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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (May 19 - June 16, 2017)

Senate Unanimously Adopts Resolution Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Jerusalem’s Reunification

On June 5, the Senate unanimously approved in a 90-0 vote S. Res. 176, a bipartisan resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Authored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), the bipartisan measure recognizes that “there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for 3 millennia” and hails Jerusalem as a “united city in which the rights of all faiths have been respected and protected” since 1967.

"While we know that Israel continues to face a number of threats, bipartisan passage of this resolution will serve as yet another indication of the United States’ commitment to standing by our Israeli friends," said Sen. McConnell.

“It is very fitting that the Senate passed this resolution 50 years to the day of the start of the Six-Day War," said Sen. Schumer. "I was proud to sponsor this resolution, which reaffirms the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that states Jerusalem should remain an undivided city and Israel’s capital—in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are celebrated, valued and protected.”

June 5 marked the 50-year anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Day War. This war of Israeli self-defense resulted in Jerusalem’s reunification. From 1948 to 1967, Israeli citizens of all religious backgrounds and Jewish people of all nationalities could not access Jerusalem's Old City and holy sites. After the Six-Day War, Israel immediately eliminated constraints on the free exercise of religion, and supported access of Jews, Christians and Muslims to worship in Jerusalem, a practice which continues today.

Treasury Sanctions Seven Individuals, Entities Linked to Iran's Ballistic Missile Program

On May 17, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned seven individuals and entities for supporting Iran's ballistic missile program. 

Specifically, OFAC designated Morteza Farasatpour and Rahim Ahmadi, two senior Iranian defense officials; the China-based Ruan Runling Network and three associated companies; and the Iran-based company Matin Sanat Nik Andishan. Farasatpour was also found to have coordinated the sale and delivery of explosives to the Assad regime in Syria.

“This Administration is committed to countering Iran's destabilizing behavior, such as Iran's development of ballistic missiles and support to the Assad regime. It is alarming that individuals involved with Iran's missile program are assisting the brutal Assad regime, and we are taking action to curtail this behavior,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“These sanctions target Iranian officials as well as a China-based network that are providing support to Syria and supplying items to further Iran's ballistic weapons program. The United States will remain vigilant when it comes to Iran.”

OFAC’s action was made in conjunction with the State Department’s release of the semi-annual report issued to Congress that details sanctions imposed on individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses in Iran.

“Iran has compiled one of the world’s most egregious records on human rights since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979, and its conduct has only grown worse in recent years,” said the State Department. “Addressing Iran’s continued human rights violations and abuses remains a high priority for the U.S. government…[W]e will continue to work with authorities granted by Congress as well as use existing executive orders to sanction persons involved in abuses of human rights in Iran.”

U.S. Authorities Arrest Two Hezbollah Operatives Plotting Against American and Israel Targets

On June 8, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrest of two men on charges related to their alleged involvement in activities on behalf of the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah.

Ali Kourani was arrested in the Bronx, New York on June 1 for providing material support to Hezbollah and receiving military-type training from the terrorist group. He is also charged on a related weapons offense that involves a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and machine guns. In 2000, Kourani began attending Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon.

Following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, he was recruited by the Iranian proxy to carry out activities in the United States. These actions included identifying individuals affiliated with the Israel Defense Forces, gathering information regarding security at U.S. airports, and surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.

Samer El-Debek was also arrested on June 1, near Detroit, Michigan. Hezbollah allegedly recruited him in late 2007 or early 2008. He was paid by the group approximately through 2015 and received extensive military training, including “various weapons, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, and the creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices.” According to the FBI, he possesses a “high degree of technical sophistication” in explosives.

El-Debek traveled on behalf of Hezbollah in 2011 to Panama, where he was tasked with “locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy, and locating hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased.”

“The charges announced today reveal once again that the New York City region remains a focus of many adversaries, demonstrated as alleged in this instance by followers of a sophisticated and determined organization with a long history of coordinating violent activities on behalf of Hezbollah,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. “Our announcement today also reveals, however, that the dozens of agencies working together with our FBI [Joint Terrorism Task Forces] nationwide are just as determined to disrupt the plans of those working to harm our communities.”

Hezbollah has been designated as a U.S. terrorist organization since 1995. The group has killed more Americans than any terrorist group other than al-Qaida.

Top Pentagon Officials Praise U.S.-Israel Defense Cooperation at Key House Subcommittee Hearing

On June 7, top American defense officials praised U.S.-Israel missile defense collaboration at a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing on Fiscal Year 2018 priorities.

Vice Adm. James Syring, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, stated that the United States is “close partners with Israel on development of their systems, system engineering in particular and testing.”

“I’ve been intimately involved with them on David’s Sling, Arrow, [and] the more recent version of Arrow-3,” said Syring at the hearing. “Frankly that interceptor is now up into the exo-atmosphere, and it has significant range constraints within the Mediterranean, and one of the better places to test is in Alaska from Kodiak and we plan to do that next year.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities Thomas Harvey hailed U.S. missile defense collaboration with Israel as “a bilateral success story.”

“The jointly developed Arrow and David's Sling weapon system programs provide Israel with the capability to defend itself against imminent and emerging ballistic missile threats while benefitting the United States through technology sharing,” said Harvey. “Operationally, missile defense is also the central focus of the JUNIPER COBRA exercise series—an important U.S.-Israeli military exercise that allows us to work through key interoperability challenges in responding to a potential missile crisis involving Israel.”

Harvey also discussed the significance of the 10-year, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two nations, which includes an annual commitment of $500 million for missile defense cooperation beginning in Fiscal Year 2019.

“The intent of the multi-year commitment in the MOU is to facilitate Israel’s long-term budget planning and to ensure U.S. budget predictability in supporting Israel’s missile defense development and production requirements,” said Harvey. “Although U.S. industry receives meaningful workshare through participation in Israeli ballistic missile defense programs, we must also ensure U.S. missile defense requirements receive sufficient funding.”

State Department Designates Hezbollah, ISIS Leaders

On May 19, the U.S. State Department designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) Hashem Safieddine, a senior Hezbollah leader, as well as Muhammad al-Isawi, leader of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) Sinai affiliate. Saudi Arabia joined the United States in designating Safieddine.

“Today’s actions notify the U.S. public and the international community that Safieddine and al-Isawi pose a serious risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” stated the report. “The action against Safieddine is the latest example of the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia in combatting the financing of terrorism. The Safieddine designation is also consistent with the U.S. government’s ongoing effort to expose and apply pressure against the actions of Hezbollah, which is supported by the foremost State Sponsor of Terrorism, Iran.”

As a result of these designations, all U.S. property and interests subject to these individuals are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Safieddine’s assets are similarly frozen in Saudi Arabia. 

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report