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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (April 13, 2016 - May 11, 2016)

House Armed Services Committee Authorizes U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Funds

On April 28, the House Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 (H.R. 4909), in a 60-2 bipartisan vote. The defense bill, which contains key pro-Israel provisions, now heads to the House of Representatives floor.

The authorization is part of a two-step process. The actual funding will be allocated through an appropriations bill.

The NDAA includes $600.8 million for U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense programs. The funds will help Israel defend its citizens against rocket and missile threats, while also helping advance the capabilities of America’s armed forces.

The committee approved a proposal sponsored by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) that authorizes $25 million in directed energy research and development activities between the United States and Israel.

An amendment submitted by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) that authorizes $10 million in funding for U.S.-Israel tunnel cooperation efforts was approved by the committee. The committee also unanimously accepted a bipartisan proposal by Reps. Lamborn and Gwen Graham (D-FL) that directs the secretary of defense to provide a briefing on the status of anti-tunnel cooperation between the United States and Israel.

Two Iran-related amendments were approved. The first requires a briefing on the Department of Defense’s investigation of the Iranian seizure of American sailors. The second amends the annual report on the military power of Iran to include Tehran’s cyber capabilities and information on Iranian military and security organizations responsible for detaining members of the United States Armed Forces or interfering with military operations.

Missile Defense Agency Director Praises U.S.-Israel Defense Cooperation

On April 13, Director of the Missile Defense Agency Vice Adm. James Syring testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on the fiscal year 2017 missile defense budget, emphasizing the importance of U.S.-Israel military cooperation.

In his testimonies, Adm. Syring discussed how bilateral defense ties “most notably with Israel” has helped “strengthen and expand our national missile defense capabilities.” He also highlighted how military collaboration with Israel has played a role in generating American jobs.

Regarding the successful December 2015 test of the short-to-medium range ballistic missile interceptor David’s Sling, the MDA Director stated that he is “very confident in the testing that we did, specifically with David Sling last year and the successes that they had with four successful intercepts late last year that the program is ready for production.”

“We absolutely are in the regional -- in the regional area and have learned a lot from the performance and the design of their interceptors, which is critically important for why you hear us say, we need the technical data package, for example, for David's Sling, so we can take that information and use it to our advantage for our systems and our interceptors,” said Syring.

The subcommittee missile defense budget hearings come in the wake of calls from members of Congress from both parties to increase missile defense funding in the 2017 budget.

According to Defense News, lawmakers are pushing for additional security assistance for joint U.S.-Israel ventures, including the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, the mid-range David’s Sling Weapon System and the long-range Arrow missile defense system.

“Missile defense is crucially important, and coming out of the Iran deal, we want to make clear our commitment to their security has not wavered,” said House Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA). “Any threats Israel faces from missiles from the south — from the Gaza Strip, Islamic jihad and Hamas — and from the north and Hezbollah, we want to put them in the position to have a very strong deterrent to that.”

Following an April trip to Israel, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) stated that “we now have to increase our defensive technologies for Gulf Cooperation Council countries and others, which means in the long run we will have to increase our investment in Israel."

Bipartisan Letter Urges United States to Denounce Anti-Israel U.N. Resolution

In a May 9 bipartisan, bicameral letter, four members of Congress urged Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman not to comply with a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for foreign divestment from Israel.

Spearheaded by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the Senate and Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) in the House, the letter highlights a March 24 resolution that calls for the ‘blacklist’ of several companies in areas of Israel.

The letter called the resolution “unprecedented in scope,” stating that it “threatens significant damage to both Israel and the United States, thus warranting a vigorous response.”

“Congress has long combatted boycotts and other discriminatory treatment of Israel. ‘Blacklists’ are among the most nefarious, as they serve only to isolate and stigmatize,” wrote the members of Congress. “This new ‘blacklist’ is reminiscent of the Arab League boycott against Israel, and companies dealing with Israel, which for decades was used to strangle Israel’s economy and coerce Israel into unilateral concessions. Any foreign company, including American ones, could be targeted by this effort even if they are conducting completely legal activities under U.S. and international law.”

In 2015, Portman, Cardin, Roskam and Vargas authored language in the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) law that discourages prospective U.S. trade partners from engaging in economic discrimination against Israel.

“We urge you to quickly, publicly and forcefully commit that the United States will not comply with the UNHRC resolution,” wrote the members of congress. “Great Britain has already taken this step. The United States must send the same signal, and should work with our other European allies to do the same – particularly the members of the European Union who desire free trade with the United States and are impacted by the TPA guidelines.”

Senate Democratic Leader Opposes Palestinian Efforts at the United Nations

On April 14, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voiced his opposition to Palestinian attempts to gain recognition through a U.N. Security Council resolution.

