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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief – Winter 2019/2020

Congress Includes Key Pro-Israel Provisions in FY20 Appropriations

In December, Congress finalized and approved the budget for 2020, including full funding for U.S. security assistance to Israel, along with many pro-Israel provisions. The legislation provides $3.8 billion in security funding to Israel, without added conditions, as outlined in the 2016 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding—including $3.3 billion in foreign aid and $500 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation.

The bill also included $13 million for new U.S.-Israel counter-drone cooperation and a two-year extension of the U.S. weapons stockpile in Israel.

Congress also approved $6 million in funding for 21st century partnerships between the United States and Israel. The legislation provides funding for the U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy and water and deepens U.S.-Israel cooperation through continued support for ongoing cooperation in the areas of homeland security, cyber, agriculture and energy.

Bipartisan Legislation Paves the Way for U.S.-Israel Partnership on PTSD Research

On Jan. 15, Reps. Michael Waltz (R-FL), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY) introduced the United States-Israel PTSD Collaborative Research Act (H.R. 5605). The bipartisan bill aims to leverage research of the U.S. and Israel to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Specifically, the bill would create a grant program for U.S. colleges and private non-profits to partner with Israeli counterparts on PTSD research.

“Serving in combat changes you—and many times, our service members return home much different than they were when they deployed,” said Rep. Waltz. “This is not their fault. PTSD is a natural response for our service members who have seen war firsthand—and it affects veterans from all backgrounds and walks of life. It’s critical we leverage every tool possible to better help our veterans heal from PTSD and adjust to life back home.”

“Too many of our bravest men and women come home with invisible wounds from the trauma they experienced while fighting for our country,” Rep. Luria added. “Congress can uphold its end of the promise by facilitating groundbreaking research to find treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Sens. Rubio and Coons Introduce U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Bill

On Jan. 9, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020.

In a press release, Sen. Rubio stated, “In the wake of recent threats from the Iranian regime and their proxies, we must ensure that our allies in the region are prepared to defend themselves. This important bipartisan legislation advances America’s interest in the region and helps to keep Israel safe.”

Sen. Coons also expressed the timely need for the bill: “The events of the past few days are a stark reminder of the importance of U.S. assistance to Israel’s security… The assistance included in this bill will help Israel protect itself in a time of great uncertainty in the region; deter—and, if necessary, defend against—Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas; and deepen bilateral U.S.-Israel ties for decades to come.”

U.S. Treasury Department Increases Sanctions on Iranian Regime

As part of the United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign to combat the Iranian regime’s malign activities, the U.S. Treasury Department, over the last few months, imposed sanctions on numerous individuals and entities supporting the regime and its terrorist proxies. Below are some of the major recent actions.

On Nov. 4, Treasury sanctioned nine members of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle. The individuals were targeted for their roles in advancing the regime’s domestic and foreign oppression, including executing of children, cracking down on protests, religious discrimination and other human rights offenses.

In the announcement, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated, “These individuals are linked to a wide range of malign behaviors by the regime, including bombings of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in 1994, as well as torture, extrajudicial killings, and repression of civilians. This action further constricts the Supreme Leader’s ability to execute his agenda of terror and oppression.”

On Dec. 11, Treasury sanctioned an Iranian shipping network involved in smuggling lethal aid from Iran to Yemen on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-Quds Force). This action followed the U.S. Navy’s interception of an illegal Iranian shipment of advanced missile parts en route to Yemen in November.

Just two days later, on Dec. 13, Treasury also sanctioned a Lebanese diamond dealer and art collector for financing the terrorist organization Hezbollah. Also sanctioned was a businessman based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of his accountants, who together funneled millions to Hezbollah.

On Dec. 19, Treasury sanctioned two judges within the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Court for their roles in executing Iranian citizens, dual-nationals, journalists and political activists. In the announcement, Secretary Mnuchin asserted that the United States “will not be a bystander to ongoing oppression and injustice in Iran.”

The following month, on Jan. 10, Treasury sanctioned several senior members of the Iranian regime, including the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the Deputy Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces and the head of the IRGC’s Basij militia. Seventeen Iranian metal producers and mining companies were also designated.

The president concurrently signed an executive order targeting additional sources of revenue used by Iran “to fund and support its nuclear program, missile development, terrorism and terrorist proxy networks, and malign regional influence.” The order authorized the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to take action against the construction, mining, manufacturing and textile sectors within Iran.

Members of Congress Push Back Against the Threat of Hezbollah

In November, more than 200 members of Congress signed onto a bipartisan letter pushing back on the threat of Hezbollah.

Authored by Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Michael Waltz (R-FL), the letter highlighted the threat posed by Hezbollah to Israel and Lebanese sovereignty, and expressed concerns over “serious violations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and the resulting threat our ally Israel faces on its northern border.”

