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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (March 17 - April 20, 2017)


United States ‘Strongly’ Opposes Anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council Agenda Item Seven


On March 20, the United States expressed that it “strongly and unequivocally” opposes the existence of the United Nations Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) anti-Israel Agenda Item Seven. 


The U.S. State Department called the agenda item “another reminder of the body’s longstanding bias against Israel.” 


“No other nation has an entire agenda item dedicated to it at the Council. The continued existence of this agenda item is among the largest threats to the credibility of the Council,” said the State Department. “As an expression of our deeply-held conviction that this bias must be addressed in order for the Council to realize its legitimate purpose, the United States decided not to attend the Council’s Item Seven General Debate session. It does not serve the interests of the Council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter. Later this week, the United States will vote against every resolution put forth under this agenda item and is encouraging other countries to do the same.”


The administration also condemned an anti-Israel report on March 17 released by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.


Praising this action, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) stated: “This so-called report is nothing more than anti-Israel propaganda, and should be retracted. It outrageously endorses calls to broaden the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.” 


“These types of dangerous, one-sided attacks on Israel only put prospects for peace in the region further out of reach. I applaud Ambassador Nikki Haley and the administration for making clear the United States will not tolerate these biased anti-Israel acts.” 


United States Imposes New Sanctions on Entities Tied to Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program


On March 21, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on 30 foreign entities and individuals in 10 countries pursuant to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). 


Of the total, 11 entities and individuals from China, North Korea and the United Arab Emirates were specifically sanctioned for transfers of sensitive items to Iran’s ballistic missile program. According to the State Department, “Iran’s proliferation of missile technology significantly contributes to regional tension and instability.”


“As an example, we have seen indications Iran is providing missile support to the Houthis in Yemen. This destabilizing activity only serves to escalate regional conflicts further and poses a significant threat to regional security. We will continue to take steps to address Iran’s missile development and production and sanction entities and individuals involved in supporting these programs under U.S. law. The imposition of sanctions against these eleven foreign entities is a continuation of our commitment to hold Iran accountable for its actions.”


The remaining 19 entities and individuals were sanctioned for other violations resulting from their transfer to, or receipt from, Iran, North Korea or Syria of goods, services or technology subject to multilateral export controls, including items that could make a material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction or missile proliferation.


U.S. Treasury Department Targets Iranian Human Rights Abuses


On April 13, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Tehran Prisons Organization (TPO) and Sohrab Soleimani, a senior official within Iran’s State Prison Organization, in connection with serious human rights abuses in Iran.

“This action reflects the United States’ deep concern regarding the human rights situation in Iran,” said the Treasury Department.


TPO and Soleimani were specifically designated pursuant to Executive Order 13553 for their roles in human rights abuses committed at the notorious Evin Prison. Iran detains many political prisoners in this facility and subjects them to harsh interrogations, forced confessions, torture, and denial of access to healthcare.


“Today’s designations highlight our continued support for the Iranian people and demonstrate our commitment to hold the Government of Iran responsible for its continued repression of its own citizens,” said Office of Foreign Asset Control Director John E. Smith.  “We will continue to identify, call out, and sanction those who are responsible for serious human rights abuses in Iran.”


According to the Treasury Department, these sanctions are fully consistent with U.S. obligations under the Iran nuclear agreement, which came into effect in January 2016. 


Two Terrorists Charged in Connection with 2010 Murder of U.S. Citizen in Israel


On April 13, U.S. authorities filed a criminal complaint against and issued arrest warrants for Palestinians Ayad Fatafta and Kifah Ghanimat in connection with the December 2010 murder of Kristine Luken, an American citizen visiting Israel.


According to the affidavit in support of the complaint and arrest warrants, the two men allegedly stabbed to death Luken, who was hiking near an archaeological site. She died at the scene. Her companion, a dual U.K.-Israeli citizen, was seriously wounded in the attack.


Fatafta and Ghanimat were subsequently convicted in an Israeli court on charges related to the crime. The former was sentenced to one life term of incarceration plus 20 years, while the latter was sentenced to two life terms of incarceration plus 60 years, for this and another crime.


The Department of Justice similarly charged a Jordanian national in March 2017 in connection with a 2001 terrorist attack at a Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem that resulted in 15 deaths, including two American citizens. Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi allegedly met with a Hamas suicide bomber in the West Bank, traveled with him by car to downtown Jerusalem, and instructed him to detonate his explosive device in the area.


Al-Tamimi pleaded guilty in an Israeli court in 2003 to multiple counts of murder and was sentenced to 16 life terms of incarceration. She served only eight years of the sentence before being released as part of a prisoner exchange between the Israeli government and Hamas.


Both of these cases were investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with the Office of International Affairs of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division providing significant assistance. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting these cases.


Foreign nationals may be charged with the murder of American citizens outside the United States pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code, sections 2332(a)(1) and 2.


United States Designates Hamas Terrorist


On April 6, the U.S. State Department designated Abu Anas al-Ghandour as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224.


Al-Ghandour leads a Hamas brigade in the Gaza Strip and has taken part in various terrorist operations, including the 2006 attack on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) outpost at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which killed two IDF soldiers, wounded four others and led to the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. He has also served on Hamas’ Shura Council and politburo.


“Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Ghandour has committed or poses a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism,” said the State Department.


As a result of this designation, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions or dealings with Ghandour, and all of his property and interests in property subject to United States jurisdiction are frozen.


Reps. Roskam, Meng Call for Robust U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Cooperation


On April 3, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Grace Meng (D-NY) sent a bipartisan letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense requesting $600.8 million for joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.  


 “Missile defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is tremendously beneficial to both countries,” stated Roskam. “This partnership enhances Israel’s ability to defend its citizens and gives our own armed forces access to the latest battle-proven technology. I’m glad to see David’s Sling become operational this week and look forward to more successes from this terrific partnership.”


“U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation is critical to the safety and security of Israel, and it helps to support jobs and improve technology and national security here in the United States,” added Meng. “Working in a bipartisan manner, Congressman Roskam and I previously helped secure increased aid for these defense cooperation programs, and I am pleased to partner with him again in seeking funding. Israel must have the appropriate resources to combat the continued threats it faces from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Full funding should be swiftly approved.”


This letter came one day after Israel declared operational the David’s Sling missile defense system, rounding out the Jewish state’s multi-layered missile defense array, which also includes Iron Dome and Arrow. Jointly developed by the United States and Israel, David’s Sling protects against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles, long-range artillery rockets, aircraft and low-flying cruise missiles.


Bipartisan House Letter Urges Funding for Joint U.S.-Israel Energy Programs


On April 5, a group of 102 lawmakers sent a bipartisan letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development requesting $6 million for joint U.S.-Israel energy cooperation programs. 


Spearheaded by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Peter King (R-NY), the House letter urges funding for the implementation of the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperative Agreement and for the establishment of the U.S.-Israel Energy Center (“Center of Excellence”) in the Fiscal Year 2018 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. 


“These programs are important tools in our efforts to achieve greater energy security and independence, and leverage a relatively small investment to incentivize academic and private sector innovation in the pursuit of a critical objective,” the members of Congress wrote


The letter also emphasizes that U.S. funding is matched dollar for dollar by Israel, and creates jobs in the United States. 


“Both the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperative Agreement and the United States-Israel Energy Center (Center of Excellence), neither of which are aid programs, are beneficial to our economy, in addition to our energy security and independence. This is an excellent way to leverage a modest investment into critical energy innovation to the benefit of both countries,” the letter states.


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