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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Nov. 11 - Dec. 15, 2016)

First F-35 Stealth Fighter Jets Arrive in Israel

On Dec. 12, the first two of Israel’s F-35 stealth fighter jets touched down at Nevatim Air Base. Israel is the first country after the United States to receive the fifth-generation aircraft and has agreed to purchase a total of 50 from U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin.

The F-35s departed from a Lockheed Martin facility in Texas last week, briefly stopped near Portugal, and spent the weekend in Italy. After a brief weather-related delay, the planes touched down Monday evening in Israel and were greeted by a ceremony attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro.

“The aircraft will change the rules of the game,” said Rivlin. “Our enemies already know that Israel is not worthwhile to harm.”

The stealth aircraft is one of the most advanced in the world and has a high price tag—costing approximately $100 million per unit (not including maintenance and additional support equipment). Israel’s purchase of the F-35 is made possible in part due to security assistance provided by the United States each year, which in turn is largely spent in the United States.

Netanyahu thanked President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for helping to make Israel “stronger today.”

“I want to be clear: Anyone who thinks of attacking us, will be attacked. History has taught us that only strength brings deterrence, only strength brings peace and respect,” he said.

The F-35 will allow the Israeli Air Force to operate in hostile areas defended by advanced anti-aircraft technology, including the Russian-made S-300, which Iran has recently acquired.

Secretary of Defense Carter stated that the United States “will continue to provide Israel with the most advanced capabilities, including more F-35s to sharpen Israel’s military qualitative edge. With the turmoil in the region, we are more dedicated than ever before to Israel’s security and America’s pledge to defend Israel’s security remains unwavering.”

“As of today Israel is our only friend in the region flying the F-35,” he added. “The F-35s will help the U.S. and Israel air forces operate more jointly and more effectively. And together, we will dominate the skies.”

Congress Passes the Iran Sanctions Extension Act

On Dec. 1, the Senate unanimously passed the Iran Sanction Extension Act by a 99-0 vote. The House of Representatives previously passed the bill on Nov. 15 with a 419-1 vote.

Authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), the legislation reauthorizes the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) and maintains the United States’ current sanctions architecture on Iran. 

ISA was signed into law in 1996 and targets investments in Iran’s energy sector, the leading segment of the Iranian economy. The law played a major role in pushing the Iranian regime to the negotiation table on its illicit nuclear program, culminating in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The extension of ISA, which was set to expire on Dec. 31, will help ensure that there are sanctions in place to “snap back” should Iran violate the JCPOA.

Members of Congress from both parties have praised the passage of the Iran Sanctions Extension Act. 

"The Iranian regime continues to finance terrorism, test-fire ballistic missiles, abuse its people, and, as recently as last week, violate the nuclear agreement. Today’s bipartisan vote will help maintain our ability to immediately reinstate sanctions against Iran over the next decade. I appreciate Chairman Royce and his entire committee for their work on this important bill, and hope the president will agree to sign it,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). 

“Iran’s theocratic leaders continue to threaten Israel and Americans in the region. They continue, as well, to pursue ballistic missile technology that destabilizes the region, and its regime has held Americans captive for years as bargaining chips in negotiations over its compliance with basic international law and norms,” echoed House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). 

“Congress needs these sanction authorities to respond to Iran’s violations and check Iran’s growing influence in the region. Sanctions are what brought Iran to the table, and they can bring Iran to heel again,” stated House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). 

“Time is of the essence, as this critical law expires on December 31st—unless Congress acts—as we are doing today,” urged Chairman Royce. “The other body should quickly take up this bill and send it to the President’s desk, keeping a critical tool in place for the next Administration while it reevaluates the dangerous track that U.S. policy toward Iran has been on.” 

“We don’t want to let the Iran Sanctions Act lapse. We don’t want Iran’s leaders to think we’ve lost focus on their other dangerous activities around the world. That we don’t mind—don’t want them to think that we don’t mind—when they launch ballistic missiles emblazoned with the words in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be wiped out.’ That we will—we must not, they must not think that we will look the other way when they smuggle weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, who last month fired two cruise missiles at a U.S. naval destroyer, ” said Ranking Member Engel.