As Rep. Luria stated, “The names on this letter show robust bipartisan support for protecting our ally Israel from Hezbollah and Iran’s toxic activities.”

U.S. Air Force Participates in Extensive Training Exercise in Israel

In November, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) hosted the fourth-ever multinational Blue Flag exercise, a biennial military aviation exercise. The exercise included an estimated 1,000 personnel from Israel, the United States, Germany, Italy and Greece.

This was the first time Israel used its F-35 joint strike fighter jets in the Blue Flag exercise. This is a symbol of the strengthening defense relationship between the United States, Israel and other allied nations, and has particular importance given the current threats facing Israel.

Top U.S. Military Officials Travel to Israel

Throughout the month of November, multiple top U.S. military officials traveled to Israel to deepen the strategic cooperation between the two countries.

The commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., traveled to Israel on Nov. 9 to meet with the leaders of the Israel Defense Forces. Invited as a guest of IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, this trip marked the second-ever visit by a commander of CENTCOM to the Jewish state.

As part of the Blue Flag joint military exercise, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein, visited the Jewish state and met with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Israeli Air Force Commander Amikam Norkin and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel and a delegation of U.S. National Guard leaders spent time with Israeli civilian and military leaders during their trip to Israel. The leaders discussed topics such as the ongoing information revolution in disaster management, how best to encourage civilian resilience, and how to communicate essential information in a much more fragmented media environment.

Finally, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, also traveled to Israel to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and other senior Israeli military officials. The trip marked the top U.S. general’s first visit to Israel since assuming his new position. The IDF said in a statement that Gen. Milley’s visit was a sign of “the depth of the partnership between the forces and its importance in promoting regional stability.”

U.S., Israel Conduct Joint “Cyberdome” Exercise

In October, the Israel Defense Forces and U.S. Cyber Command partnered for their fourth Cyberdome exercise. Hosted by U.S. Cyber Command, the exercise involved joint teams responding to various cyber scenarios that threaten both countries.

“The Cyber-defense and Telecommunications Division practices and will continue to practice with various foreign cyber-defense entities to maintain its skill and preparedness, strengthen the armies’ connections and shared interests and encourage joint learning between the organizations,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

U.S. Army to Field Israeli-Made Long-Range Missile

The U.S. Army has decided to field Rafael’s Spike Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) missiles on attack helicopters as an interim solution to get after greater stand-off and long-range engagements.

An Army Requirements Oversight Council decision has authorized the service to field a certain number of these Israeli-made, long-range precision munitions to address a much-desired capability, particularly when considering how the U.S. Army will fight in the future where greater stand-off to go up against enemy targets is paramount to successful operations.

U.S.-Israel Military Cooperation Displayed in Inauguration of F-35i Squadron

On Jan. 16, the Israeli Air Force's second squadron of F-35 “Adir” stealth fighter jets was officially inaugurated.

“The continued acquisition of the F-35i ‘Adir’ fighter jet expresses the quality of the military cooperation between Israel and the U.S., which continues to produce excellent results in procurement and development processes,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a press release.

In September, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Lockheed Martin, an American global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company, celebrated IAI’s delivery of the 100th F-35 wing to Lockheed Martin’s assembly line. “We look forward to deepening the fruitful, strong cooperation of today and in future programs, with both the Ministry of Defense and Israeli defense industries,” Lockheed Martin Israel country executive Joshua Shani said.

Israeli Defense Company Rafael Delivers U.S. Army Tank Protection Systems

Israeli defense electronics company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems announced in October that it delivered the first batch of Trophy active protection systems (APSs) to the U.S. Army. The Trophy system—which has been used by the Israel Defense Forces since 2011—is designed to intercept incoming antitank missiles and other projectiles. IDF Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yoav Har-Even, president and CEO of Rafael, described the delivery as a “major milestone in U.S.-Israel cooperation.”

U.S., Israeli and World Leaders Commemorate 75th Anniversary of Liberation of Auschwitz

In an unprecedented diplomatic moment in Israeli history, over 45 world leaders and delegations from 49 countries arrived in Jerusalem to participate in the 5th World Holocaust Forum commemorating the 75th liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, during the week of Jan. 23.

At the invitation of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, 26 presidents, four kings, four prime ministers and many senior diplomats, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prince Charles and French President Emmanuel Macron participated in the event.

Also among the world leaders was a congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), including by Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL). Before their arrival in Israel, the lawmakers traveled to Poland, where they visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The same week, an unprecedented delegation of 200 European ministers and parliamentarians from 20 different countries, organized by the European Jewish Association (EJA), a pro-Israel advocacy organization based in Brussels, also toured Auschwitz-Birkenau to commemorate the 75th anniversary.

Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report NERWinter2019-2020