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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News From the Hill and Beyond



CONGRESS PASSES FUNDING BILL TO INCREASE AID TO ISRAEL BY $200 MILLION


On Feb. 14, Congress strongly supported Israeli security and strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship in provisions included in the new spending bill.


Importantly, the legislation increases security assistance to Israel by $200 million to fully fund the first year of the 2016 10-year U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the largest amount of aid ever provided to Israel. These funds help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge in the region in order to defend itself, by itself, from mounting threats on its borders.


The measure also contains provisions to help Israel should it confront a security emergency. A key provision extends by two years the U.S. Defense Department’s authority to stockpile weapons in Israel. House report language also supports using the Strategic Defense Acquisition Fund “to transfer precision guided munitions” to Israeli reserve stocks. The bill also extends U.S. loan guarantees for five years should Israel face an economic emergency.


Congress continued its battle against antiIsrael bias at the United Nations. The omnibus measure permits the president to withhold five percent of U.S. funding to any U.N. specialized agency that acts against the national security interest of the U.S. or an ally of the U.S., including Israel.


The bill also funds and expands the scope of a U.S.-Israel Homeland Security cooperation program authorized by the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. This new funding enables program expansion into the areas of cybersecurity, border security, maritime security, biometrics and video analytics.


SENATE ADOPTS IMPORTANT PRO-ISRAEL LEGISLATION


On Feb. 5, the U.S. Senate adopted by a vote of 77-23 the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act (S.1), which contains critical pro-Israel provisions. These provisions— contained in one of the first major bipartisan bills adopted by the Senate this year—pledge security assistance to Israel and clarify that state and local governments have the right to counter boycotts of Israel.


Importantly, this measure includes the United States-Israel Security Authorization Assistance Act of 2019, which authorizes agreed-upon increases in Israel’s security assistance as called for in the 2016 MOU. It further encourages expanding U.S. weapons stockpiles in Israel and advancing U.S.-Israel cooperation in anti-drone technologies and space.


Another provision, the Combating BDS Act of 2019, clearly establishes that efforts by state and local governments to divest from, or bar contracting with, entities engaged in commercial- or investment-related boycotts of Israel do not conflict with federal law. This legislation mirrors a provision in current federal law that protects states directing divestment from companies invested in Iran’s energy sector. The legislation has no impact on the right of Americans to personally boycott Israel or oppose Israeli policies. The bill’s scope is limited to commercial activities between companies and state and local governments.


The legislation also contains the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which directs sanctions against human rights violations by the Assad regime in Syria. The House of Representatives has previously adopted this provision as separate legislation. Further, the legislation reauthorizes the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015.


HOUSE CONDEMNS ANTI-SEMITISM, BOYCOTTS OF ISRAEL


On Feb. 13, the House of Representatives overwhelming adopted in a 424-0 vote a provision condemning anti-Semitism and boycotts of Israel.


“Because it is important to the national security interest of the United States to maintain strong bipartisan support for Israel, the only democracy in the middle east, all attempts to delegitimize and deny Israel’s right to exist must be denounced and rejected,” the provision stated.


“It is in the national security interest of the United States to oppose restrictive trade practices or boycotts fostered or imposed by any foreign country against other countries friendly to the United States or against any United States person,” the provision added.


These provisions were adopted as part of a procedural motion to recommit offered by Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) to an unrelated measure.


U.S. ARMY TO PURCHASE ISRAEL’S IRON DOME MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM


On Feb. 6, the U.S. Department of Defense and Israel’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the U.S. Army will purchase the Israeli-designed Iron Dome missile defense system to protect U.S. service members deployed abroad.


The Army intends to use the system to fill an immediate need, while leaving open the option for future large-scale acquisition. Performing at close to a 90 percent success rate, Iron Dome successfully intercepts most short-range rockets that would otherwise strike populated areas, by shooting down incoming projectiles midair.


Noting the system’s proven effectiveness, the Army’s statement said, “Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats.”


WORLDWIDE THREAT REPORT INDICTS IRAN


On Jan. 29, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats released the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of 2019 and testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report highlights Iran’s continued regional aggression and malign behavior in the Middle East.


At the committee hearing, Director Coats stated, “Iran’s regional ambitions and improved military capabilities almost certainly will threaten U.S. interests in the coming year, driven by Tehran’s perception of increasing U.S., Saudi, and Israeli hostility, as well as continuing border insecurity, and the influence of hardliners.”


He added: “Iran’s ballistic missile programs, which include the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, continue to pose a threat to countries across the Middle East.”


U.S. GOVERNMENT REPORT INDICATES CONTINUED INCITEMENT IN PALESTINIAN TEXTBOOKS


On Feb. 7, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) finally released a 2018 report on the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate being taught to Palestinian students in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).


The GAO report cites “material that ignores Israeli narratives, includes militaristic and adversarial imagery, and preaches the values of resistance.” The report additionally notes that the State Department had not taken the proper steps to verify efforts to reduce materials inciting Palestinian students against Israel in recent years.


In response to the report, the State Department released a statement saying that it must “take additional steps to ensure that its reporting to Congress is accurate.”


JUNIPER FALCON BRINGS TOGETHER U.S. AND ISRAELI MILITARIES


From Feb. 7-14, approximately 300 U.S. service members and 400 Israeli soldiers from the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and the U.S. European Command participated in the Juniper Falcon military exercise.


The bilateral exercise is part of an agreement between the U.S. and Israel meant to preserve and improve strategic cooperation between the countries and militaries.


This year’s exercise focused on simulating the deployment of U.S. forces in Israel to assist with missile defense. According to the IAF, the objective of Juniper Falcon is to preserve and improve the strategic cooperation between the two countries and militaries.


Exercise Directorate Head Col. (Res) Erez Elimelech said, “In the past, we would train alongside the U.S. Forces once every two years, but now we do it every year. The forces’ arrival in Israel from Europe and their deployment here is a very significant stage of the complex process, which includes multiple logistical intricacies, especially seeing as the activity occurs during wartime.”


U.S.-ISRAEL JOINT POLITICAL MILITARY GROUP (JPMG) CONVENES IN ISRAEL


In late February, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson traveled to Israel for this year’s U.S.-Israel Joint Political Military Group (JPMG) meeting with Israel’s Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.


This year’s topics included political-military issues such as regional security, arms control and nonproliferation policy, missile defense cooperation, and export control matters. The Under Secretary, in addition, met with senior government officials and received briefings on how the Israeli government is addressing its security challenges.


The JPMG, originally established in 1983, is a biannual forum for both countries to discuss and implement joint cooperative efforts such as combined planning, joint exercises and logistics. The JPMG also discusses current political military issues of mutual strategic concern. The meeting’s location alternates between Israel and Washington.


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