Washington Policy Weekly

I. Congress 

1) Legislation

Iron Dome Funds Removed from Stopgap Spending Bill; Funds Still Replenished.   Earlier this week, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) introduced and later amended H.R. 5305 to exclude $1 billion in additional funding to the Israeli government’s Iron Dome missile defense system. H.R. 5305 is a temporary funding measure to keep the federal government in operation until December, suspend the statutory debt ceiling until the 2022 midterm elections. The bill was revised because a group of progressive Democrats indicated to House leadership that they would not support the bill if Iron Dome funds were included. The revised bill passed in the House on September 21st.

On Thursday, September 23rd, the House of Representatives introduced a separate supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 5323) for a $1 billion replenishment of the Iron Dome system. The bill passed by an overwhelming majority (420-9) with only progressive representatives opposed.

Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). H.R. 4350, which passed in the House of Representatives on September 23rd, had provisions of security assistance and arms transfers to Israel (Amendments #61, #199, #333), restrictions on US weapons transfers and military training to the Saudi coalition in Yemen (Amendments #28,  #30, #113, #247, #318), and monitoring of Egyptian human rights abuses (Amendment #260).

The House also rejected an amendment to the bill proposed by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) that would have prevented the US government from maintaining a military presence in Syria starting 60 days after the enactment of this NDAA. Also rejected was an amendment by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) prohibiting the administration from approving a waiver to the 2019 Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act in order to allow the provision of natural gas to Lebanon via the Arab Gas Pipeline passing through Syria.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Progressives Criticize Israeli Occupation during the Fight over Iron Dome Funding. As the House of Representatives debates funding for the Israeli missile program, progressives criticized US funding of Israeli military initiatives. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) called Israel a “violent apartheid system” on the House floor, citing a report by Human Rights Watch released earlier this year. Tlaib and others who objected to Iron Dome funding received immense backlash and accusations of anti-Semitism from colleagues, illustrating the deep divide between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine Democrats.

3) Nominations

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Nomination Hearings for Ambassador to Israel. Thomas R. Nides of Minnesota appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the Biden Administration’s nominee to be ambassador to the State of Israel. During the hearing, Nides affirmed his support for the Israeli Iron Dome missile program, a highly contentious issue in Congress this week.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Joe Biden Makes Impassioned Speech at UN General Assembly. In the wake of mounting criticism about the hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden addressed the UN General Assembly with a message of unification and global diplomacy. In his speech, he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict and committed to stopping nuclear proliferation by Iran. Biden restated the US responsibility to create “a future of greater peace and security for all the people of the Middle East” but did not announce any new policy plans for the region.

On the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting, President Biden met with Iraqi President Barham Salih about strengthening their countries’ bilateral relationship and the American commitment to democracy in Iraq. Biden Administration National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson and chief advisor to the president of Turkey. Blinken also met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu this week and discussed the two countries’ joint efforts in Afghanistan and the future of US-Turkish relations.

2) Department of State

The United States Extends Additional Humanitarian Aid to Yemen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a press statement stating that the United States will send an additional $290 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen, rounding the total aid sent to $806 million since the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year.

Blinken Meets with Gulf Representatives during UN General Assembly Meeting. Blinken met with officials from the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for the first time since he assumed his position earlier this year. Foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, a UAE Minister of State, and Oman’s representative to the United Nations attended the meeting. The discussion focused on addressing the Iranian nuclear program, but the agenda also included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The Biden Administration is eager to resume nuclear talks with Iran after negotiations stalled over three months ago due to a transition in leadership. The representatives discussed returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and despite successful meetings with Iranian representatives and global partners, many worry the window for negotiations is closing.

Other notable meetings during the UN General Assembly gathering included Secretary Blinken’s with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s with Qatari Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Alkhater.

Blinken Participates in Meeting on Libya. Secretary Blinken participated in a ministerial meeting on Libya hosted by France, Germany, and Italy on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings. He asserted the United States’ support for the current cease-fire in Libya and for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections there.

State Department Condemns Coup Attempt in Sudan. On September 21st, the US State Department issued a statement condemning the coup attempt by military and civilian actors in Khartoum and reaffirmed US support for the democratic process in the country. Also on September 21st, the Department of State issued condolences to the Algerian people on the passing of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

3) Department of Defense

US, Israeli Naval Ships Patrol Gulf of Aqaba. On Thursday, US Central Command published a press release regarding a naval patrol in the Gulf of Aqaba between Israel and Jordan, conducted on August 30th and 31st. According to the release, the joint effort bolsters regional stability and security.

Austin Confers with Israel’s Gantz. On September 23rd, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III had a telephone conversation with Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. Austin assured Gantz of the United States’ commitment to replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile system.