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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (June 10- July 14, 2016)

House Panel Advances Key Pro-Israel Resolutions

On July 14, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed two important pro-Israel resolutions.

H.Res.729, co-authored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL), calls for the expeditious finalization of a new, robust Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United States and Israel. As Israel faces increased threats from across the Middle East, a strong and increased security assistance package is vital to ensuring Israel’s safety, security and its ability to defend itself.

H.Res.750, co-authored by Reps. Deutch and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), urges the European Union (EU) to designate the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah continues to pose a significant security risk to Israel as well as the stability of Lebanon and the broader Middle East.

With Congress about to recess for seven weeks, the two resolutions are expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives when lawmakers return in September.

House Appropriations Committee Passes Foreign Aid Bill with Key Pro-Israel Provisions

On July 12, the House Appropriations Committee marked up and approved the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2017.

Led by the Subcommittee’s Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the Ranking Member of the full committee Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), the bill includes numerous pro-Israel provisions, including $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Israel in accordance with the ninth year of the current 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel.

The legislation maintains rigid guidelines on Palestinian aid and mandates that the secretary of state provide a detailed report on the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) efforts to curb Palestinian incitement to violence. The measure also includes stronger language to enforce the reduction of aid to the PA equivalent to the amount it pays to individuals or their families who are imprisoned for acts of terrorism or died committing them.

The report accompanying the bill also includes several important provisions. The report calls on the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. “to veto any one-sided Security Council resolutions” and highlights U.S. concerns about “efforts to reestablish the parameters of Middle East peace negotiations.”

The report requires the secretary of state to submit written reports on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The reports is required to include a justification on why it is in the national interest of the United States to provide funds to UNRWA and whether UNRWA's definition of a refugee helps the pursuit of peace.

Finally, the bill would forbid the Export-Import Bank from financing business transactions with Iran.

Key Senate Committee Adopts Pro-Israel Provisions in Funding Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on June 29 to approve the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2017.

The bill includes a $300 million increase in military assistance to Israel over both last year’s figure of $3.1 billion and the administration’s budget request for this year.

State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spearheaded the effort to include increased aid to Israel.

“The bill includes a $300 million plus-up for Israel above the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) level to support an important ally at a critical time,” said Graham. “We have no better friend than Israel, and they are in the middle of the toughest neighborhood in the world.”

Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also played vital roles in garnering bipartisan support for the bill.

During consideration of the bill, the Committee adopted an amendment offered by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) to combat boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel. The amendment protects state and local governments’ right to disassociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel. The amendment mirrored legislation introduced as a stand-alone measure by Sen. Kirk and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Combating BDS Act of 2016. The amendment was adopted 21-9.

Bipartisan Senate Letter to President: Enforce Non-Nuclear Sanctions Against Iran

On July 11, a group of 35 senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama urging him to guarantee that Iranian sanctions for illicit, non-nuclear activities are strictly enforced.

Authored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), the letter pressed the administration to maximize the strength of existing sanctions in order to halt Iranian illicit activity including “its material support for terrorism, development of ballistic missiles, and human rights abuses.” The existing sanctions fall outside the scope of those lifted following the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Iran’s nefarious activities remain a threat to the integrity of the international financial system today,” the senators wrote. ”It is one of two countries on the Financial Action Task Force’s blacklist of high-risk, non-cooperative countries for refusing to assist in the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. Iran remains the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”

“We urge you to ensure the maximum strength of existing sanctions on Iran, including the restriction on dollar-based transactions for Iran, until Iran changes its nefarious behavior,” the senators continued. “If Iran wants direct or indirect access to the U.S. financial system Iran can cease money laundering, proliferating weapons, developing ballistic missiles, and supporting terror.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Adopts New Provisions on Iran Sanctions

On June 16, the Senate Appropriations Committee included key provisions on Iran sanctions as part of a report accompanying a new funding bill for fiscal year 2017.

Spearheaded by Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), the new language in the Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Services and General Government Act report instructs the Department of Treasury to “conduct a full review of all sanction designation removals related to Iran in the past two years.”

Under the proposed provisions, if the Treasury Department determines an entity has engaged in any sanctionable activity, it must either sanction the entity or provide written justification for why sanctions have not been imposed.

The Senate committee further expressed its concern about the dramatic decrease of Iranian non-nuclear sanctions over the past two years. Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was announced, the United States has not sanctioned any Iranian entities for supporting terrorism or for carrying out human rights abuses. Only a handful of entities supporting Iran’s missile program have been sanctioned.

“The Committee directs the Treasury Department to provide a report to the Committee, within 180 days from enactment, on the number of non-nuclear related sanctions designations related to Iran issued for the each of the past 3 fiscal years. The report shall provide an overall number of designations, and the number for each sanctions program,” wrote the Committee.

The bill now awaits consideration on the Senate floor.

Members of Congress Condemn FATF Decision to Suspend Countermeasures against Iran

Members of Congress from both political parties denounced the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) June 24 decision to defer its call for countermeasures against Iran for 12 months.

FATF is an international watchdog organization dedicated to combatting international money laundering and terrorist financing through the establishment of legal and regulatory guidelines.

