video saying that “Iran has helped fund this war against Israel, and Joe Biden’s policies that has gone easy on Iran has helped to fill their coffers.”
The White House has said the money, which South Korea transferred to a Qatari account last month, can only be used for “food, medicine, medical equipment that would not have a dual military use” and that the US would have “full visibility” into how Iran accesses and uses the funds. On Saturday, administration officials insisted “not a single cent from these funds has been spent, and when it is spent, it can only be spent on things like food and medicine for the Iranian people,” Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said on Saturday. “These funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks today, and this is not the time to spread disinformation.”
Former president Donald Trump, of course, would not miss a chance to self-promote. “WOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED IF I WERE PRESIDENT,” he blustered on Truth Social, claiming that his presidency had brought “so much peace to the Middle East.”
“The war happened for two reasons,” Trump added on Saturday while campaigning in Iowa, according to the New York Times. “The United States is giving—and gave to Iran—$6 billion over hostages.” Trump also mischaracterized the formerly frozen Iranian assets as “American taxpayer dollars.”
The candidates had less to say about other US policies on Israel and its pressure-cooker occupation of the Palestinian territories, where violence by Israeli forces and settlers—and responding violence by Palestinians—is commonplace.
On Saturday, Biden called his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security “rock solid and unwavering”: “When I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults,” Biden said.