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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

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



TREASURY DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS NEW INDIVIDUALS, ENTITIES FOR FUNDING IRAN TERROR PROXIES


On May 15, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Offi ce of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned four new individuals and an entity, responsible for moving millions of dollars on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGCQF) to the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah (which is also spelled “Hizballah”).


Those sanctioned include the Governor and a senior offi cial of the Central Bank of Iran, an Iraq-based bank and its chairman, as well as a key Hezbollah official.


“Iran’s Central Bank Governor covertly funneled millions of dollars on behalf of the IRGC-QF through Iraq-based al-Bilad Islamic Bank to enrich and support the violent and radical agenda of Hizballah,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran’s senior-most banking offi cial would conspire with the IRGCQF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hizballah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor.”


“The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international fi nancial system. The global community must remain vigilant against Iran’s deceptive eff orts to provide fi nancial support to its terrorist proxies,” Mnuchin added.


Less than a week earlier, on May 10, OFAC designated sanctions against six individuals and three entities for providing millions of dollars to the IRGC-QF. In this case, the Treasury Department worked in partnership with the United Arab Emirates—where these companies were located—to stop these entities from continuing to funnel money to Iran and its terror proxies.


The IRGC-QF is the primary government agency responsible for planning and executing Iran’s regional terrorism and other malign activities, on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader.


U.S. OFFICIALS WELCOME NEW EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM


On May 14, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, U.S. officials from across the political spectrum lauded the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.


“The U.S. officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem, Israel—a move that fulfills one of President Trump’s signature campaign promises. The Administration has also formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” the White House announced on social media.


Led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the American delegation to the embassy opening in Jerusalem included U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt. During the ceremony, the administration officials praised the historic nature of the move.


Congress has long supported U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the U.S. embassy there. In 1995, Congress overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan Jerusalem Embassy Act, which called for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.


Members of Congress from both parties praised the May 14 relocation.


“Today, more than five decades after the reunification of Jerusalem, this holy city will be home to our embassy. This is concrete affirmation of America’s commitment to the Jewish state and her people. America stands with Israel in recognizing Jerusalem as its eternal capital,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI).


“In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem. Every nation should have the right to choose its capital,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.”


House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) added, “On this important anniversary, it’s fitting that the U.S. finally open an embassy in Israel’s self-determined capital. A bipartisan majority in Congress has been calling for this important action since the 1990.”


“I welcome the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. This move is long overdue, and I look forward to visiting,” said House Foreign Aff airs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY). “Jerusalem remains a holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and the location of the American embassy does not diminish those sacred connections.”


U.S. OFFICIALS STAND WITH ISRAEL AGAINST IRANIAN AGGRESSION


U.S. officials from across the political spectrum spoke out unequivocally in support of Israel’s right to self-defense after it responded to direct Iranian military aggression on May 9.


Late that night, Iranian forces in Syria launched a barrage of 20 missiles into the north of Israel. An Israeli military spokesman said the attack was carried out by Iran’s Quds Force, a special forces branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). This incident marks the first time Iranian forces have ever fired directly at Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that at least some of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.


In response to the Iranian attack, the IDF struck dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria. By the next morning, Israel had destroyed much of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, according to Israel’s defense minister.


Many members of Congress and administration officials issued statements defending the legitimacy of Israel’s actions and condemning Iran’s aggression against America’s foremost ally in the region.


A White House statement said: “The United States condemns the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens, and we strongly support Israel’s right to act in self-defense.”


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) wrote, “Iran’s aggression inside Israeli territory merited a forceful response. These actions demonstrated Iran’s dangerous behavior & capability have expanded signifi cantly. This is evidence that we must maintain a robust presence in the region to counter & roll back Iranian aggression.”


House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) added that Israel “has every right to defend itself against attacks from across its borders, & its actions were justified. U.S. policy must be that any political settlement to the Syrian civil war must not ensconce Iranian forces or allow access to Israel’s border.”


These are only a select few of the members of Congress and administration officials who similarly spoke out on this important issue. U.S.


OFFICIALS RESPOND TO NEW INTELLIGENCE ON IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM


On April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a major address on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In an internationally televised presentation, he revealed that Israel had obtained 55,000 pages and 183 CDs that documented Iran’s work on its nuclear program.


Shortly after Netanyahu’s address, the White House released a press statement: “This information provides new and compelling details about Iran’s efforts to develop missile deliverable nuclear weapons. These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people. The Iranian regime has shown it will use destructive weapons against its neighbors and others. Iran must never have nuclear weapons.”


Echoing the White House statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also addressed Israel’s new intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.


“For many years, the Iranian regime has insisted to the world that its nuclear program was peaceful,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The documents obtained by Israel from inside of Iran show beyond any doubt that the Iranian regime was not telling the truth…Now that the world knows Iran has lied and is still lying, it is time to revisit the question of whether Iran can be trusted to enrich or control any nuclear material.”


NEW SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO TRAVELS TO ISRAEL ON FIRST DIPLOMATIC MISSION


Following his Senate confi rmation on April 26, newly-confi rmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on his fi rst diplomatic trip to Europe and the Middle East, meeting top offi cials in Brussels, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.


During his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary Pompeo discussed the United States’ commitment to addressing Israel’s concerns about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as well as pushing back against Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.