“The FATF welcomes Iran’s adoption of, and high-level political commitment to, an Action Plan to address its strategic (anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing) deficiencies,” FATF said in a statement. “The FATF therefore has suspended countermeasures for 12 months in order to monitor Iran’s progress in implementing the Action Plan.”

According to the statement, if Iran neglects to improve its record on money laundering and terrorism financing, FATF will renew its call for vigorous countermeasures to be taken against Iran. On the other hand, if Iran takes serious steps in implementing its Action Plan, the task force will consider “further next steps” at the end of the 12-month period.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) emphasized that the FATF decision sends “mixed messages” to Iran and can “be seen as a victory for Iran’s mullahs.”

“I am alarmed by actions of FATF or other bodies that give Iran’s leaders any reason to believe that their country can reintegrate into the international banking system without changing their dangerous behavior, including ceasing funding of Hezbollah and other terrorist entities, as well as threatening Israel and our other regional allies,” said Hoyer. “Iran can’t have it both ways - wanting to be treated like a normal member of the international community while continuing to act as a pariah, sponsoring terror and fueling instability in its region. Iran must be held fully accountable for its actions and be judged not on future hopes but on past experience.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) called the FATF decision “a sobering reminder that Iran remains a state sponsor of terrorism, and a threat to the U.S. and global financial systems.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, deemed the FATF decision to suspend countermeasures against the Iranians “troubling.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Financial Compensation for Terrorists in the West Bank

On July 6, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the financial rewarding of terrorists and their families by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA disperses up to $140 million annually to Palestinians who committed acts of terrorism against Israelis and to the families of those terrorists. In addition to a one-time payment to each terrorist, the PA gives a higher monthly allowance to those serving longer sentences in Israeli jails, with some convicted terrorists receiving over $3,000 per month. Families of terrorists who were killed while perpetrating their attacks are paid as well.

Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) condemned the practice in his opening remarks, opining that “If a Palestinian state was established, it’s hard to see how this ‘pay to slay’ policy wouldn’t put them on the state sponsor of terrorism list.”

“When the Palestinian leadership—whether it be the PLO or the Palestinian Authority—sends money to convicted terrorists and their families,” said Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), “it’s no wonder that individuals, individuals are incentivized to commit acts of violence. This culture of incitement must end.”

United States, Israel Sign Anti-Tunneling Cooperation Agreement

On June 21, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced an agreement to enhance collaboration on counter-tunneling research and development.

The two allies will work together on a portfolio of about a dozen Pentagon projects, including an effort to identify a tunnel test site with terrains and geologies of mutual interest.

The bilateral agreement represents the implementation of a multi-year congressional initiative to fund cooperative anti-tunneling programs with Israel. Last year, Congress included $40 million to develop a new, joint U.S.-Israel anti-tunneling defense program to locate, map and destroy terrorist tunnel networks. The agreement updated a 2005 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the United States and Israel on combating terrorism.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate defense appropriations bills for fiscal year 2017 contain $42 million in continued funding for U.S.-Israel anti-tunneling cooperation. On June 16, the House overwhelmingly passed its annual defense spending bill; the Senate version awaits floor consideration.

Bipartisan Letter Commends Israel on Approach to Supplying Energy and Water to the Gaza Strip

On July 13, a bipartisan group of 14 members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), sent a letter to Israeli Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz and Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman praising Israel’s commitment to increase the flow of electricity into the Gaza Strip to support the operation of the Northern Gaza Sewage Treatment Project (NGEST).

The lawmakers noted that the operation of NGEST will not only improve health conditions in Gaza, it will also serve to potentially undermine the rule of Hamas, which uses “civil unrest as a recruitment tool”.

“We recognize the many threats that Israel faces from its border with Gaza,” wrote the representatives. “We sincerely praise and support your practical actions that benefit Israeli and Palestinian citizens alike, and protect regional natural resources. The security and health of the people of Israel, and the safe access to water and sanitation services for all people, are both major global priorities for the United States.”

America and Israel Reach New Cybersecurity Agreement

On June 21, the United States and Israel signed a joint declaration to increase cybersecurity cooperation between the nations.

With this agreement, Israel becomes one of the first countries to join the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Automated Indicator Sharing (AIS) initiative, a program designed to automate information sharing for cyber threats between governments and the private sector.

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas underscored the importance of this program, stating, “Automated data sharing could make the difference in avoiding a cyberattack.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, the initial founder of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau and current head of Tel Aviv University’s cyber department, echoed this sentiment in his remarks at the Sixth Annual International Cybersecurity Conference on June 20.

“We are always collecting data from cyberattacks, and the data about the attacks is on our computers, but sometimes we see it too late,” said Ben-Israel.

Through the AIS initiative, the National Cyber Bureau will work with DHS to counter cyberattacks more effectively, a priority for both countries.

“The declaration expresses the vital nature of an international integration of forces in order to more effectively deal with joint threats in the cyber sphere,” wrote the Prime Minister’s Office in a statement, “especially given the commitment of the U.S. and Israeli governments to expand and deepen bilateral cooperation in cyber defense, which has grown in recent years.”

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