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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Jan. 13 - Feb. 16, 2017)

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Enhance U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation

On Jan. 31, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017 (H.R.612).

Introduced by Reps. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and John Ratcliffe (R-TX), the bipartisan legislation would establish a cybersecurity grant program within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for joint research and development between Israeli and American entities. The program would also support the demonstration and commercialization of cybersecurity technology between the two nations.

The bipartisan bill is a result of a 2016 trip to Israel by the two lawmakers, during which they met with Israeli cybersecurity leaders in both the public and private spheres.

Ratcliffe and Langevin spearheaded a similar effort in the 114th Congress. The United States-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act of 2016 (H. R. 5877)—signed into law by former President Barack Obama in December 2016—permanently authorizes an already-existing three-year joint program between DHS and Israel's Ministry of Public Security, and expands it to include cybersecurity cooperation.

“Israel is America’s strongest and most strategic ally in the Middle East, and I’m glad the House just passed our bill to further fortify this strategic partnership through enhanced joint cybersecurity efforts,” said Ratcliffe, who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection.

“Cybersecurity is at the center of our national and economic security, as well as the personal security of consumers. The United States and Israel have an opportunity here to work together to develop innovative solutions to the threats we face in cyberspace,” said Langevin, the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.

The legislation now awaits action in the Senate.

United States Issues New Sanctions Against Iran

On Feb. 3, the U.S. Treasury Department issued new sanctions against 25 individuals and entities found to be supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. The move comes only two days after the Trump Administration announced that it was “officially putting Iran on notice” following Tehran’s Jan. 29 medium-range ballistic missile test-launch.

“The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests,” former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said in announcing the sanctions.

“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States. Today’s action is part of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA,” said Acting Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director John E. Smith. “We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior.”

Members of Congress from both political parties praised the new round of sanctions.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) stated: “Iran’s dangerous and provocative acts are a direct threat to the United States and our allies. I’m glad the administration is taking long-overdue steps to hold the regime accountable. I look forward to working with the administration to build on these designations, push back against Iran’s destructive policies, and promote stability in the Middle East.”

“Iran's recent ballistic missile test—in clear violation of international law—certainly deserves today's response,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY). “With the nuclear agreement in place, the United States and our allies need to push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior around the world.  Iran’s continued support for dangerous actors around the region—including Hezbollah, the Assad regime, the Houthis and Shia militias in Iraq—poses an enormous threat to the United States and our allies. I support continued efforts to confront Iran’s malign activities, and I will continue to work so that U.S. law provides every tool needed to achieve that goal.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said, “Today's sanctions make clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior.”

“Iran’s latest ballistic missile test was a flagrant violation of UN Security Council Resolutions,” stated Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). “This swift and decisive response proves that our new administration is serious about holding the Iranian regime accountable for its illicit behavior.”

Members of Congress Condemn Recent Iranian Missile Test

On Jan. 29, Iran illicitly test-launched a medium-range ballistic missile in violation of United Nations (U.N.) Security Council Resolution 2231.

The resolution calls upon Iran to not “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” for an eight-year period. 

Democratic and Republican members of Congress in both the House and Senate have spoken out against this latest Iranian provocation.  

On Feb. 2, 22 senators—led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD)—sent a bipartisan letter to the president in response to Iran’s Jan. 29 medium-range ballistic missile test-launch.

The letter states that, “If it is confirmed that Iran tested a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, Iran will have violated both the letter and spirit of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2231…”

Chairman Corker stated, “No longer will Iran be given a pass for its repeated ballistic missile violations, continued support of terrorism, human rights abuses and other hostile activities that threaten international peace and security.”

Ranking Member Cardin (D-MD) declared that “we should be forceful in countering that type of violation of international norms.” He continued, “Obviously they [the Iranians] have violated the ballistic missile prohibitions. The United States has sanctions. The international community has sanctions. It's violating U.N. resolutions.”

“While this missile test appears to have failed,” stated House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), “there can be no doubt that Iran will continue to invest in ballistic missile development as long as it can do so unimpeded. That is why I continue to believe that Congress must act and pass ballistic missile sanctions, which would target Iranian entities involved in these launches and third party entities providing support.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) stated: “Iran must face consequences for reportedly conducting another ballistic missile test in violation of international sanctions.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) “strongly condemn[ed] Iran's reported ballistic missile test over the weekend, a clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231” and called for the United States to “work with our allies to hold Iran accountable for this dangerous and destabilizing behavior.”

The Iranian ballistic missile test was the first of its kind since President Trump took office.

Members of Congress Introduce Bipartisan Resolution Condemning Palestinian Violence

On Jan. 25, Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Rob Woodall (R-GA) introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning Palestinian incitement to violence and reaffirming the United States’ commitment to Israel.

The resolution notes that since September 2015, Palestinian terrorists have committed at least 169 stabbings, 124 shooting attacks, 51 vehicular attacks and 1 vehicle bombing.

“Hundreds of terrorist attacks have been carried out in Israel throughout the past year and a half. Even as stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks occur nearly every day, the international community has failed to clearly condemn these blatant acts of terrorism. That is why Rep. Woodall and I introduced this bi-partisan resolution, which clearly illustrates the severity of the violence and urges the international community to speak up. Unless the Palestinian government and leaders around the world unequivocally condemn these acts of terror, there is little chance it will stop,” said Rep. Hastings.

Furthermore, the resolution “reaffirms the friendship between Israel and the United States.”

“The United States has no greater friend than the State of Israel, and our commitment to its people must be unwavering,” said Rep. Woodall.  “Condemning these acts and standing with our friend and ally is crucial to the safety of Israel, the region, and freedom-loving people across the world.  I’m proud to again partner with my good friend Rep. Hastings in introducing this resolution, and am grateful for his leadership on this issue.”

United States Sanctions Venezuelan Vice President with Reported Ties to Hezbollah and Hamas

On Feb. 13, the U.S. Treasury Department issued new sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his significant role in international narcotics trafficking. 

The U.S. government designated Aissami as well as his primary “frontman,” Samark Lopez, as “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers” pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.  As a result of these sanctions, transactions with 13 companies owned or controlled by El Aissami are blocked and any dealings with El Aissami or Lopez are considered unlawful by the United States.

El Aissami oversaw a network exporting thousands of kilograms of cocaine with final destinations of Mexico and the United States. “He facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela,” said the Treasury Department. 

The Venezuelan vice president is also reported to have provided material support to both Hamas and Hezbollah—although such alleged actions do not form the basis for the sanctions issued on Feb. 13. In 2009, U.S. authorities accused El Aissami of issuing passports to members of Hamas and Hezbollah and recruiting young Venezuelan Arabs to train in Hezbollah camps in southern Lebanon. In 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that El Aissami’s office—he served as interior minister from 2008 to 2012—issued 173 identities to individuals from the Middle East, including Suleiman Ghani Abdul Waken, a key member of Hezbollah. Venezuelan passports permit entry to 134 countries without a visa. 

Most recently, a bipartisan group of 34 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Feb. 8 advocating for increased pressure on top Venezuelan officials responsible for corruption, including El Aissami for his purported ties to Hezbollah. 

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