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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

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



CONGRESS TARGETS HAMAS, HEZBOLLAH FOR USE OF HUMAN SHIELDS


On Dec. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act (H.R. 3342). This critical and timely legislation mandates new sanctions against Hamas, Hezbollah and foreign state agencies that use civilians as human shields or provide support to those doing so.


This is the first time Congress has taken legislative action against this heinous practice.


The importance of this legislation is underscored by the recent discovery of Hezbollah terror tunnels into Israel that originated under the cover of civilian houses in Lebanon. And just weeks ago—using the cover of civilian populations in Gaza—Hamas fired more than 500 rockets at communities across southern Israel.


Hamas and Hezbollah are clearly and blatantly violating international law and endangering innocents by placing their terrorist infrastructure among civilian populations. The legislation imposes sanctions on members of terrorist organizations or agents of a foreign state that the president has determined have knowingly encouraged, supported, ordered, controlled or have otherwise been complicit in any attempt to use civilians or protected property to deliberately cause casualties or shield lawful targets from attack.


In October, the Senate adopted this important bipartisan legislation. It now goes to the president for his signature.


U.S. LEADS EFFORT TO CONDEMN HAMAS AT THE UNITED NATIONS


On Dec. 6, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted on a U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas for its terrorism against Israeli citizens.


The final vote count of the UNGA resolution— the first ever condemning the Iranian-backed terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip—had 87 countries in favor and 57 nations against, with 33 countries abstaining. The measure was widely supported by members of the European Union, as well as major Latin American nations such as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.


While the resolution achieved a majority of votes, it was not adopted due to procedural maneuvering prior to the vote by Arab states led by Kuwait—which required a two-thirds majority to pass, instead of the simple majority usually required for UNGA votes.


The resolution urged countries to push Hamas to end its terrorism and other flagrant violations of international law. The resolution also reiterated the need to work toward a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.


Before the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley emphasized that while the United Nations has passed hundreds of resolutions condemning Israel, it has never passed a single resolution condemning Hamas.


CONGRESS INCLUDES PRO-ISRAEL MEASURES IN FARM BILL


On Dec. 12, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which authorizes federal farm programs over the next five years and includes key measures to enhance U.S.-Israel cooperation.


The bill reauthorizes and expands the U.S.- Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD) Fund, which since 1979 has funded U.S. and Israeli researchers who work collaboratively on early-stage agricultural research and development projects. In addition to revitalizing the historical elements of BARD, the Farm Bill enables a new program that will accelerate the development and application of BARD technologies.


By addressing and expanding BARD for the first time in decades, Congress has developed a foundation for closer bilateral cooperation in the areas of food production, security and sustainability—which are vital to the economies and security of both nations.


In addition, for the first time, the Farm Bill incentivizes the use of drip irrigation, an area in which Israeli institutions are global leaders. The widespread application of this technology, which will become a linchpin of U.S. agricultural sustainability, represents an important new area of U.S.-Israel cooperation.


This bipartisan effort was spearheaded by Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS).


U.S. STANDS WITH ISRAEL AGAINST HEZBOLLAH ATTACK TUNNELS


In the early morning of Dec. 4, Israel launched a defensive operation called Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy Hezbollah’s attack tunnels that crossed from southern Lebanon into Israel. The tunnels—dug by the Iranian backed, Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah—are designed to attack and kidnap Israelis, and originated from civilian areas in Lebanon, illustrating the terrorist group’s use of human shields.


Since Israel’s announcement of the operation, the United States has stood by Israel’s right to defend itself from this threat.


“The U.S. strongly supports Israel’s efforts to defend its sovereignty, and we call on Hezbollah to stop its tunneling into Israel and to refrain from escalation and violence,” U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in a statement.


Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that “these tunnels are dug by Lebanese Hezbollah and it would be irresponsible if Israel did not undertake this operation and protection of their own territorial integrity and their own populations. So, this is exactly the right thing to do. They are staying on their own side of the border. There is nothing provocative about it. Obviously, the problem is whoever dug the tunnels and they are engaged in basically solving that problem… So full support for the Israel operation from our view. It’s a necessary operation for the protection of innocent people.”


Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt reiterated this sentiment, stating that “we strongly support Israel’s efforts to defend itself, and we call on Hezbollah to halt all provocative behavior immediately and refrain from escalation and violence.”


State Department Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook also declared that “we condemn this activity [by Hezbollah] and support Israel in its military operations to address these tunnels.”


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stated that “Israel has the absolute right and obligation to dismantle the terror infrastructure that Hezbollah has built in preparation for infiltrating its northern border and attacking its citizens, including the attack tunnels targeted this week by Operation Northern Shield. Hezbollah has built these attack tunnels from inside homes, where they also use Lebanese civilians as human shields for their rockets and missiles, of which there are roughly 150,000 pointed at Israeli civilians.”


Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said that “Hezbollah’s attempt to infiltrate Israeli territory with tunnels is a concerning and sobering reminder that Israel’s security cannot be taken for granted. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) deserve praise for detecting these tunnels along the Israeli-Lebanese border and I support their efforts to destroy them.”


U.S. CONVENES UNSC MEETING ON HEZBOLLAH TUNNELS


On Dec. 19, at the request of the United States, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) convened a meeting to address Hezbollah’s construction of attack tunnels into Israel, which the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeping force recently reported is in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.


U.S. Mission to the U.N. Political Coordinator Rodney Hunter addressed the Security Council, expressing the United States’ support of Israel in its defense against Hezbollah’s attack tunnels. Hunter said, the “United States [takes] Hezbollah’s threats to the security of Israel... at face value” and “unconditionally affirms Israel’s right to self-defense.”


Hunter called on Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his government to “undertake all possible efforts to halt Hezbollah’s illicit tunneling into Israel and to ensure that there is no escalation of tensions or violence.”


U.S. OFFICIALS CONDEMN PALESTINIAN TERRORIST ATTACKS


This month, Palestinian terrorists carried out numerous deadly terrorist attacks across the West Bank. These attacks resulted in the death of a baby and two Israeli soldiers and more than 10 Israeli citizens wounded.


U.S. officials strongly condemned the attacks. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman wrote in a statement that “the Pal Authority maintains laws that will compensate these terrorists and their families for their heinous acts. The PA can be a political body OR a sponsor of terror, not both.”


U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt also condemned the Hamas-backed terrorist activities in the West Bank and its continued incitement to violence against Israelis. He wrote, “Hamas hails a terrorist as a martyr & heroic. He shot a group of Israelis, including a pregnant woman resulting in the death of her baby. Countries who voted to require a 2/3 majority to condemn Hamas or abstained, were absent, or voted against the resolution should be ashamed,” referencing the Dec. 6 U.N. General Assembly vote.


In March, Congress passed the bipartisan Taylor Force Act to ensure no U.S. funding would directly support the PA until it stops incentivizing terrorism by paying salaries to terrorists or their families.


CHINESE COMPANY FINED FOR FACILITATING ILLEGAL IMPORTS OF U.S. GOODS TO IRAN


On Dec. 12, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control fined Yantai Jereh Oilfield Services Group, a Chinese company found to be in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.


The violations occurred between 2014 and 2016, when the named company exported U.S.-origin equipment used for oil production to Iran.


The company has agreed to pay $2.7 million to settle the civil liability for the violations.


BIPARTISAN GROUP OF INCOMING MEMBERS OF CONGRESS VISIT ISRAEL WITH AIEF


A bipartisan delegation of six newly elected members of Congress—three Democrats and three Republicans—visited Israel during the week of Dec. 13 with the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC.


These incoming freshmen received in-depth briefings from a variety of experts. They met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and saw firsthand the security challenges facing the Jewish state, gaining a deep and well-rounded perspective of Israel and the region.


AIPAC MOURNS THE PASSING OF PRESIDENT BUSH


AIPAC mourns the passing of President George H.W. Bush—a statesman and patriot—who embodied dedication to America both in war and in peace.


President Bush played a critical role in the extraordinary effort to help rescue Ethiopian Jews and enable them to go to Israel. His administration successfully reversed the despicable “Zionism is racism” resolution at the United Nations.


President Bush was committed to finding a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a leader who was devoted to America’s security, he understood the strategic value of the U.S. relationship with Israel, and his administration was instrumental in strengthening the military cooperation between the two democratic allies.


U.S. MOURNS THE PASSING OF RONA RAMON


On Dec. 17, Rona Ramon, widow of Israel’s pioneer astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the fatal 2003 Columbia space shuttle mission, and the mother of IAF pilot Assaf Ramon, who at age 21 was killed in a training accident, passed away at age 54 from cancer.


After the death of her husband and son, Rona established the Ramon Foundation, which motivates young Israelis to strive for academic success and to pursue their dreams.


Following her passing, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine released the following statement: “NASA is deeply saddened by the passing of Rona Ramon, and we send our heartfelt condolences to her family and the people of Israel. Rona’s courage and inspiration in the face of tragedy have helped inspire a new generation to build on the legacy of her husband, space shuttle astronaut Ilan Ramon.”


“Throughout her life, she remained a friend of those who would pioneer space, encouraging worldwide dialogue through the Ilan Ramon Symposium, and a deeper awareness of the challenges and bravery of our astronauts,” he added. “Through the Ramon Foundation, that work will continue to encourage the leaders of tomorrow to take up the mantle of exploration and inquiry. We stand on the shoulders of Rona and Ilan as we continue to reach for the heavens.”


U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stated, “I am heartbroken to learn of the untimely passing of Rona Ramon, an incredible woman who I had the honor to know and from whom I have learned much.”


In Tel Aviv, thousands of people attended her funeral at the Peres Innovation Center in Tel Aviv.


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