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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Feb. 17 - March 16, 2017)

House Strengthens U.S. Support for Vital Israel Defense Programs.

On March 8, the House of Representatives bolstered its support of U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation in the Fiscal Year 2017 defense appropriations bill.

The House appropriated $600.7 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. These funds will help Israel defend its citizens against rocket and missile threats, and contribute to America's missile defense programs. In addition, the House included $42.5 million for U.S.-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation to continue developing technologies to locate and destroy terrorist tunnel networks.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), and House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) and Ranking Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN), ensured that these critical programs were included in the legislation.

Israeli Defense Minister Meets with Top U.S. Officials to Reaffirm Bilateral Relationship

On March 7, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman traveled to Washington to meet with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Lieberman and Pence emphasized during their meeting the “unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to upholding Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

They also discussed “the need to counter threats posed by Iran and its proxies, as well as terrorist organizations," and "ways in which our militaries can work even more closely together to address shared threats.”

During a meeting with his American counterpart at the Pentagon, the Israeli defense chief called for an “active America” in the Middle East. Lieberman and Mattis also discussed a range of regional issues including Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and praised U.S.-Israel security ties.

On March 6, U.S. European Command Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti traveled to Israel on a multi-day trip to discuss regional and local issues with top Israel defense officials and strengthen military ties between the United States and Israel.

He met with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Gadi Eizenkot and President Reuven Rivlin, observed an IDF field exercise, visited a captured Hamas terror tunnel and toured the Arrow Missile Defense system headquarters.

“The visit reinforces the strong and enduring U.S.-Israel defense relationship and continues the cooperation between the two militaries,” said the IDF.

Greenblatt, Netanyahu Meet to Discuss Peace Process

On March 14, U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

After the meeting, the two officials issued a joint statement in which they “reaffirmed the joint commitment of both Israel and the United States to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians that strengthens the security of Israel and enhances stability in the region.”

Greenblatt also reiterated President Donald Trump’s “commitment to Israel's security and to the effort to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations,” and stressed “how important enabling the growth of the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life for Palestinians are to President Trump.”

Netanyahu expressed his belief that “under President Trump's leadership, it is possible to advance peace between Israel and all its neighbors, including the Palestinians,” and that he “looks forward to working closely with President Trump to achieve that goal.”

The prime minister also “assured Mr. Greenblatt that he was fully committed to broadening prosperity for Palestinians and sees it as a means of bolstering the prospects for peace.”

Additionally, the two engaged in discussions “relating to settlement construction in the hope of working out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

Later in the day, Greenblatt traveled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Authority Mahmoud Abbas. The American envoy stated that he and Abbas “had a positive, far-ranging exchange about the current situation” and discussed “how to make progress toward peace, building capacity of Palestinian security forces & stopping incitement.”

Senate Committee Addresses Iran Threat

On March 9, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to receive testimony from Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command.

In his opening remarks, Gen. Votel stated: “We are dealing also with the range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran, and its proxies operating in the region. It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.”

When asked by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) to describe Iran’s behavior following the Iran nuclear deal, Gen. Votel noted Iran “has not been helpful to anything that I can see going on across the region.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) used the hearing to highlight Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests and harassment of U.S. Naval vessels. General Votel agreed with Sen. Blumenthal that Iran’s actions required a response from the United States. “I think we should use a combination of both diplomatic and other security-related tools here, economic tools, to address this concern,” said Votel.

New York Governor Announces Initiative to Deepen Cooperation with Israel

On March 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced the launch of the New York-Israel Commission, a 22-member panel dedicated to expanding trade and building partnerships between New York and Israel, deepening educational and cultural exchanges, and facilitating security cooperation between Israeli and New York law enforcement agencies.

Cuomo made the announcement while on an economic development and unity trip to Israel. “New York and Israel have always shared a deep cultural, social and economic bond and I am proud that we are working to make our partnership stronger than ever before,” he said. “[The commission] will help continue to strengthen our relationship with the Jewish community and reaffirm our commitment to Israel, and I look forward to seeing the impacts of this partnership resonate across the state and the globe for years to come.”

Israel is an important trading partner for New York: It is the fifth largest export market for New York products. In 2016, New York exports to Israel totaled $4.89 billion.

In addition to deepening economic ties, the commission will support academic and cultural exchanges between Israeli and New York students. It will also connect U.S. and Israeli law enforcement agencies to share best practices on counter-terrorism operations.

“New York and Israel are more than just major economic partners—we share a bond that transcends borders,” said Commission Co-Chair Linda Mirels. “The New York-Israel Commission will work to strengthen the ties that bind us, as well as open new doors to economic growth, expand cultural exchanges and ensure our best and brightest continue to advance cutting-edge research and technology.”

United States Criticizes U.N. Human Rights Council’s Anti-Israel Bias

The U.S. government recently criticized the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) due to the body’s “obsession with Israel.”

“In order for this Council to have any credibility, let alone success, it must move away from its unbalanced and unproductive positions,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Erin Barclay on March 1. “As we consider our future engagements, my government will be considering the Council's actions with an eye toward reform to more fully achieve the Council's mission to protect and promote human rights.”

Citing ongoing human rights abuses in Syria and North Korea, Barclay condemned the UNHCR’s anti-Israel bias. “The obsession with Israel...is the largest threat to this council's credibility," she said. “When it comes to human rights no country should be free from scrutiny, but neither should any democratic country be regularly subjected to unfair, unbalanced and unfounded bias.”

On Feb. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley similarly criticized anti-Israel bias within the United Nations system and pledged to defend Israel against one-sided measures: “I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. I’m here to emphasize the United States is determined to stand up to the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias…The United States will not hesitate to speak out against these biases in defense of our friend and ally, Israel.”

Chinese Company to Pay United States Large Penalty Following Sanctions Violations

On March 7, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. agreed to pay a combined $1.19 billion in civil and criminal penalties after pleading guilty to violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, and impeding a federal investigation. If approved by a federal judge, the penalties would be the largest fine ever levied in an export control case.

According to U.S. officials, ZTE conspired to acquire technology from the United States, incorporate it into ZTE equipment and ultimately ship the equipment to Iran. As part of the settlement, ZTE has agreed to pay a penalty of $661 million to Commerce’s Bureau of Industry Security, with $300 million suspended during a seven-year probationary period to deter future violations. 

“We are putting the world on notice: the games are over,” said Secretary Ross. “Those who flout our economic sanctions and export control laws will not go unpunished—they will suffer the harshest of consequences. Under President Trump’s leadership, we will be aggressively enforcing strong trade policies with the dual purpose of protecting American national security and protecting American workers…This penalty is an example of the extraordinary powers the Department of Commerce will use to vigorously protect the interests of the United States.”

While under investigation, ZTE continued to participate in these sanctionable transactions and knowingly made false statements to U.S. investigators.

“The highest levels of management within the company approved the scheme,” said Department of Justice National Security Division Head Mary McCord. The company also “repeatedly lied to and misled federal investigators.”

“Despite ZTE’s repeated attempts to thwart the investigation, the dogged determination of investigators uncovered damning evidence of an orchestrated, systematic scheme to violate U.S. export controls by supplying equipment to sanctioned destinations,” said Douglas Hassebrock, director of the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement, which spearheaded the investigation.

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report