June 18, 2024

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is calling for an investigation into the release of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds in the United States’s prisoner swap with Iran last month, following the recent attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas against Israel.

Scott, who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said he will urge committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to invite Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to sit for testimony on the $6 billion transfer and any sanction gaps the U.S. may have with Iran.

Last month, the Biden administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds in exchange for the freedom of five wrongfully detained American citizens.

In doing so, the Biden administration granted clemency to five Iranians and issued a blanket waiver for international banks to allow the transfer of $6 billion of Iranian oil sale proceeds, frozen in South Korea, to a bank in Qatar.

The deal drew criticism at the time from some Republican lawmakers, who argued the move would free up resources for Iran’s military spending and support of terrorism.

The $6 billion transfer came under renewed scrutiny over the weekend after Hamas, a militant group backed by Iran, launched a multi-pronged attack against Israel, invading multiple Israeli towns by land, sea and air that left hundreds dead and thousands more wounded.

“In the face of evil, we must use every tool, weapon, and economic sanction available to provide for our nation’s security and the security of Israel,” Scott wrote Tuesday in a statement.

Scott, who is also running in the Republican presidential primary race, said the Senate should also investigate what led the Biden administration to allow the transfer and “how it could expect Iran to not use that money to continue to fuel terrorism.”

“The American people and Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, deserve transparency and answers,” Scott said. “We should be signaling strength – not leniency – when it comes to Iran.”

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back against suggestions that the Biden administration’s deal may have contributed to Hamas’s recent attacks, claiming the $6 billion in frozen funds have remained unspent.

U.S. officials said the funds were to be used only for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.

Pressed over whether Iran used other funds to support the attacks in anticipation of the funds being unfrozen, Blinken emphasized the funds’ humanitarian purposes while noting, “Iran has, unfortunately, always used and focused its funds on supporting terrorism, on supporting groups like Hamas.”

Questions remain over Iran’s exact role in Hamas’s attacks.

U.S. deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer said on Monday that Iran was “broadly complicit” in the Hamas attacks, pointing to the country’s efforts to train and provide the group with arms.

Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official on Monday told The Associated Press that only about a half dozen Hamas commanders in Gaza were aware of the planned incursion and denied reports that Iranian security officials helped plan the attack or approved the incursion at a meeting last week in Beirut.

Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’s exiled leadership, told the AP that Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah “will join the battle if Gaza is subjected to a war of annihilation,” while noting Hamas has produced its own rockets and trained its own members since the 2014 Gaza war.

Scott has been a longtime proponent of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Earlier this year, he, along with a bipartisan group of senators, introduced the Solidify Iran Sanctions Act (SISA), which would make permanent the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, which limits funding for Iran’s energy sector.

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