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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: Summer 2019

U.S. Increases Sanctions on Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas

As part of a growing effort to push back on Iran’s malign activities, over the last month the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on individuals and entities supporting Iran and its terrorist proxies Hezbollah and Hamas.

On Aug. 28, OFAC sanctioned two procurement networks that were providing financial support to Iran’s missile proliferation programs. In coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), OFAC targeted these networks for supporting various Iranian military organizations.

The following day, Aug. 29, OFAC sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank, a Lebanon-based financial institution that was intentionally facilitating banking activities for Hezbollah. As the first major action by the United States against a Lebanese bank since 2011, OFAC exercised the authority granted by the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018 (S.1595) to sanction the bank.

That same day, OFAC, with the Sultanate of Oman, designated financial facilitators responsible for moving tens of millions of dollars between the Islamic Revolutionary Guards-Qud’s Force (IRGC-QF) and Hamas. Muhammad Sarur, Kamal Abdelrahman Aref Awad, Fawaz Mahmud Ali Nasser and Muhammad Kamal al-Ayy were all sanctioned for providing support to the terrorist group Hamas—specifically for providing significant help in transporting goods and finances between the Iranian regime and Hamas, as well as to terrorists in the West Bank.

According to Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker, “these facilitators funneled tens of millions of dollars from Iran’s Quds Force through Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas for terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ continued violent campaign against innocent civilians and the State of Israel is to the great detriment of the people in Gaza.”

In September, the sanctions continued. On Sept. 3, the State Department imposed sanctions against Iran's space program following a failed attempt to launch a rocket, which the U.S. suspects was an effort to advance the regime's ballistic missile program. And the next day, on Sept. 4, OFAC took action against a large shipping network that is directed by and financially supports the IRGC-QF. The Iranian petroleum shipping network moved hundreds of millions of dollars to the Assad regime and Hezbollah.

A week later, on Sept. 10, OFAC imposed sanctions on a series of 15 leaders, facilitators and entities affiliated with terrorist groups. The Treasury targeted groups including entities affiliated with Hamas, ISIS, al-Qaida and the IRGC-QF.

U.S. Stands with Israel’s Right to Defend Itself Against Hezbollah

On Sept. 1, Hezbollah launched several anti-tank guided missiles at Israel, hitting an Israeli military base and destroying a military vehicle that was being used as an ambulance.

In response, Israel fired artillery shells at the Hezbollah squad in southern Lebanon that launched the missile attack.

On Sept. 5, the United States prevented the U.N. Security Council from issuing a biased, anti-Israel statement in response to the cross-border fire. The initial draft of the French-proposed Council statement failed to even mention Hezbollah and created a “moral equivalence” between Israel and the Iranian-backed terrorist organization.

Senate Appropriations Committee Advances Spending Bills on Defense, Water and Energy

On Sept. 12, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed out of committee the annual spending bills for defense and energy and water appropriations.

The defense bill includes full funding for key programs including $500 million for U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense. The $500 million represents the agreed upon missile defense portion of the 10-year MOU signed in 2016.

The energy and water bill includes $2 million in funding for BIRD-Energy—a binational center that promotes U.S.-Israel energy cooperation—as well as $4 million for the U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy, Engineering and Water Technology, as authorized by the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act.

Israel, U.S. Successfully Test Arrow-3 Missile Defense System

In July, the United States and Israel completed a series of successful tests of the advanced Arrow-3 missile defense system in Kodiak, Alaska. Jointly developed and procured by the U.S. and Israel, Arrow-3 is designed to intercept ballistic missiles outside the earth’s atmosphere.

Over the course of the 10-day test, Arrow-3 intercepted three mock missiles in hit-to-kill strikes. Arrow-3 is an integral piece of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense system, which also includes Iron Dome for short-range interceptions and David’s Sling for medium-range interceptions.

Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, called the test “another milestone in the development of the Arrow weapon system.”

“This is an extraordinary operational and technological achievement for the State of Israel,” said Vice Adm. Hill, stressing his agency's commitment to help Israel “upgrade its national missile defense capabilities in order to protect itself and American forces deployed in the area from rising threats.”

Israel Hosts Multi-National Earthquake Drill

In August, the United States, Greece and France joined Israel for the four-day Mighty Waves disaster response exercise. Other countries, including Cyprus, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Britain and Chile, as well as NATO, observed the emergency preparedness drill.

“Israel has to prepare for an earthquake. Statistically it occurs every 100 years and this is the right time to prepare and carry out such a drill,” said Israel Navy Maj. Amichai Rahamim, a key figure in the joint exercise.

The drill garnered hundreds of troops on six ships at sea and focused on the after-effects of a significant 7.5 magnitude earthquake that leaves thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

“After an earthquake, we will need to bring humanitarian aid to Israel and we know that Israel, which has many allies, will need them to come help,” said Maj. Rahamim.

IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Norkin Awarded the Legion of Merit

In September, Israeli Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin was awarded The Legion of Merit for his “exemplary leadership and vision” that “significantly enhanced the cooperation and partnership between the United States and Israel.” The Legion of Merit is the highest U.S. award given to foreign military officers.

While in Washington, Norkin held strategic dialogue with senior U.S. Air Force officers and presented a strategic overview addressing recent events in the Middle East and challenges facing the IDF.

“Today the cooperation between the Israeli Air Force and the U.S. Air Force is at an unprecedented point in terms of depth and operational relevance,” Norkin said.

While presenting the award, U.S. Air Force Commander Gen. David Goldfein said, “The U.S. Air Force brings with it a multitude of operational capabilities, while the Israeli Air Force brings speed, flexibility and operational experience. Combining forces leads to better security of both countries.”

House Passes Three Key Pro-Israel Measures Including Anti-BDS and Security Assistance Authorization

On July 23, the House of Representatives passed three important pieces of bipartisan legislation that will help keep Israel safe, strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance, and combat the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

1. Opposing the BDS campaign against Israel

In an overwhelming declaration of bipartisan support for Israel, 92% of the House—398 members of Congress—supported a resolution (H.Res. 246) to condemn the BDS campaign as anti-Israel, anti-peace and damaging to American interests.

2. Ensuring Israel has the resources to defend itself

The House passed the U.S.-Israel Cooperation Enhancement and Regional Security Act (H.R. 1837). By authorizing increased aid to Israel and approving an additional $55 million for cooperative programs between the two nations, this bipartisan measure expands and deepens security and economic cooperation between the two allies.

3. Sanctioning supporters of Palestinian terror

The House passed the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act (H.R. 1850), which imposes sanctions on those who support Palestinian terrorist groups—including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These groups, backed by Iran, have fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians in recent years.

Type: Near East Report Near-East-Report NERSummer2019