Around 2,300 lives have been lost as of Wednesday evening in Israel and Gaza in a sequence of horrific events that began with a surprise attack by Hamas on Saturday.
The bloodshed has commanded the world’s attention.
But it has also returned focus to a recent deal between the Biden administration and Iran.
Critics say it provided a massive cash infusion to a key American adversary and may even have contributed to the Hamas attack.
Defenders say the two issues are separate and that the administration did the right thing.
Here’s what to know.
What was the deal?
The core of the controversy is a deal the Biden administration reached with Iran to secure the release of five Americans.
The outlines of that deal were announced in August, and the five Americans were freed in mid-September.
The Biden administration considered all five Americans to have been wrongfully detained.
Two of the five were not publicly identified. The others were Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi.
“Five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” President Biden said at the time.
In return, five Iranians held in the United States were also allowed to leave and — crucially — $6 billion in previously frozen Iranian assets was freed up.
The money had been in South Korea, and banks were reluctant to transfer it for fear of running afoul of sanctions.
Under the deal, the money was transferred to Doha, Qatar, where it can be used by Iran for certain approved purchases.
The deal came under criticism at the time, and it is now back in the spotlight because of Iran’s long-standing support of Hamas.
So America gave Iran $6 billion?
The $6 billion was always Iranian money. Some critics have described the money as coming from American taxpayers. It did not.
In addition, Iran is not at liberty to do whatever it pleases with the money.
Its use is supposed to be tightly limited to humanitarian purposes and the purchase of food or medicine.
Put simply, the money in Qatar functions like credit. The Iranians can place orders for humanitarian goods. Those goods will then be delivered to Iran, and the purchase price will be transferred from the accounts in Qatar to the vendor.
“The facts of this arrangement are when this money arrives in these accounts in Qatar, it will be held there under strict oversight by the United States Treasury Department and the money can only be used for humanitarian purposes,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a Sept. 12 press briefing. “We will remain vigilant in watching the spending of those funds and have the ability to freeze them again if we need to.”
Administration officials have also said none of the money has been spent yet.
For all these reasons, they push back against the accusation that the deal has facilitated Iran’s funding of Hamas or other comparable groups such as Hezbollah.
What do critics say?
In big-picture terms, there are two main criticisms — one about the money itself and the other about the ethics of the deal.
Regarding the money, opponents of the deal think the White House’s focus on the specific terms and conditions is disingenuous.
They argue that the bottom line is simple: Iran has access to $6 billion that it did not have access to three months ago.
Whether or not the specific account in Qatar is confined to humanitarian use is irrelevant, they contend. If all those funds were used tomorrow for needed medicine, for example, Tehran would have $6 billion in its regular coffers that it hadn’t had to spend. Therefore, some or all of that money would be freed up, possibly to be used for nefarious purposes.
“To think that they are not moving money around is irresponsible. … They are moving money around to threaten those they hate. They hate Israel; they hate America; they are going to continue to use this,” Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote on social media in the aftermath of Hamas’s initial attack that “Iran has helped fund this war against Israel and Joe Biden’s policies that have gone easy on Iran have helped fill their coffers.”
Former President Trump has repeatedly hit out at the deal in recent days.
“Crooked Joe Biden must take back and freeze the 6 billion dollars right now, before it is too late,” Trump wrote on Truth Social Wednesday. “How could anyone be so incompetent and stupid?”
The other argument from critics is an age-old one — namely, that doing deals for the return of American citizens incentivizes hostage-taking.
At the time the deal first emerged, former Vice President Mike Pence wrote on social media that it amounted to “the largest ransom payment in American history.”
The ethical quandary over hostages affects other nations as well as the United States — including Israel.
Back in 2011, Israel agreed to the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — including more than 200 who were serving life sentences — to secure the release of a member of the Israel Defense Forces, Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years.
But was Iran behind the Hamas attack?
It depends how you see it.
Iran’s support of Hamas is so pivotal that Tehran can fairly be seen as complicit in all the group’s activities.
In addition, a Wall Street Journal story soon after the attack reported that Iranian officials had given “the green light” for the attack at a recent meeting in Lebanon.
However, no other news organization has confirmed the Journal’s report.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration and — crucially — the Israeli government have each said they have no specific evidence so far that Iran planned the Hamas attack.
Beyond condemnation, can Republicans do anything?
They can try.
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill to refreeze the Iranian money.
The text of the bill runs to just two pages and, at its core, it simply states that the release of funds to Iran under the deal “is hereby prohibited.”
McConnell said: “The civilized world must re-impose serious consequences on the regime that aids and abets murderous evil against innocent Israelis. The United States must lead that effort by our example, and freezing Iranian assets is an important first step.”
It’s too early to gauge how much congressional support the move has, and of course a decision by the Biden administration to refreeze the funds would render the question moot.
One argument against the refreezing of the funds is that it could possibly make future hostage negotiations harder — suggesting to adversaries that the U.S. could renege on any commitments made.
Original News : https://news.yahoo.com/five-things-know-6-billion-100000223.html