During Secretary Pompeo’s nomination hearing, he reaffirmed his commitment to diplomacy in dealing with Iran.


“That is an active policy discussion around all of these issues about how this will proceed in the next 30 days, and the days thereafter,” said Secretary Pompeo. “The objective is very clear. The objective is to fix the shortcomings of the Iran deal, that will true on May 11th. May 12th. May 13th…Even after May 12th there is still much diplomatic work to be done.”


HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE APPROVES U.S.-ISRAEL SECURITY ASSISTANCE BILL


On May 9, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5141).


Authored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (RFL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL), this bipartisan bill seeks to ensure Israel has the means necessary to defend itself, by itself, against a range of growing and emerging threats.

Specifically, this legislation supports full funding of security assistance to Israel as outlined in the 2016 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding on security assistance.


“Iran’s brazen antagonism and aggression toward Israel have taken an alarming turn for the worse. This rogue regime is attempting to encircle the democratic Jewish State and provoke a direct confrontation,” Rep. RosLehtinen said following the committee’s approval. “Our bill provides Israel with at least some peace of mind, knowing that the United States will continue to stand beside the Jewish State and that we will continue to seek ways to strengthen our bilateral relationship. I thank my colleagues for supporting this important bill and it is my hope the Senate can take action on this measure so we can get it to the President’s desk as soon as possible.”


The legislation also encourages the expansion of U.S. weapons stockpiles in Israel and new U.S.-Israel cooperation in anti-drone technologies, cybersecurity and space.


The bill now awaits action in the full House.


BIPARTISAN GROUP OF SENATORS URGE ROBUST INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS BUDGET


On April 30, a bipartisan group of 42 U.S. senators urged the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to include “robust funding for the Fiscal Year 2019 International Affairs Budget.”


Spearheaded by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Todd Young (R-IN), the bipartisan letter argues that a strong international affairs budget is critical for promoting U.S. interests.


“This budget funds strategic tools that are essential to protecting our national security, building economic prosperity, alleviating humanitarian crises, supporting democratic principles, and demonstrating American values,” the senators wrote. “At a time when we face multiple national security challenges around the world, we continue to believe that deep cuts to the International Aff airs Budget would be misguided and even dangerous.”


HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES THE IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS AND HOSTAGE TAKING ACCOUNTABILITY ACT


On April 26, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed (410-2) the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act (H.R. 4744). This bipartisan legislation— authored by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) with broad bipartisan co-sponsorship—would require the president to impose sanctions on Iranians engaged in human rights abuses and hostage-taking activities.


During debate on the bill, Rep. McCaul reminded the House that, “Today, there are more than six American citizens and permanent U.S. residents held by the Iranian regime in a shameful attempt to use innocent human lives as political bargaining chips.”


Rep. Deutch followed by explaining the purpose of the legislation: “The Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act sends a clear message to the Iranian regime and to the rest of the world: This Congress, this country will not tolerate the flagrant disregard of the most basic of human rights.”


The Senate version of the legislation—authored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ)—has been referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, where it awaits consideration.


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT PASSES SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE


On May 9, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 in a 60-1 vote. The bill authorizes a total of $708.1 billion.


In accordance with the 2016 U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding (MOU), the NDAA included full funding for U.S.-Israel missile defense programs at $500 million. It also includes $47.5 million for U.S.-Israel antitunnel cooperation.


The NDAA also includes several new provisions. The bill authorizes the establishment of a cooperative research and development program with Israel to develop capabilities for countering unmanned aerial systems. Additionally, the NDAA authorizes $30 million to assess the possibility of incorporating Iron Dome into the U.S. Army as an additional method of short-range air defense.


The bill also seeks to counter Iran’s malign activities. The bill calls on the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a strategy with foreign partners to counter the destabilizing activities of Iran. The Secretary is further required to submit an assessment of the extent to which Iran is complying with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.


HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said, “This defense bill, which is once again the product of strong bipartisan work, takes the crucial next steps to rebuilding our military and reforming the Pentagon. Both are essential to helping our troops prepare and respond to the complex security challenges we are facing around the world.”


SENIOR U.S., ISRAELI DEFENSE OFFICIALS CONDUCT BILATERAL TALKS


U.S. and Israeli senior defense officials conducted a series of bilateral meetings in late April aimed at bolstering military cooperation.


On April 24, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman traveled to the United States to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and newly-appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton. Their meetings focused on Iran, Syria and U.S.-Israel cooperation in the Middle East.


A day earlier, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel arrived in Israel to meet with senior Israeli officials regarding Syria and Iran. During his visit, the commander of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Central Command (CENTOM) met with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and other senior Israeli defense officials.


As the leader of CENTCOM, Gen. Votel oversees U.S. military operations across the Middle East. Votel has previously criticized Iran’s behavior. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world,” he said in recent testimony to Congress.


Votel is the second head of a U.S. Unified Combatant Command to visit Israel in recent months. In March, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), traveled to Israel for the joint U.S.-Israel Juniper Cobra military exercise.


“The U.S. is deeply committed to the defense of Israel. We will continue to work alongside the IDF to promote stability throughout the region, not only for the purposes of this exercise, but in the event of any real-world contingency,” Gen. Scaparrotti said during the visit.


Despite being located in the Middle East, the Jewish state falls under the jurisdiction of EUCOM, not CENTCOM.


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