Tuesday, July 29, 2014

US Congress: Update--House, Senate Seem to Reach Consensus Re: Aid for Israel

According to The Associated Press, Democratic and Republican members of Congress scrambled Tuesday (July 29) to seal a $225 million boost to Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system before they break this week for a month-long recess.

As the Gaza war escalates, Israel is proving to be among the few subjects uniting lawmakers. Members of both parties have introduced legislation backing the Jewish state, condemning the Palestinian militant group Hamas and seeking a tougher Iran policy. Iron Dome is the priority, but the House and Senate are at odds over process.

No money for Israel is included in a larger House spending bill focused on border security, Rep. Hal Rogers, the Appropriations Committee's Republican chairman, said Tuesday. He said military support for Israel would be addressed separately, and senior congressional aides said it could occur this week.

The Republican-led House's approach is at odds with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which wants the Iron Dome money approved with border security and wildfire assistance in a single package before lawmakers take their break on Thursday or Friday (August 1-2).

Israel escalated its operations against Hamas on Tuesday as the conflict entered its fourth week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a "prolonged" campaign. The violence has killed more than 1,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 50 Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

Amid a daily barrage of Palestinian rocket fire, Iron Dome has been credited with knocking hundreds out of the sky. Even as the Obama Administration presses for a cease-fire, it has backed Israel's request to replenish its missile defense stockpiles while it is fighting, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking Congress to approve the measure.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said he supported Hagel's request because Iron Dome "has afforded Israel some protection from indiscriminate rockets."

McConnell has proposed a separate measure, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, signaled he would be open to it, yet McConnell criticized efforts that he said would impose a cease-fire on Israel that doesn't meet its military objectives and rewards Hamas for a "campaign of terror."

COMMENT: "I support any effort which brings this campaign to an end in a manner that increases Israel's security," McConnell said Tuesday. 

"That means that Hamas cannot be left with a large stockpile of missiles and rockets, cannot be left with infiltration tunnels--they must be destroyed. Hamas cannot be allowed to aggressively rest, refit and build up weapons stockpiles."

House Republican aides said the Senate could deal with the issue as a freestanding bill that the House would easily approve. Reid could move as early as Wednesday (July 30) to combine Iron Dome money with funds to combat Western wildfires.

Over days of intense diplomacy, Secretary of State John Kerry has tried to secure commitments from both sides that would lead to peace. Congress, by contrast, has focused its energies on Palestinian actions and critics of Israel.

House Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Ted Deutch, a Democrat, have a resolution condemning Hamas' use of human shields. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, followed Monday in the Senate.