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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Jan. 19 - Feb. 15, 2018)

White House Releases FY19 Budget—Fully Funds Aid to Israel

On Feb. 12, the White House released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 budget proposal including full funding for aid to Israel. The budget provides $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel and $500 million in funding for joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. These funding levels are in line with the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding on security assistance signed between the two countries. The total funding request represents a record level of U.S. assistance to the Jewish state.

House Passes the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act

On Feb. 14, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act (H.R. 3542).

Authored by Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), this bill condemns Hamas’ use of human shields and imposes sanctions on those engaging in the practice. The bill notes that the use of human shields is both a violation of human rights and of international humanitarian law.

The bill also highlights the extensive efforts the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) undertake to avoid civilian casualties. The IDF routinely drops leaflets, makes announcements over radio, places phone calls, and sends text messages warning of a military strike prior to the targeting of terrorists operating in civilian areas.

“For far too long, Hamas has taken shelter and launched offenses against Israel from civilian areas,” Rep. Wilson stated on the House floor. “I believe this legislation will promote working to ensure that lives of innocent civilians of the citizens of Gaza are spared.”

U.S. Senators Urge Tougher Sanctions for Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program

On Feb. 6, a group of 14 U.S. senators urged President Donald Trump to expand sanctions on Iran, in response to the regime’s illicit ballistic missile program.

In their letter—which was spearheaded by Sens. Todd Young (R-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL)—the senators noted that “Iran has actively pursued a ballistic missile program that threatens our forward deployed troops, our allies, and our interests.” The letter also addressed the growing threat of Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which could be capable of reaching the United States, as well as the dangerous relationship between Iran and North Korea.

While the senators commended the administration’s decision on Jan. 4 “to impose sanctions against five Iranian entities that support its ballistic missile program,” they argued that more robust sanctions are still needed. “[W]e call on the administration to work with Congress to impose sanctions on any sector of the Iranian economy that is directly or indirectly associated with the development or transfer of ballistic missile parts, components, or technology.”

The 12 other senators who signed on to the letter included Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Dean Heller (R-NV), David Perdue (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and James Risch (R-ID).

“As many serious and urgent threats compete for attention, we believe it is important to remain focused on the growing threat that Iran’s ballistic missile program represents,” the senators wrote. “We are eager to work with the administration to take additional steps to better protect the United States and our allies against this threat.”

Treasury Department Places New Sanctions on Hizballah

On Feb. 2, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned six individuals and seven businesses connected to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hizballah (also known as Hezbollah).

The six individuals, including four Lebanese and two Iraqis, were sanctioned for their ties to Hizballah member and financier Adham Tabaja or his company, Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting. Tabaja and his company were designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) in 2015.

The seven businesses—based in Ghana, Lebanon, Liberia and Sierra Leone—are owned or controlled by Ali Muhammad Qansu, one of the six newly-sanctioned individuals, who has extensive ties to Tabaja and other Hizballah members and affiliates.

“Hizballah is a terrorist organization responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans. It is also Iran’s primary proxy used to undermine legitimate Arab governments across the Middle East. The Administration is determined to expose and disrupt Hizballah’s networks, including those across the Middle East and West Africa, used to fund their illicit operations,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The Treasury Department will continue to sever Hizballah from the international financial system, and we will be relentless in identifying, exposing, and dismantling Hizballah’s financial support networks globally.”

Sens. Cardin and Portman, Rep. Roskam Condemn Anti-Israel U.N. Report

On Feb. 1, U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) issued a joint statement denouncing a recent U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner report that targeted companies that conduct business with Israel, but deferred listing any of them by name.

The anti-Israel report includes detailed steps on its investigation of more than 200 companies, including 22 American companies, laying the groundwork to release a blacklist to boycott such companies in the future.

“We strongly oppose the ongoing efforts to compile a blacklist of companies that do business in Israeli-controlled territories,” the senators wrote. “The preliminary list released yesterday by [the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner] underscores the urgent need for swift action to modernize existing anti-boycott laws.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley also denounced the report, stating: “the fact that the report was issued at all is yet another reminder of the Council’s anti-Israel obsession. The more the Human Rights Council does this, the less effective it becomes as an advocate against the world’s human rights abusers.”