“I have always been a strong supporter of a peaceful and negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians, which is why I am deeply concerned about reports that the Palestinians are trying to use the United Nations to gain recognition through a biased Security Council Resolution,” said Sen. Reid. “The United States has previously opposed these types of biased resolutions, and I urge the Obama Administration to oppose and veto any attempt to pass such a resolution at the United Nations Security Council.”

In his statement, Reid also highlighted the U.N. Human Rights Council's "biased and singular focus" on Israel.

"In addition, the United Nations has a long history of bias against Israel most recently demonstrated by the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution to create a ‘blacklist’ of companies that operate beyond Israel’s 1949 Armistice line, which not only unfairly targets Israeli companies but could also hurt American companies. The Human Rights Council has had a biased and singular focus on Israel for many years, and this recent outrageous example is reminiscent of other attempts to boycott Jewish business around the world."

U.S. Supreme Court: $2B to Families of Iranian-backed Terror Victims

On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that nearly $2 billion in frozen assets held by Iran’s Central Bank—located in a Citibank trust account in New York—must be turned over to the families of American victims of Iranian terrorism, including terrorist attacks conducted by Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The 6-2 ruling upheld a key provision in the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, which stated that the funds should go toward satisfying a $2.65 billion judgment won by the families against Iran in U.S. federal court in 2007. These families include relatives of the 241 Marines murdered by Hezbollah in 1983.

"[The law] provides a new standard clarifying that, if Iran owns certain assets, the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks will be permitted to execute against those assets," wrote Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the ruling. "Applying laws implementing Congress' policy judgments, with fidelity to those judgments, is commonplace for the Judiciary."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and co-author of the 2012 provision, praised the decision.

“Today is a huge victory for the victims or Iranian terror, for their families and for justice. Iran has long evaded justice for its role in some of the most horrific terror attacks perpetrated against America, but today that has changed,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. “The same post-revolutionary regime that ordered the attacks against American service members in the past is the very same regime still sitting in power in Tehran. It’s the same regime that’s responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. service member deaths in Iraq, the same regime that was responsible for terror attacks like the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, and the same regime that has stated on countless occasions it seeks to wipe the democratic Jewish State of Israel off the map.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who spearheaded the Senate legislation, also released a statement on the Supreme Court ruling.

“By confirming Congress’ prerogative to enact legislation that provides for appropriate and fair compensation to victims of Iranian terrorism, the Supreme Court has also delivered a clear warning to Iran:  So long as Iran continues its support for terrorism, its regime will be held liable for its actions,”  said Sen. Menendez.  “This should give the regime pause – its potential windfalls from sanctions relief under the Iran nuclear deal may now be steered to a much greater cause, compensation to American victims of Iran’s predatory foreign policies, something I’ve advocated all along.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the Supreme Court made the “right decision” to provide financial assets to the victims’ families.

“Families of Iranian terror victims have had to wait far too long to recoup these payments. While we can only provide so much comfort to those who grieve, I hope this ruling will help bring justice,” said Speaker Ryan.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, welcomed “…the Court’s decision that victims of Iranian terrorism are entitled to justice. As I’ve said, now that the Iran nuclear agreement is in place, we cannot let up the pressure when it comes to Iran’s other destructive actions. While I’m not holding my breath for the Ayatollah to write a check, this judgment sends a clear message that we will not forget about American lives lost at Iranian hands and that we will continue to hold Iran’s feet to the fire.”

Deputy Secretary Highlights U.S.-Israel Cyber Cooperation

On April 3, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas addressed the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. His remarks highlight the importance of U.S.-Israel cooperation in this rapidly evolving realm.

"Dr. Eviatar Matania, head of Israel's Cyber Bureau described the cyber space as the 3rd revolution. There was the agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, and now there's the cyber revolution," said Mayorkas.

"Our office of Science and Technology has just entered into an agreement with the Government of Israel to pool funding for R&D in the cybersecurity realm. This is a matter where the community is not only a public-private partnership domestically, but a public to public and private to private around the world."

The partnership between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Israeli Ministry of Public Security will fund projects that will improve the preparedness and capabilities of national rescue forces — including fire, police and first-aid units.

Senators Urge Designation of U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence

The Energy Department should work to establish a U.S.-Israel Energy Center, as suggested by law, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wrote in a May 6 letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy and Water was authorized under the U.S-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, signed by President Obama in December 2014. The law calls for greater defense and energy cooperation between the two countries, including the possibility of creating a center that would foster innovation.

Following Secretary Moniz's recent trip to Israel, Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, respectively, are pushing the department to move forward in authorizing the center.

"As we noted last year, such a center has potential to be a leading hub for innovation and research and development for global energy and water issues," the senators wrote, adding later that they "respectfully request that you commence work on the center."

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