Republicans Grilled on Ronald Reagan Leveraging Military Aid to Israel

Following President Joe Biden stating that he would withhold certain weapons from Israel amid the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans were confronted on Sunday over former President Ronald Reagan’s similar stance to leverage military aid to Israel.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, launched an attack against Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage. In the months that followed, Israel’s offensive has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the Associated Press reported, citing local health officials.

On Wednesday, Biden warned he would stop supplying Israel with offensive weapons like bombs and artillery shells if Israeli forces launch an invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza where over a million civilians are sheltering.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah…I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem,” Biden said in an interview with CNN.

Biden has previously urged Israel not to open a military offensive in Rafah during a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last month, fearing it could result in large-scale civilian casualties. Netanyahu and his governing partners say Rafah is Hamas’ last major stronghold

During a Sunday interview with NBC News’ Meet The Press, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, Graham spoke about Israel’s war against Hamas as he compared it to the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan in World War II and condemned Biden’s recent stance to withhold weapons.

“When we were faced with destruction as a nation after Pearl Harbor, fighting the Germans and the Japanese, we decided to end the war by the bombing [of] Hiroshima [and] Nagasaki with nuclear weapons. That was the right decision. Give Israel the bombs they need to end the war. They can’t afford to lose,” he said.

However, host Kristen Welker pointed towards former President Ronald Reagan’s similar stance to leverage military aid to Israel during its war in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Joe Biden and Ronald Regan
President Joe Biden speaks to guests on May 8 in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. President Ronald Reagan is seen in Washington, D.C., in 1986. Following Biden stating that he would withhold certain weapons from Israel amid the…

Scott Olson and Mark Reinstein/Corbis/Getty Images

In 1982, when Israel attacked Palestinian fighters in Lebanon, Reagan ordered a halt to the shelling amid the conflict. The former president used the power of American arms several times during the conflict to influence Israeli war policy as he ordered warplanes and cluster munitions to be delayed or withheld.

“President Biden is not the first president to use armed shipments to try and influence Israel policy, as you know former President Ronald Reagan on multiple occasions withheld weapons to impact Israel’s military actions. Did President Reagan show that using U.S. military aid as leverage can actually be an effective way to rein in and impact Israel’s policy?”

In response, Graham condemned Biden calling it the “worst decision” between the two countries.

“This is the worst decision in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship to deny weapons at a time the Jewish state could be destroyed. Can I say this? Why is it OK for America to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end their existential threat war? I thought it was OK. So, Israel, do whatever you have to do to survive as a Jewish state,” the senator said.

In addition, Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, was also confronted by ABC News’ This Week host Martha Raddatz over Reagan’s stance with leveraging military aid.

“You regularly invoke former President Ronald Reagan. You heard Senator [Chris] Coons bring up the fact he paused weapons to Israel as well. You constantly ask yourself, ‘What would Ronald Reagan do?’ That’s what Ronald Reagan did,” Raddatz said.

In response, while McCaul said he was for humanitarian peace, he disagreed with Biden’s decision to withhold weapons.

“I’m all for humanitarian peace here and that can be done, but I’m not for saying, and what the president said is different. He said if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons period. I have to go by his words because you know what they are not giving us any information, the State Department, the administration have not been transparent,” McCaul said.

Newsweek has reached out to the White House via email for comment.

Meanwhile, Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, was asked on Fox News on Sunday about his reaction to Biden’s decision and Reagan’s, stating that Israel “has no choice in destroying Hamas.”

“It’s a horrible message for Israel…We have to live in reality today. Here’s what we know, the last battalion of Hamas is primarily in Rafah. Israel has no choice, but to destroy Hamas,” he said.

However, Biden’s decision comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to CBS News about a recent review from the State Department about Israel’s war conduct, which raised “serious concerns” about its actions in Gaza.

“Our assessment will be ongoing. But as I said, given the totality of what we’ve seen in terms of civilian suffering, in terms of children, women, men caught in this crossfire from officers who’ve been killed or been injured. It’s reasonable to assess that in a number of instances, Israel has not acted in a manner that’s consistent with international humanitarian law,” he said.

Newsweek has reached out to Israeli Defense ministry via email for comment.