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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Feb. 29 – May 22, 2019)

Congress Urges Support for Israel Against Northern Border Threats

On May 20, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Trump urging U.S. support for Israel as it combats mounting threats on its northern border from Iran and its proxies. The letter was signed by 79 senators and 304 representatives from both parties.

“At a time of grave insecurity in the Middle East, we are deeply concerned about the role that terrorist and extremist groups and U.S. adversaries continue to play, particularly in Syria,” the letter stated. “As some of our closest allies in the region are being threatened, American leadership and support are as crucial as ever.”

Jerusalem Embassy Act Fully Implemented

On May 8, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the full implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. Under the legislation, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress called on the administration to move both the U.S. embassy and ambassador’s residence in Israel to Jerusalem. In May 2018, the administration officially opened the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. In March 2019, the official residence of the U.S. ambassador was established in the city.

U.S. Ends Iranian Oil Sanction Waivers

On April 22, the Trump administration ended sanctions waivers to countries that are currently importing Iranian oil. This action will intensify economic pressure on the Iranian regime in order to deny Iran the resources to fuel its regional aggression and nuclear ambitions.

Already, U.S. sanctions have helped to significantly reduce Iran’s oil exports while the value of the rial has plummeted. Escalating economic pressure on the regime has reportedly put constraints on Iran’s ability to finance its regional terrorist proxies.

U.S. Designates Iran’s IRGC as Foreign Terrorist Organization

On April 8, the Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

The action subjects the IRGC to further U.S. sanctions and economic pressure. This designation is an important element of the administration’s efforts to “increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime … until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior.”

The IRGC is the principal instrument of the Iranian regime's policy of international terrorism and regional aggression and has been active in the development of its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The IRGC is responsible for the death of hundreds of American troops in Iraq. It supports the brutal Assad regime in Syria, and it is the main patron of the terrorist group Hezbollah. The IRGC and its terrorist proxies are currently using Syria and Lebanon as a staging area for threats against U.S. regional allies.

Given the IRGC’s control of significant elements of the Iranian economy, and the opaqueness of the Iranian market, foreign companies face the real risk that doing business in Iran will run afoul of today’s sanctions.

House Appropriations Committee Passes Key FY20 Spending Bill

On May 16, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2020 State and Foreign Operations spending bill, which includes several important pro-Israel provisions.

Most notably, the bill contains $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel, fulfilling the second year of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Additionally, the bill includes provisions for assistance to Egypt and Jordan, restrictions on aid to the Palestinians, new language targeting Hezbollah and UNIFIL (offered by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), support for a new Israel/USAID cooperative program (offered by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL)), an extension of U.S. stockpiling authority in Israel, and language aimed at correcting the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias. The bill also recommends $226 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza, provided through various international organizations already operating in the area, consistent with the requirements of the Taylor Force Act.

Several members highlighted the bill’s inclusion of aid to Israel, including Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX), Subcommittee Ranking Member Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

The bill now awaits action by the full House.

U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence Calls for Proposals

On April 30, the United States and Israel announced a $16 million call for new proposals to bolster the U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy, Engineering and Water Technology. This joint energy center was first authorized by Congress in the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.

Managed by the BIRD (Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development) Foundation, the center will enhance joint cooperation in a variety of fields including fossil fuels, energy storage, cyber security for energy infrastructure, and energy-water nexus.

“The research, development, and testing to be completed by the U.S.-Israel Energy Center consortia will contribute significantly to science and innovation in the four technical areas, and will strengthen the unparalleled partnership between the United States and Israel,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Israel Ministry of Energy and the Israel Innovation Authority, the U.S. and Israeli governments will allocate $8 million each for the preliminary two-year launch of the Center of Excellence. The projects are planned for five years, with 50 percent cost share obliged from awardees. Therefore, the total value of the Energy Center awards could reach $80 million, subject to congressional appropriations.

U.S. Special Representative Calls Out U.N. Anti-Israel Bias

On May 9, U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt called on U.N. Security Council (UNSC) members to denounce Hamas rockets against Israel rather than continuously condemning the Jewish state.

Greenblatt was one of four guest speakers invited to brief the UNSC in New York at the Arria-formula meeting—an informal UNSC briefing on issues around the world—in this case, on Israel.

“It is baffling and disappointing to see the obvious, continual anti-Israel bias here. Here we are in an Arria session to condemn Israel, in the same halls where just a few months ago, Member States failed to condemn Hamas, a known terrorist organization that just a few days ago fired close to 700 rockets at Israel—including at hospitals and schools,” Greenblatt said.

“It is truly shameful that in these halls there have been nearly 700 resolutions condemning actions of Israel—the region’s only real democracy—yet not one condemning Hamas’ attacks on Israelis or its abuse and neglect of the very people it purports to govern,” he added.

Treasury and State Department Target Hezbollah

On April 24, U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted sanctions on two individuals and three European companies engaged in financial dealings with Hezbollah.

“The department is relentlessly pursuing Hezbollah’s financial facilitators by dismantling two of Hezbollah’s most important financial networks,” said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker.

The sanctions came two days after the State Department announced a reward of up to $10 million for information that leads to the disruption of Hezbollah’s global financial activity.

“I’m confident that the [reward] that we are offering today, will provide incentives for people to come forward with information that will help us take down Hezbollah's financial networks,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Michael Evanoff.

U.S., Israel Hold Joint Counterterrorism Meeting in Jerusalem

On April 16, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Nathan Sales led a U.S. interagency delegation to Jerusalem for the annual meeting of the U.S.-Israel Joint Counterterrorism Group—the State Department’s longest-running strategic counterterrorism dialogue. The United States and Israel discussed the shared terrorist threats facing the two countries, including Hezbollah and Iran.

During a visit to Israel’s south, Ambassador Sales was briefed on the terrorist threats Israel faces from Gaza. “I was amazed at the resources Hamas is investing in terror activity against Israel,” Sales said, noting that these activities come at the expense of positive investments in improving the quality of life in Gaza.

Senators Back Full Funding for U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Programs

On April 11, 39 U.S. senators sent a letter to Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Richard Durbin (D-IL), thanking them for their strong support of U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation and encouraging them to continue to support robust funding in fiscal year 2020.

The letter outlines the threats Israel faces in the region and the importance of the assistance for lifesaving programs such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow.

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr Testifies Before Key Subcommittee

On March 12, AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs on the importance of U.S. security assistance to Israel and robust overall funding for foreign aid.

Kohr urged strong bipartisan support for $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel in accordance with the second year of the MOU.

“As America’s closest ally in the Middle East, Israel is an anchor of stability in an ever more dangerous and unpredictable region,” he said. “The two allies have formed an unbreakable partnership, based on an unshakable dedication to common values and interests. The United States and Israel have developed deep strategic ties to confront common threats and ensure the security of the Jewish state. This strategic relationship is a key pillar of America’s Middle East security framework, and this partnership is constantly growing and expanding into new areas.”

Approximately every other year, the subcommittee invites public witnesses to testify on behalf of their respective organization’s priorities for the State and Foreign Operations bill.

Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report News Hub