“Given Iran’s continued pattern of aggression and the country’s persistent efforts to expand its sphere of influence across the region, preserving these sanctions is critical,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

“With our vote today, Congress will make clear that the United States will not hesitate to maintain sanctions on Iran and those that seek to provide the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism with weapons of mass destruction,” stated Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). “This sanctions regime is how we hold Iran accountable, strengthen our security, and deter Iranian hostility toward our allies, especially the State of Israel, which Iran has singled out as a target for destruction.” 

“I am pleased by the overwhelming support this bill received in both the House and Senate and look forward to continuing our work to hold Tehran accountable,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN). 

“I rise to voice my support of the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “We need to send a signal to Iran that the United States, while meeting its obligations under the JCPOA, will continue to respond to other threatening and dangerous activities the Iranian regime has taken.” 

“Iran must be held accountable for its dangerous and destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, and this legislation contains important tools to deny it the resources to support terrorism and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.”

“The Iran Sanctions Extension Act shows Iran and the world that we are ready, willing and able to hold Iran accountable,” stated Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). 

Congress Approves $600.7 Million for U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Cooperation

On Dec. 8, the Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $600.7 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation. 

The legislation specifically authorizes $268.7 million in research-and-development funding for U.S.-Israel cooperative missile and rocket defense programs; $62 million for procurement of the Iron Dome rocket defense system; $150 million for procurement of the David’s Sling missile defense system; and $120 million for procurement of the Arrow-3 missile defense system. The bill also mandates a report on the potential for the United States and Israel to collaborate on directed energy technologies to defeat rockets and missiles.

Beyond missile-defense funding, the legislation also authorizes $10 million for joint anti-tunnel cooperation. 

Other provisions address Congress’ concern over Iranian behavior. Namely, the NDAA requires a quarterly report on any confirmed Iranian ballistic missile launches and on U.S. plans to impose sanctions in response to these launches. Additionally, the legislation requires information on Iran’s cyber capabilities to be incorporated into the annual report on Iranian military power mandated under existing law.

The leadership of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), along with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) ensured these critical programs and provisions were included in the legislation.

House Reaffirms Support for Direct Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations

On Nov. 29, the House of Representatives adopted by voice vote H. Con. Res. 165, a bipartisan resolution that reaffirms support for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations leading to a sustainable two-state solution. The measure also reiterates opposition to United Nations (U.N.) Security Council efforts that would impose a solution to the conflict.

Spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), the resolution states that “it is the long-standing policy of the United States Government that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only come through direct, bilateral negotiations between the two parties.”

It also reiterates that “efforts to impose a solution or parameters for a solution can make negotiations more difficult and can set back the cause of peace.”

The resolution further urges the U.S. government to “oppose and veto United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel,” and “support and facilitate the resumption of negotiations without preconditions between Israelis and Palestinians toward a sustainable peace agreement.”

Members of Congress praised the passage of H. Con. Res. 165.

“U.S. policy has long and wisely been that only Israelis and Palestinians can work out a peace agreement between themselves, and that efforts to impose one would be counterproductive,” said Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA). “Whatever ‘parameters’ the U.N. established would be unacceptable to any Israeli government, left or right—making it impossible to see any future peace.”

“Republicans and Democrats agree that a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations,” stated Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). “Today, the House urged the Obama administration to forcefully oppose any unilateral moves by the U.N. to impose a solution to the conflict. These efforts, which almost always place disproportionate pressure on Israel, only push the parties further apart and undermine the cause of peace.” 

Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa Ted Deutch (D-FL) said: “There should be no pause or hesitation in the minds and hearts of Israelis that the United States Government and a unified Congress stand steadfastly with Israel. This means that we must continue to block any effort to impose a settlement of the conflict from the outside. This resolution reaffirms the position by the U.S. House of Representatives that this conflict will not be resolved by a UN resolution or unilateral declaration. Peace will only be achieved through direct, bilateral negotiations.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) stated: “This resolution reaffirms longstanding American policy that can be summarized in five points: talks must be direct and bilateral; a solution cannot be imposed on the parties; both sides must be willing to make important compromises; disagreements should be resolved privately; and the United States should work closely with the State of Israel. This resolution deserves the support of those on both sides of the aisle.”