On Feb. 2, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) issued a statement calling the report a “blatant example of the pervasive anti-Israel bias” plaguing the United Nations. “The United States has firmly opposed international efforts to stigmatize, isolate and delegitimize Israel, and we must continue to do so,” he added.

In 2017, Sens. Cardin and Portman, along with Reps. Roskam and Juan Vargas (D-CA), spearheaded the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720 and H.R. 1697). This bipartisan legislation would combat the boycott of Israel in the international arena by expanding existing U.S. anti-boycott laws to international governmental organizations like the United Nations and the European Union. The bill was introduced in response to an anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution calling for the creation of a database of companies operating or investing beyond the “Green Line,” including, among other areas, East Jerusalem and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

U.S. Designates Hamas Leader a Global Terrorist

On Jan. 31, the U.S. State Department designated Hamas’ senior political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), along with three terrorist groups.

“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians,” the State Department said in a statement. “Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks.”

The three newly-designated terrorist groups include Harakat al-Sabireen, Liwa al Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM). Harakat al-Sabireen is an Iranian-backed terrorist group that operates primarily in the West Bank and Gaza. The group “has carried out terrorist activities targeting Israel, pursues an anti-American agenda, and has attracted members and supporters of [Palestine Islamic Jihad],” a previously-designated terrorist group. The other two groups, Liwa al Thawra and HASM, operate in Egypt and have also claimed responsibility for numerous terror attacks.

“[T]hese designations target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran – who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in announcing these new designations. “Today’s actions are an important step in denying them the resources they need to plan and carry out their terrorist activities.”

Chairman Royce: Protect International Financial System from Iran

On Jan. 25, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) urged the Trump administration to press a key international financial watchdog to keep Iran on its blacklist and reinstate countermeasures on the Iranian regime.

Chairman Royce penned the letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in an effort to protect the international financial system from Iran’s money laundering and terrorist financing.

“Ensuring the Financial Action Task Force [FATF] maintains its designation of Iran as a ‘high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdiction’ and re-imposes counter-measures will help protect the national security of the United States and the integrity of the international financial system,” wrote Chairman Royce.

“It will also send a powerful message to the brave Iranians who took to the streets earlier this month,” he continued. “Money laundering is a key element of the endemic corruption that the regime uses to enrich itself and support terrorism abroad. These abuses were at the heart of the protests. This is an opportunity to stand with the Iranian people against a regime that steals the wealth of a great nation to oppress its people and sow instability across the Middle East and beyond.”

FATF is the international organization responsible for legal and regulatory guidelines on anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing. Until June 2016, Iran had been on a FATF blacklist—and subject to countermeasures—due to its terrorist financing and deficiencies in combatting money laundering. FATF suspended these countermeasures when Iran submitted an action plan designed to address some of these issues. FATF is set to make a decision on Iran at its Plenary session in early February.

Ambassador Haley: Peace Requires Courageous Leaders

On Jan. 25, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in remarks at the U.N. Security Council.

“The United States remains deeply committed to helping the Israelis and Palestinians reach a historic peace agreement,” she said during the Security Council’s open debate on the Middle East. “But we will not chase after a Palestinian leadership that lacks what is needed to achieve peace. To get historic results, we need courageous leaders.”

Haley cited former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as such a leader, for his bold rhetoric and actions that helped catalyze the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. She compared Sadat’s courageous declaration to the Knesset that “we accept to live with you in permanent peace,” to Abbas’ recent speech in which he “declared the Oslo Peace Accords dead,” “rejected any American role in peace talks” and “called for suspending recognition of Israel.”

Haley continued, “A speech that indulges in outrageous and discredited conspiracy theories is not the speech of a person with the courage and the will to seek peace.” She added: “The indispensable element is leaders who have the will to do what’s needed to achieve peace. Real peace requires leaders who are willing to step forward, acknowledge hard truths, and make compromises.”

Despite Abbas’ rhetoric, Haley reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians and argued that a peace agreement could still be possible if Abbas were to demonstrate courageous leadership and not close the doors to bilateral negotiations.

“We remain committed to the possibility and potential of two states, if agreed to by the parties,” she said. “If President Abbas demonstrates he can be that type of leader, we would welcome it. His recent actions demonstrate the total opposite.”

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