Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona wants to divert Iranian assets to Israel after Hamas attacks
Oct 13, 2023, 1:00 PM
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona introduced a bill this week to support Israel by diverting assets confiscated from Iran, a known backer of Hamas.
The Fortify Israel Act would freeze the $6 billion in funds that were unblocked recently as part of a prisoner swap and repurpose it to bolster Israel’s defenses in the wake of last weekend’s deadly attacks by Hamas.
It would also apply to other assets seized from Iran, Schweikert told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Friday.
“The legislation is designed much broader than the 6 million. The 6 million was functionally the extortion fee we paid to get some hostages back,” the Republican said.
“There’s a hell of a lot more resources and Western accounts of Iran that are frozen.”
Who is Rep. Schweikert working with on Fortify Israel Act?
Schweikert, whose congressional district includes parts of north Phoenix, Scottsdale and other northeast Valley suburbs, said he’s working with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and a couple of Democrats he didn’t name on a Senate companion version of his bill.
The version introduced in the House on Wednesday had 12 cosponsors as of Friday morning, all Republicans, according to Congress.gov.
Schweikert said he wants the bill, which is based on what the U.S. did with funds seized from Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorists, to have flexibility so Israel could use the assets in a variety of ways.
“We specifically are trying to design it so it has optionality, whether it needed to be used to fund defense forces or reconstruction or just humanitarian aid. And I think that’s appropriate,” the seven-term Arizona congressman said.
Schweikert added that the mechanism might be expanded to include diverting Russian assets to support Ukraine.
Has Iran been able to use the $6 billion from prisoner exchange?
Schweikert said the legislation can’t go anywhere until the House chooses a new speaker.
In the meantime, Iran won’t have access to the $6 billion under an agreement reached this week between the U.S. and Qatar. The arrangement stops short of a full refreezing of the assets, which are in Qatar’s banking system.
The Biden administration’s deal last month with Iran to unfreeze funds as part of a prisoner exchange has drawn scrutiny in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel. Some critics say the release of the assets could have been a factor in the attacks because Iran is the principal financial and military sponsor of Hamas.
However, U.S. officials have said their intelligence does not show a direct role by Iran. The also say the money has yet to be spent by Iran and can only be used for humanitarian needs.
“Funds from that account are overseen by the Treasury Department, can only be dispensed for humanitarian goods — food, medicine, medical equipment — and never touch Iranian hands,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Israel on Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.