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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

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



HOUSE ADOPTS IMPORTANT ISRAEL SECURITY ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION


On Sept. 12, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (S. 2497). The legislation seeks to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself, by itself, against growing threats—most significantly Iran’s presence on its northern border. The bipartisan bill authorizes agreed-upon increases in Israel’s security assistance as called for in the 2016 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding. The legislation also expands U.S. weapons stockpiles in Israel and authorizes U.S.- Israel cooperation in anti-drone technologies and space.


The legislation passed the Senate on Aug. 1. The two different versions of the bill will need to be reconciled before going to the president for his signature.


This bill was made possible by the leadership of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), along with the authors of the bill, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE).


UNITED STATES ANNOUNCES CLOSURE OF PLO OFFICE IN WASHINGTON


On Sept. 10, the United States announced that it was shutting down the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, D.C., in accordance with U.S. law.


The United States “will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” National Security Advisor John Bolton said in a speech to the Federalist Society.


The following day, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that while the U.S. government allowed the PLO offices to remain open beyond delineated periods in previous legislation, the activities being conducted in the office “were not advancing the cause of peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.


The move is in accordance with the American Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 and recent appropriations legislation. The law requires the closure of the PLO office if the Palestinians initiate action against Israel at the International Criminal Court and are not engaged in direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.


SENATE PASSES U.S.-ISRAEL MISSILE DEFENSE FUNDING


On Sept. 19, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations conference report, including key provisions to help Israel address critical security challenges.


The spending bill contains a total of $500 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation, in accordance with the 2016 U.S.- Israel Memorandum of Understanding on security assistance. These funds will support both research and development for and procurement of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 cooperative missile defense systems—important programs that help Israel defend its citizens against rockets and missiles while also advancing America’s own missile defense capabilities.


This legislation also includes a total of $47.5 million for critical U.S.-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation. This funding will enable America and Israel to continue their joint efforts to defeat the threat posed by terrorist organizations like Hamas and similar threats America faces in the Middle East and beyond. The House is expected to vote on the report by the end of the month.


CONGRESS APPROPRIATES FUNDING FOR BIRD FOUNDATION AND U.S.-ISRAEL CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE IN ENERGY, ENGINEERING AND WATER TECHNOLOGY


During the week of Sept. 10, both the House and Senate passed appropriations legislation to fund the Department of Energy in fiscal year 2019. Included within the legislation’s international affairs account was $2 million for the IsraelU.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation as well as $4 million for the U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy, Engineering and Water Technology. Both programs advance technological innovation in various fields sought by Israeli and American partnerships. The bill will now head to the president’s desk to be signed into law.


The funding for these programs was made possible by the leadership of Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as Reps. Steve Scalise (RLA), Jamie Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA).


CONGRESS PASSES ANTI-TERRORISM CLARIFICATION ACT OF 2018


On Sept. 13, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018.


Introduced in the House by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (RVA) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the legislation makes it easier for victims of Palestinian terrorism to sue, and collect judgments against, those responsible for terrorist attacks.


The bipartisan bill passed the Senate on Aug. 22, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA). The legislation was cosponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Christopher Coons (D-DE) and John Cornyn (R-TX).


“Over twenty-five years ago, I led the Senate’s effort to pass the Antiterrorism Act to improve justice for Americans victimized by acts of terrorism abroad. Congress’ intent was clear: U.S. victims of international terrorism should be able to seek justice in U.S. courts against those responsible, no matter where the attacks occurred. But recent flawed court decisions have undermined the law’s purpose. Our bill is a carefully balanced approach to better ensure victims’ access to compensation and to hold supporters of terrorism accountable,” Sen. Grassley said.


“Victims of terrorism and their families have waged courageous legal campaigns to hold terrorists accountable for their atrocities, only to be thwarted by legal loopholes. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that terrorist defendants cannot hide from American justice,” Sen. Blumenthal added. The bill now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.

U.S., ISRAEL TO SET UP JOINT SANCTIONS TEAM ON IRAN


On Aug. 28, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon met in Washington, D.C., to find ways that the two countries could cooperate on economic matters. Mnuchin and Kahlon discussed U.S. sanctions on Iran and privatesector development projects between Israel, the Palestinians and the United States.


During the meeting, the pair agreed to set up a joint team for the enforcement of economic sanctions against Iran. The United States reimposed an initial round of sanctions on Iran in August, with a second round of harsher sanctions planned for November.


Kahlon emphasized that “the sanctions on Iran contribute to removing a threat to Israel’s security and to the security of the entire free world.”


U.S. SANCTIONS THAI COMPANY LINKED TO IRAN’S MAHAN AIR


On Sept. 14, the United States sanctioned a Thailand-based aviation company for working with Iran’s Mahan Air, which was designated in 2011 for supporting Iran’s terrorist activities. This action is part of a larger U.S. attempt to target Mahan Air, which is used by Tehran to transport weapons and military personnel to support the brutal Assad regime in Syria, contributing to the mass atrocities committed by the regime. According to a U.S. Treasury Department statement announcing the sanctions, the Iran airline operates at least three flights to Syria weekly, as well as additional flights throughout the year, totaling more than 170 flights since September 2017.


“Mahan Air continues to fly into Syria every week, even as millions of innocent civilians in Idlib province are under threat of imminent attack from the murderous Assad regime and its backers in Iran and Russia,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “This Thailandbased company has disregarded numerous U.S. warnings, issued publicly and delivered bilaterally to the Thai government, to sever ties with Mahan Air.”


Based in Bangkok, My Aviation Company is being designated for acting for or on behalf of Mahan Air. For example, the Thai-based company works with local freight forwarding entities to ship cargo aboard Mahan Air flights to Tehran and has helped with passenger booking and other services.


“Today’s actions demonstrate the U.S. Government’s continued commitment to enforcing existing sanctions and to targeting those that provide support to terrorism,” the Treasury Department added. “As a reminder, due to President Trump’s May 8, 2018 decision to cease the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), following the 180-day wind-down period ending on November 4, 2018, all U.S. nuclearrelated sanctions that had been lifted under the JCPOA will be re-imposed and in full effect.”


U.S. OFFICIALS MOURN THE MURDER OF AN AMERICAN CITIZEN


American officials mourned the death of dual American-Israeli citizen Ari Fuld, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank on Sept. 16.


U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that Fuld “represented the best of both countries.”


“America grieves as one of its citizens was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist,” Friedman said on social media. “Ari Fuld was a passionate defender of Israel and an American patriot. He represented the best of both countries and will be deeply missed. May his family be comforted & his memory be blessed.”


Echoing Friedman’s sentiments, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt said, “Words cannot express our feeling of loss as an American-Israeli, Ari Fuld, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist. In Ari’s last breaths, he heroically immobilized the terrorist, saving many other lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ari’s family & his loved ones.”


Members of Congress from both parties also sent their condolences.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote, “Please pray today for the family of Ari Fuld, a citizen of the U.S. & #Israel who was mortally stabbed by a terrorist. As he was dying he was able to incapacitate his killer thereby saving the life of other innocent civilians. May his memory be a blessing.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) added, “Mortally wounded, Ari Fuld heroically pursued the Palestinian terrorist who took his life, ensuring he didn’t harm others. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”


Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) also added, “Saddened and outraged by the news of the deadly terror attack in Israel. My thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of Ari Fuld. I have been contacted by many members of our South Florida community who remember Ari as a passionate defender of Israel. This despicable act against an American citizen must be unequivocally condemned.


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