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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Dec.18, 2015 -Jan.15, 2016)

Members of Congress to Administration: Sanction Iran

Leading lawmakers from both parties, including supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), criticized the administration for delaying new sanctions on Tehran over its missile program.

On Dec. 30, 2015, the U.S. Department of Treasury notified Congress that it intended later that day to impose sanctions on nearly a dozen companies and individuals for providing support to Iran’s ballistic-missile program.

The administration, however, walked back its notification and the sanctions were not issued.

“We just have additional work that we need to do as the U.S. government before we would announce additional designations,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said about the delay.  Members of Congress are pressing the administration to impose the new penalties, warning that the delay will embolden Tehran’s destabilizing regional activities.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said he was “disappointed that the Administration has delayed punitive action in response to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests.”

“Under that agreement, Iran’s non-nuclear violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions will merit punitive action, and I will continue to press for decisive action by the United States and our international partners.  Otherwise, we will have a serious problem with our credibility in enforcing the JCPOA,” said Rep. Hoyer.

Seven House Democrats—spearheaded by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)—sent a letter to President Obama expressing “serious concern with Iran’s recent violation of international law by test-firing medium-range missiles.”

“Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the JCPOA, the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region—including in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip,” wrote the representatives. “This behavior—including these ballistic missile tests—poses a direct threat to American national security interests and those of our allies.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) urged the administration to act on the latest illicit ballistic missile test, stating that the United States “cannot allow Iran’s threatening activities to continue without consequence.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told the Wall Street Journal that “strict, aggressive, and consistent enforcement is critical to punishing Iran for its destabilizing behavior and making the nuclear deal work.”

“I believe in the power of vigorous enforcement that pushes back on Iran’s bad behavior,” said Coons. “If we don’t do that, we invite Iran to cheat.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain stated that the administration “continues to turn a blind eye to Iranian saber rattling…for fear Iran will walk away from the nuclear deal.”

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN) expressed concerns regarding the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in light of the delayed sanctions.

“I fear that pressure from our ‘partners’—or threats from the Iranian government that it will walk away from the deal or threaten the U.S. in other ways—have caused the administration to rethink imposing sanctions for Iran’s violations of the testing ban,” said Sen. Corker. “If our administration cannot impose consequences for ballistic missile launches now, when sanctions and a clear U.N. ban are still in place, I have no confidence it will enforce the JCPOA or penalize future launches when sanctions are lifted.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that "the Treasury Department's sanctions‎ in response to Iran's clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929's ban on ballistic missile activity sends a message to Iran that they can't use the new regime to cheat in other areas. It is essential that the United States be willing to act unilaterally on any violations and that we remain vigilant to spot and act on any violation of international agreements‎."

Congress Passes Omnibus Bill with Key Pro-Israel Provisions

On Dec. 18, 2015, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill—which was signed by President Obama that same day—for the 2016 fiscal year, which contains essential U.S. assistance to Israel.

An omnibus is a catch-all bill that wraps multiple initiatives into one piece of legislation. In this case, the bill provides funding for all U.S. government agencies and programs, including foreign aid.

Expressing strong bipartisan support for Israel, Congress allocated $3.1 billion in security assistance to the Jewish state, $487.6 million for U.S.-Israel cooperative missile defense programs, $40 million for a new U.S.-Israel anti-tunneling initiative and $2 million for U.S.-Israel cooperative energy programs.

The passage of $3.1 billion in security assistance to Israel fulfills the eighth year of a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the two nations.

The bill also renewed the Department of Defense’s authority to replenish stockpiles in Israel by an additional $200 million annually for two years, and extended Israel’s ability to use existing U.S. loan guarantees for an additional four years.

By providing Israel with strong U.S. security assistance, America ensures that the Jewish state maintains a robust qualitative military edge (QME) over its adversaries.

The legislation also includes restrictions on aid to the Palestinians, enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and other funding initiatives throughout the Middle East.

The omnibus bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 316-113 and in the Senate 65-33.

Treasury Sanctions Key Hezbollah Support Network

On Jan. 7, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned a key Hezbollah financier Ali Youssef Charara and his telecommunications company Spectrum Investment Group Holding SAL.

“Today’s actions continue Treasury’s ongoing efforts to target Hezballah and its supporters under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which have recently included actions against a key Hezballah support network based in Africa, global Hezballah-linked procurement networks, and numerous other officials and facilitators,” wrote the Treasury in a press release. “As a result of this action, all assets of those designated today that are based in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”

As a member of the state-designated terrorist organization, Charara has obtained millions of dollars from Hezbollah to invest in commercial initiatives that economically aid the group.

“Hezballah relies upon accomplices in the business community to place, manage, and launder its terrorist funds,” said Adam Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “We are committed to exposing and disrupting these networks to pressure Hezballah’s finances and degrade its ability to foment violence in Lebanon, Syria, and across the region.”

Bipartisan Resolution Opposing Anti-Israel European Labeling Guidelines Introduced in the House

On Dec. 14, 2015, Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Ed Royce (R-CA) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives denouncing the new European Commission labeling guidelines on Israeli goods produced in the West Bank and other areas.

The bipartisan legislation states that the new labeling guidelines “undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace process” and calls on the European Union to help assist with the conflict resolution.

“New European Commission guidelines to single out Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank and other areas only encourage and prompt consumers to boycott all Israeli goods,” the members of Congress said in a joint statement.

“As Israel’s largest trading partner, the European Union should play a constructive role to help bring the parties back to the negotiating table and resolve their differences, not try to extract one-sided concessions and feed into politically-motivated acts to boycott Israel. This resolution expresses our opposition to the EU labeling decision and all other boycott, divestment, and sanctions efforts directed against Israel or Israeli-controlled territory.”

Congress Adopts Bipartisan Legislation Targeting Hezbollah Finance

On Dec. 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, a bipartisan effort aimed at cutting off the Iranian-backed terrorist organization from the international finance system.

The bipartisan legislation was adopted by the House of Representatives unanimously on Dec. 16 and by the Senate on Nov. 17.

Spearheaded by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) in the House and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in the Senate, the bill would require international financial institutions to choose between doing business with Hezbollah or the United States.

The bill would allow U.S. sanctions on foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate the activities of Hezbollah by providing significant financial services.

The legislation also targets satellite and other providers that transmit the Lebanese television station al-Manar, which broadcasts Hezbollah propaganda; in 2004, the United States designated al-Manar a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity and banned its broadcast in the United States.

Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group other than al-Qaeda, including 241 U.S. servicemen in the October 1983 U.S. Marine Corps barracks bombing in Beirut. The group was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States in 1997, and provoked a war with Israel in 2006. It is estimated that it has an arsenal of 150,000 rockets capable of striking any location in the Jewish state. Since 2012, Hezbollah has actively fought in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Assad regime, where its fighters have gained critical warfighting experience and acumen.

America, Israel Sign Health Innovation Deal

On Jan. 5, Israeli Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell signed in Washington D.C. a cooperation agreement on health innovation.

In the meeting, it was decided that both countries would invest in cancer and other research and promote cooperation in the field of aging and health quality indicators. Sec. Burwell told Minister Litzman that she was "very impressed with Israel innovation in medicine," adding that she "regarded Israel as a devoted partner in advancing health in the world."

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