The State Department approved a substantial food aid package to the Gaza Strip days after the U.S. intelligence community circulated an assessment which warned that Hamas sought to escalate rocket attacks against Israel, according to various reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on the $75 million payment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Oct. 3, despite concerns from Republican officials that Hamas co-opts UNRWA to facilitate terrorism and radicalism, according to an Oct. 4 report by Haaretz. On Sept. 28, the U.S. intelligence community circulated an update sourced by multiple intelligence streams that indicated Hamas was preparing to ramp up missile attacks targeting Israelis, according to CNN.
The $75 million payment was intended to provide food for people in the Gaza Strip, according to an Oct. 3 Twitter post by UNRWA’s U.S. arm. However, the UNRWA has a long history of being co-opted by affiliates of Hamas and other radical anti-semitic elements operating in the Palestinian territories, despite its noble stated intentions, according to Dr. Eric R. Mandel, the director of the Middle East Political Information Network.
President Joe Biden or other key decision-makers within his administration, including Blinken, were not briefed on the classified Sept. 28 warning, according to The New York Times. The Sept. 28 intelligence communication, based in part on information provided by Israel, described potentially forthcoming rocket attacks, but it lacked other specific details regarding the increasing likelihood of some sort of Hamas attack and unusual Hamas activity, according to CNN.
The intelligence community issued a subsequent and more analytical report based upon the Sept. 28 assessment on Oct.5 , which was included in a daily CIA intelligence summary shared “widely to policymakers and lawmakers,” according to The New York Times. As with the Sept. 28 report, Biden and other key officials in the administration reportedly were not briefed on the Oct. 5 report.
On Oct. 6, the day before the attacks, intelligence officials disseminated information from Israel suggesting “unusual activity” by Hamas, according to CNN. It is unclear which officials were briefed on this information.
Republican Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, who is the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had imposed holds on the State Department from providing the funding, according to Haaretz.
“UNRWA has a long history of employing people connected to terrorist movements like Hamas, promoting anti-Semitic textbooks and using its schools to store Hamas weapons,” Risch said in February when he and several other Republican senators reintroduced the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Accountability and Transparency Act. “It is unthinkable that U.S. taxpayer dollars would be used to help fund such an organization.”
Democrats and UNRWA officials pressured the State Department to sign off on the aid package, citing the possibility that Risch’s hold on the aid could spur a humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian territories, according to Haaretz. The Biden administration was not bound by law to obey the hold, as the ability to place a hold is a privilege extended to the legislature by the executive branch, according to Haaretz.
Risch spoke out against the UNRWA again on Oct 4., the day after Blinken approved the package and just days before the Hamas assault, saying that he would continue his efforts to prevent “U.S. funds from supporting organizations like UNRWA, which promote anti-Semitism.”
The UNRWA, White House and State Department did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Nick Pope on October 15, 2023