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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

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


U.S.-ISRAEL MISSILE DEFENSE COOPERATION ADVANCES


There were two important milestones in U.S.- Israel missile defense cooperation this month.


On Jan. 22, the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) carried out a successful test of the Arrow-3 missile defense system in central Israel. The highly advanced system, designed to intercept ballistic missiles outside of the earth’s atmosphere, is the outermost layer of Israel’s multilayered missile defense shield.


“This successful test provides confidence in Israel’s capability to protect itself from existing threats in the region,” said MDA Director Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves. “My congratulations to the Israel Missile Defense Organization, the Israeli Air Force, our MDA team, and our industry partners. We are committed to assisting the government of Israel in upgrading its national missile defense capability against emerging threats.”


And on Jan. 9, the U.S. Army announced it will acquire two Iron Dome batteries. The Israelideveloped rocket defense system will be used by the U.S. Army to protect ground forces against threats from unmanned air vehicles, mortars, rockets, artillery and cruise missiles.


The Iron Dome purchase is the latest in a long history of Israeli technologies being acquired by the U.S. military to protect American soldiers and increase their effectiveness.


“We want to have some things in place that provide us some immediate protection,” the U.S. Army’s top procurement official, Bruce Jette, said. “So what that’s going to do is we’re going to look at things that are readily available.”


CONGRESS SPEAKS OUT ON SYRIA


Members of Congress from both parties have spoken out with concern over the announced U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. In their remarks, the members highlighted the need to challenge Iran’s military presence in Syria.


“Such a move is premature and could empower ISIS to regroup and rebuild, inspire Assad to slaughter scores of innocent Syrians, strengthen Russia in the region, and embolden Iran and its Shia proxies to fill the void we’ve left behind,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “By removing our presence in Syria, we put our ally Israel in a very dangerous situation with having to deal with a growing Iranian military presence on its border.”


“I am deeply troubled by reports that President Trump has again instructed military leaders to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, despite indications from national security leaders that the fight against ISIS is not over… The void created by our absence will almost certainly be filled by countries like Russia and Iran that do not share our interests or those of our allies in the region,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.


“The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from Syria lacks any strategy, is foolhardy, and puts U.S. security in the Middle East, including our ally the State of Israel, at great peril. This is not simply an error, it’s dangerous,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


“The decision to pull U.S. defense presence out of Syria is a big mistake. The Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG will now abandon the fight against ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Iran will step up activity in Southern Syria, which will elicit increased Israeli strikes that could lead to a new and far deadlier IsraelHezbollah war. And our adversaries will use this as evidence that America is an unreliable partner. Today’s decision will lead to grave consequences in the months and years to come,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) added.


TOP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS VISIT THE MIDDLE EAST, ISRAEL


In January, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Joseph Votel visited the Middle East, continuing the diplomatic efforts to advance U.S. interests in the region.


On Jan. 10, Secretary Pompeo traveled to the region to meet with and reassure Gulf allies in the wake of President Trump’s recent announcement on Syria. In a major policy address in Cairo, the secretary pushed back on Iran’s malign behavior in the region. “It is important to know also that we will not ease our campaign to stop Iran’s malevolent influence and actions against this region and the world. The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security, achieve economic stability, or advance the dreams of their people if Iran’s revolutionary regime persists on its current course,” he said.


During his visit to the Gulf, Secretary Pompeo announced plans for an upcoming meeting in Warsaw this February for foreign ministers from countries across Europe, the Middle East and Asia to address Iran’s destabilizing activities. Secretary Pompeo expressed his hopes that the meeting would facilitate an “enormous coalition that is prepared to assist in creating stability and peace here in the Middle East.”


That same week, National Security Advisor Bolton traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During the meeting, the two discussed the ongoing threat of Iran and enhanced bilateral cooperation between the two nations.


“We’ve got great challenges, for Israel, for the United States and the whole world. The Iran nuclear weapons program [and] the ballistic missile programs are right at the top of the list. So I’m delighted to be here, and look forward to our discussions,” Bolton said.


On Jan. 23, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi awarded the IDF Medal of Appreciation to CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel. The medal was awarded in recognition of Gen. Votel’s personal leadership in furthering the exceptional partnership between the two militaries.


Gen. Votel’s visit to Israel included discussions with IDF commanders covering several topics of mutual interest, such as the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, regional stability efforts, Operation Northern Shield and developments on the Lebanese border.


Describing Gen. Votel as a “true friend,” Lt. Gen. Kochavi said, “You established a great relationship of wonderful cooperation, many unprecedented operations have taken place during your tenure, and I stand here with all the military behind me, and I salute you.” Kochavi added, “Every time we work with [the] United States…, I remind myself that this is not something that we can or should take for granted.”


Gen. Votel responded, “It is a great honor for me to be here and receive this award today. I’m nearly speechless and overcome with very strong emotions and very strong feelings… My deep affection and respect for the IDF and the people that make up the IDF didn’t start when I became the CENTCOM Commander or the SOCOM [United States Special Operations Command] Commander; it has existed for a very long time.”


He went on to describe how Israel played a crucial role in helping the U.S. military address of threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were killing American soldiers in Iraq. “Frankly, we were unprepared to deal with that,” he said. “As I looked to try to address that for our army and for our Department of Defense, one of the key partners that I came to very early on was the IDF. And I would just say that we were supported so quickly and so thoroughly by the IDF, which shared everything that they had learnt about this particular threat with us. This allowed us to begin to move much more quickly to address this issue.”


Gen. Votel concluded: “From that point forward, it became very clear to me that this was a great partnership which we had to continue fostering at any cost.”


U.S. CONDEMNS IRAN SPACE LAUNCH


On Jan. 15, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Iran’s failed attempt to launch a space vehicle, which involves technology that could be used in intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching America.


“In continued defiance of the international community and U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, the Iranian regime fired off a space launch vehicle today. Such vehicles incorporate technologies that are virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. Today’s launch furthers Iran’s ability to eventually build such a weapon,” Pompeo said in a statement.


“We have been clear that we will not stand for Iran’s flagrant disregard for international norms. The United States is working with our allies and partners to counter the entire range of the Islamic Republic’s threats, including its missile program, which threatens Europe and the Middle East.


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