In September, 88 senators signed a bipartisan letter urging President Obama to maintain long-standing U.S. policy and veto any one-sided U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Congress Passes Key U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Bill

On Dec. 10, the Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing the United States-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act of 2016 (H. R. 5877).

The bill permanently authorizes an already-existing three-year joint program between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Israel's Ministry of Public Security, and expands it to include cybersecurity cooperation. Currently, the focus of the program is wearable technologies for first responders.

Another U.S.-Israel cybersecurity bill—the United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2016 (H.R. 5843)—passed the House by voice vote on Nov. 29, but was unable to clear the Senate before Congress adjourned. This piece of legislation would establish a cybersecurity grant program for joint research and development opportunities between Israeli and American entities. The bill is likely to be reintroduced in the next Congress.

The two bills were cosponsored by Reps. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) following a trip to Israel last May, where they met with Israeli cybersecurity leaders in the public and private spheres. 

“Israel is a vital strategic partner, and I’m pleased to be working closely with Rep. Langevin to preserve and strengthen this important bond through joint cybersecurity efforts. Cybersecurity is national security, and enhancing joint research and development efforts between the United States and Israel will improve our countries’ ability to deter malicious cyber actors,” said Ratcliffe, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.

“My trip to Israel with Congressman Ratcliffe was an illuminating experience, and reinforced my belief that our countries have much to learn from one another when it comes to cybersecurity,” said Langevin, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. “Our legislation will further strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and drive innovative, collaborative thinking about homeland security priorities.”

Senate Unanimously Approves Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

On Dec. 1, the Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan bill that presents guidelines for the definition of anti-Semitism to be considered by the Department of Education during anti-discrimination investigations into violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Authored by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016 (S. 10) addresses the “sharp increase” of anti-Semitic incidents occurring on college campuses throughout the country. 

“There is simply no place in our country for this kind of intolerance,” said Sen. Scott. “It falls on us to stand up and do more to stamp out anti-Semitism and other forms of religious discrimination. We must hold to the ideals that our nation was founded on and promote freedom of religion. We must protect that freedom and encourage it.”

“The rise in incidents of religious discrimination and religiously-motivated hate crimes is completely unacceptable. We have to not only condemn it, but work to stop it,” said Sen. Casey. “This legislation is aimed at a particularly troubling manifestation of the growing problem of anti-Semitism: when anti-Semitic views lead to discrimination against students of Jewish faith or Jewish ancestry.”

In the House, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced similar legislation (H.R. 6421) regarding the implementation of federal antidiscrimination laws concerning education programs or activities related to anti-Semitism. 

“I’m pleased that this legislation moved forward and call on the House of Representatives to quickly send it to the President’s desk,” said Sen. Casey.

Congress Passes Key U.S.-Israel Provisions in Water Infrastructure Legislation

On Dec. 10, the Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing three substantive U.S.-Israel water provisions as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act

First, the bill fundamentally restructures the federal desalination grant program in a manner incentivizing cooperation with Israel. 

Second, the legislation requires the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a coordinated strategic plan with certain allies, specifically Israel, for the development of new water technologies.

Finally, it authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to engage in tech transfer, as well as research and development with Israel and other allies, for the purpose of developing water resources.

U.S.-Israel Foundation to Invest $12 Million in Joint R&D Projects

The U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD) announced in November that it will invest $12 million to fund projects that advance emergency services technology.

The “NextGen First Responder Technologies” program—jointly administered by the Israeli Ministry of Public Security and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate—fosters research and development (R&D) in fields critical to first responders such as communications, data analysis, explosives and hazards detection, protective clothing, sensors, simulation and training, situational awareness and wearable technologies.

“This binational cooperation creates synergistic capabilities to handle emergency situations while using innovative technologies to save lives,” said BIRD Executive Director Eitan Yudilevich. “The program extends and enhances the successful collaboration that already exists between the U.S. and Israel in science and technology in the homeland-security sector.”

The $12 million in funding will be financed through both private and public sector contributions and disbursed over three years. Grant proposals are eligible to receive up to 50 percent of their total R&D budget, not to exceed $1 million.

The BIRD Foundation was founded in 1977 and has since awarded grants to over 900 projects, resulting in over $10 billion in sales. 

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