CRITICAL PRO-ISRAEL PROVISIONS CONTAINED IN OMNIBUS BILL
On March 23, the president signed into law the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill including key provisions to help Israel address critical security challenges. The bill provides $3.1 billion in overall security assistance to Israel. The bill also includes the Taylor Force Act—bipartisan legislation that would eliminate funding that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (PA) if it continues its abhorrent practice of paying salaries to terrorists or their families.
The spending bill also contains a total of $705.8 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation, representing $105 million more than last year’s adopted funding level. These funds would support both research and development for and procurement of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 cooperative missile defense systems—key programs that help Israel defend its citizens against rockets and missiles and also advance America’s own missile defense capabilities.
In addition, this legislation also contains a total of $47.5 million for critical U.S.-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation. The bill includes an appropriation for the establishment of a U.S.- Israel Center of Excellence in energy and water technologies—the first new appropriation in a decade for a U.S.-Israel non-defense program. It also fully funds the U.S.-Israel BIRD-Energy program and enables it, for the first time, to fund natural gas projects.
Many members of Congress played a role in different parts of the bill, including: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Lindsey Graham (RSC), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), House Foreign Aff airs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (RCO).
U.S. BLOCKS ANTI-ISRAEL U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL STATEMENTS
On April 6, the United States blocked a onesided United Nations Security Council (UNSC) statement on the ongoing situation in the Gaza Strip. The statement was initiated by Kuwait, which represents the Arab countries on the UNSC.
This is the second such statement that the United States has blocked in recent weeks. On March 31, the United States blocked a similar statement also presented by Kuwait.
Highly critical of Israel, both statements would have reaffirmed the Palestinians’ right to “peacefully demonstrate,” called on “all sides” to exercise restraint, and endorsed U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into deadly protests in Gaza. Neither statement mentioned Hamas’ use of human shields.
In response, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon said, “the Council must condemn Hamas for its exploitation of children as human shields, risking their lives, and must call for an end to the provocations that only increase violence and tension.” He added, “The riots of this past week have proven to be violent outbursts and not peaceful demonstrations.”
HOUSE MEMBERS PRESS FOR STRONGER U.S.-ISRAEL MISSILE DEFENSE COOPERATION
On April 11, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Grace Meng (D-NY) led 38 U.S. representatives in calling for robust funding for U.S.-Israel missile defense programs for fi scal year (FY) 2019, in a bipartisan letter to the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. The letter was signed by 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats.
Specifically, the letter requests “at least $500 million, the amount requested in the President’s FY 2019 Missile Defense Administration budget, for U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.” Additionally, this letter encourages the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to study the option of the U.S. Army’s immediate acquisition of the Iron Dome system.
“U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation is a critical investment in the safety and security of Israel and stability in the Middle East,” said Rep. Roskam. “This cooperation improves Israel’s ability to defend its citizens and the U.S. Army’s recent tests of Iron Dome is a clear indication that our own forces can benefi t from this battle-proven technology. I thank Congresswoman Meng on her consistent eff ort on this important issue and look forward to continue working with her to secure sustained support for these programs in FY 2019.”
“Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East, and ensuring its safety and security has been one of my top priorities since I came to Congress,” said Rep. Meng. “I’m proud to have worked with my friend Rep. Roskam to secure robust funding for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation, which is a critical pillar to realizing a safe and secure Israel and am also grateful to Ranking Member Lowey for her support. I look forward to continued and strong funding for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation in FY 2019.”
MORE THAN 2,500 U.S. TROOPS IN ISRAEL FOR JUNIPER COBRA 2018
From March 4-15, more than 2,500 U.S. troops participated in the ninth biennial Juniper Cobra military exercise with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The large-scale, 12-day exercise is aimed at enhancing U.S.-Israel cooperation by finding new ways to function jointly against an attack. To that end, the bilateral Joint Task ForceIsrael was established to “plan and command thousands of interoperable land- and seabased forces, all training in common doctrine, language and rules of engagement.”
“We benefit from bringing the soldiers here for realistic training, improved mobility and the lessons we learn from working with our Israeli partners,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Justin Hickman. “They have the Arrow, David’s Sling and Iron Dome. We have Patriot, THAAD and Aegis. It’s amazing technology, and we all gain from interoperability.”
“Juniper Cobra 2018 is another step in improving the readiness of the IDF and the IAF [Israeli Air Force] in particular to enhance their operational capabilities in facing the threat posed by high-trajectory missiles,” added Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, head of the IDF’s Aerial Defense Division.
This year’s joint exercise simulated a joint response to an Iranian missile attack on Israel, serving as a “dress rehearsal” for a potential Iranian assault in the future.
“For us, we call it a dress rehearsal because we understand that this can happen, and [the joint task force] can be activated at any moment,” said Lt. Col. Tal Kaduri, head of cooperation for the Israel Air Defense Force.
“It’s not just Iran’s involvement in Syria, but everywhere,” added Lt. Col. Kaduri. “We understand Iran has its arms spread around a lot of places in the Middle East, and we can safely say that’s our main threat.”
TREASURY SANCTIONS IRANIAN CYBER ACTORS
On March 23, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 10 Iranian individuals and one Iranian entity for engaging in malicious cyber activities.
“Iran is engaged in an ongoing campaign of malicious cyber activity against the United States and our allies,” stated Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker. “Treasury will continue to systematically use our sanctions authorities to shine a light on the Iranian regime’s malicious cyber practices, and hold it accountable for criminal cyber-attacks.”
The sanctions were issued in conjunction with a U.S. Department of Justice criminal indictment targeting nine of the sanctioned individuals (the tenth individual was indicted in 2017). “These nine Iranian nationals allegedly stole more than 31 terabytes of documents and data from more than 140 American universities, 30 American companies, five American government agencies, and also more than 176 universities in 21 foreign countries,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“For many of these intrusions, the defendants acted at the behest of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Rosenstein continued. “The Department of Justice will aggressively investigate and prosecute hostile actors who attempt to profi t from America’s ideas by infiltrating our computer systems and stealing intellectual property.”