Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress

1) Personnel and Correspondence

Reps. Omar, Tlaib Barred from Entering Israel, West Bank. This week the Israeli government decided to backtrack on previous commitments and prohibited Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) from entering Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories. Israeli government officials said this was due to the two lawmakers’ outspoken support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. After the decision, the Israeli government told Rep. Tlaib she could visit her grandmother and family if she submitted a “humanitarian” request and affirmed she would not promote BDS during her trip. Tlaib originally conceded and was granted access, but upon further reflection, she decided not to make the trip if it meant she had to acquiesce to demands that Israel has not made of other members of the US Congress.

Will Democrats Retaliate for Restrictions on Members of Congress? Immediately following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision against Reps. Tlaib and Omar, Democrats, and some Republicans, largely criticized the move, though many also denounced what they perceived as President Trump’s “pressure” on the Israelis to prohibit the two representatives’—as opposed to the country’s own stated policies. To that end, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) confirmed to the Washington Post that he received a letter from Netanyahu on August 14, though it was dated June 2, labeling the representatives and the BDS movement as problems for him and his government.

According to one report, Democrats are weighing the possibility of taking action to display their displeasure with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. The same report suggests that those involved with the discussions are leaning toward issuing a statement of “no confidence” to Dermer and securing an inspector general’s investigation of Friedman. Though there is essentially no possibility of it happening in the near future, Rep. Omar suggested in a later press conference that the United States rethink its near-sacrosanct annual budgeting of billions of dollars of military support to Israel.

Top Republicans Write to Trump Regarding Potential Budget Cuts. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), the top ranking Republicans on the Senate and House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing State Department and US Agency for International Development funding, wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to forego reported cuts to the State Department budget. A rescission package close to the $4.3 billion that was reported would have impacted a number of programs, including those needed to help stabilize areas once under control of the so-called Islamic State as well as miscellaneous programs promoting diplomacy, security, and development in places like the Middle East and North Africa. After initial pushback from members of Congress, it appears Trump moved to reduce the overall sum being cut. Regardless, lawmakers will be angry, as the move circumvents their constitutional authority and insults members who worked in good faith across the aisle to craft the current budget agreement.

House Republicans Seek Information from Treasury on Oil Shipments to Syria. This week, Rep Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) is spearheading an effort by House Republicans to gather information about how many Iranian oil shipments have reached Syria since November 2018. They want to understand what the Treasury Department is doing to identify and deter future deliveries to Syria.

Senators Scott and Braun Visit the Golan Heights. This week GOP Senators Rick Scott (Florida) and Mike Braun (Indiana) were in Israel and they toured the occupied Golan Heights. According to a short tweet by Senator Scott, the two were briefed about activities of Israeli Defense Forces in the territory.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

“Ultimate Deal” Likely Won’t Be Made Public until after Israeli Elections. This week President Trump said that his so-called “ultimate deal” for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis likely will not be made public in full prior to Israel’s September 17 elections. But the president was vague, saying the White House “may put out pieces of it” without committing to doing so.

2) Department of State

US Sanctions Sudan’s Salah Gosh. This week, the United States sanctioned Sudan’s Salah Abdallah Gosh for his involvement in human rights abuses, including torture, and will bar him and his family from traveling to the United States. He spent decades in the intelligence services in the Sudanese regime under the ousted president, Omar al-Bashir; Gosh was forced to leave his post as head of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services after massive protests earlier this year. Though he is exiled in Egypt, the move to sanction him is seen as one meant to dissuade Khartoum’s transitional military council from reversing early progress toward civilian rule by returning power to old regime insiders.

Pompeo Speaks with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Meets with Lebanese Prime Minister. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by phone this week with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry about developments in Libya. The two also spoke about other issues of concern to both countries, like joint efforts to combat al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State.

In addition, Secretary Pompeo met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during the latter’s “personal” trip to Washington and held a joint press conference after the meeting. Pompeo and Hariri said they spoke about efforts to maintain and improve Lebanese economic stability and security as well as the ongoing discussions to resolve Lebanon’s and Israel’s maritime border dispute to reach a ceasefire. Hariri also met with other US officials during his visit, including David Hale and David Schenker at the State Department.

Pompeo Travels to United Nations to Discuss the Middle East. On August 20, Secretary Pompeo traveled to New York City for meetings at the United Nations. His first appearance was before the UN Security Council (UNSC), which was debating challenges to peace and security in the Middle East. As usual, Pompeo lauded what he considers the return of US leadership in addressing some of the region’s most pressing problems. In addition, he continued to try and rally other UNSC states against Iran, though other representatives’ remarks indicate they are still not on board with US strategy. In a way, his speech seemed rife with contradictions because Pompeo spoke of all the ways the United States is helping the region, yet he elided all the situations where US neglect is making crises even worse. Moreover, he completely ignored how US policy—or support for US allies’ policies—directly contributes to insecurity in places like the occupied Palestinian territories, Libya, Yemen, and the Arabian Gulf.

Later in the afternoon, Pompeo and UN Secretary-General António Guterres met to discuss issues of import.

United States Advising Countries against Assisting Iranian Oil Tanker. An Iranian oil tanker that was detained at a port on the island of Gibraltar was cleared to sail after authorities received assurances that the ship was not bound for Syria. The United States tried to seize the ship, but Gibraltar’s Justice Ministry rejected the request and the ship is now headed to Greece. Washington is now warning countries in the Mediterranean about potential sanctions if they aid the ship in any way, saying that it was helping the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps by transporting oil from Iran to Syria.

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Commander Visits Bahrain. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command that oversees military operations in the Middle East, visited Bahrain this week. During his trip, he met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Manama and secured a commitment from the king that Bahrain would participate in the US-led Gulf security initiative.