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Rep. Mike McCaul drafts a military authorization bill should the Israel-Hamas conflict escalate

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul
Center for Strategic & International Studies
Flickr / CC
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul

U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been vocal about how the vacuum of leadership in the lower chamber of Congress emboldens America’s adversaries. Now, he’s drafting a military authorization bill in case the Israel-Hamas conflict escalates.

Defense News reporter Bryant Harris spoke with McCaul about the proposal. He joined the Standard to talk about the bill and the latest developments on Capitol Hill regarding the situation in the Middle East.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What are the specifics of this bill drafted by McCaul?

Bryant Harris: So he hasn’t released the legislative text yet. It’s to be determined, if you will, because he says he’s doing this just in case the Biden administration comes and asks Congress for an [Authorization for Use of Military Force] in the event that Hezbollah escalates and enters the Israel-Hamas war beyond an extent we’ve already seen.

What he envisions, based on my conversations with him so far, is basically he’s drafting legislation that would authorize the administration to strike Iran-backed proxies throughout the Middle East. So I think his chief concern is Hezbollah, but there are plenty of Iran-backed militias in places like Syria and Iraq.

I want to talk about the strategy here that McCaul seems to be taking, and that’s to go after groups that have historically been backed by Iran. Do we know, though, what – if any – role Iran has actually had in these recent attacks?

So that is pretty ambiguous. The one thing we do know for sure, and both Hamas and Iran are open about this is, yes, over the years they have, of course, provided funding and support to Hamas. Otherwise, Israeli and U.S. officials have basically said that there is no smoking gun indicating that Iran had any sort of command or control element in the Hamas massacres that took place last week.

That said, the longer the Gaza conflict continues to go on, Israel has threatened ground invasion. And in response, Iran has said if you do that, we will retaliate as well. And the Iranian foreign minister, as recently as yesterday, right before Biden arrived in Israel, threatened preemptive action.

So there is no smoking gun that shows Iran coordinated or authorized the Hamas attacks, but the risk for escalation is nonetheless very real the longer this drags on.

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Well, very real indeed. I mean, President Biden has ordered aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean, and we know there is a large troop presence – I believe somewhere in the order of 17,000 troops – in the region. And there are published reports – I think Defense News has covered this too – up to 2,000 troops we are aware of, have been notified to be ready to roll should things intensify. 

What kind of appetite is there on Capitol Hill for the U.S. taking on a bigger role in the Mideast, especially given what’s happening in Ukraine and the commitment there?

That’s a great question. Most of the focus right now, for Republicans and Democrats, is military aid to Israel. The Biden administration, by the end of the week, will be asking them for more Iron Dome interceptors and precision guided munitions, which they are using in Gaza.

In terms of the broader Middle East conflict, we’ve seen a lot of war weariness among the American public in recent years. And there’s a lot of talk about ending endless war. So, you know, there is a question about whether there would be support to pass this.

I spoke with Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, yesterday, and he said he thinks the congressmen’s AUMF for Iran-backed proxies is premature and potentially escalatory. So this could emerge as a partisan issue too.

But how realistic is it, given that you don’t even have a speaker right now in the House? 

Yeah, correct. That’s the other big X factor. When I spoke to Congressman McCaul, it was right before the speaker vote started. And the ouster of Kevin McCarthy has grinded business in the House to a halt. So they can’t pass any floor legislation – whether that’s an AUMF, aid for Israel or government funding legislation – until they pick a new speaker.

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