A bipartisan delegation of 10 U.S. senators returned Tuesday from a “heartbreaking” trip to Israel with a call that the United States work to deter Iran from broadening an ongoing war between Hamas and Israel, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
During a virtual press conference, Blumenthal described as “heartbreaking,” “sobering,” and “inspiring” his recent trip to the region, which included stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He traveled to the war-torn area with a group of five Democrats and five Republicans.
Blumenthal said the group planned to stress to President Joe Biden’s administration the importance of ratcheting up pressure on Iran, which they worried may escalate the war through the militant group Hezbollah.
“We also emphasized [to Israeli leaders] that the United States will do everything possible to deter Iran, which is the principal cause of this most recent conflagration,” Blumenthal said. “It gave the green light to Hamas and there is no question that Hamas would not exist without Iran. So we come back to the United States with a strong message to the administration that everything must be done to deter Iran and its proxy Hezbollah from starting a second front on the north of Israel in Lebanon.”
Israel has been at war with Hamas since the Palestinian militant group carried out a series of deadly attacks in Israel, killing more than 1,400 people, beginning during a Jewish holiday on Oct. 7. Since then, Israel has responded with days of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which a Hamas-run health agency estimates has killed more than 5,700 Palestinians, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. senators’ call to deter Iran comes just days after that country’s foreign minister warned that the conflict could broaden “out of control” if strikes on Gaza continue, according to BBC News.
Blumenthal said the U.S. had already sent considerable military assets, including two aircraft carriers, to the region, but he hoped more would be done to prevent any escalation.
“The United States has a vital role to play in stopping the widening of this war,” Blumenthal said. “I can’t repeat it often enough: peace and stability in the region depends on deterring Iran from widening the war.”
Blumenthal praised an Israeli decision to delay an expected ground offensive in Gaza, which he said would help further negotiations for the release of hundreds of Israeli hostages including some Americans. He said the delay should also help ensure that needed humanitarian aid is delivered in Gaza.
“The target is the Hamas leadership. The war is against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people,” Blumenthal said. “More humanitarian aid must be provided.”
The group of senators who accompanied Blumenthal to the region included Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Katie Britt, R-AL, Ben Cardin, D-MD, Susan Collins,R-ME, Chris Coons, D-DE, Lindsay Graham, R-SC, Jack Reed, D-RI, Dan Sullivan, R-AK, and John Thune, R-SD.
Blumenthal said he was struck by the level of unity the bipartisan group of legislators showed on the trip. He said many of the lawmakers were brought to tears by the experiences of people whose family members had been taken hostage by Hamas.
“On a very personal level, I have never seen colleagues so deeply moved and inspired at any time in my years in the Senate,” he said. “We delivered a powerful, forceful and unified message of solidarity with Israel.”