This bill — the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act — would aim to improve U.S. defense and security policies in the Middle East. It’d authorize security assistance to Israel over a 10-year period based on a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding, reauthorize defense cooperation between the U.S. and Jordan, provide new authorities for sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria, and give state and local governments tools to counter the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. A breakdown of its various provisions can be found below.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act
This section of the bill would codify the 2016 memorandum of understanding signed by Israel and the U.S. guaranteeing Israel $38 billion in defense assistance over 10 years. It’d also commit the U.S. to support Israel’s ability to meet and address both conventional and emerging threats and enhances U.S.-Israel cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as cyber-security.
Other major provisions of this section would:
Authorize U.S. security assistance for Israel, as called for in the 2016 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding on security assistance, through 2028 at an amount of at least $3.3 billion;
Extend authorization for loan guarantees to Israel through 2023;
Extend authorization for the U.S. War Reserve Stockpile in Israel through 2023;
Authorize the president to transfer precision-guided munitions to Israel for its defense;
Direct the president to take steps to add Israel to the list of countries eligible for the Strategic Trade Authorization Exception from the Export Administration Regulations;
Direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator to work with the Israel Space Agency to identify and cooperatively pursue peaceful space exploration and science initiatives in areas of mutual interest;
Direct the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to partner with Israel to advance common goals across a variety of sectors, including energy, agriculture and food security, democracy, human rights and governance, economic growth and trade, education, environment, global health, and water and sanitation, and authorizes the USAD Administrator to enter memoranda of understanding with Israel for this coordination;
Authorize the president to enter a cooperative project agreement with Israel to research, develop, test, evaluate, jointly product, and support defense articles and defense services to destroy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that threaten either the U.S. or Israel; and
Affirm America’s commitment to ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge, which means maintaining Israel’s ability to counter and defeat any credible threat from any individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actors while sustaining minimal damages and casualties via the use of superior military means.
This section of the bill is named after former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who retired at the end of the 115th Congress.
U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act
This section of the bill would extend the country of Jordan’s eligibility for streamlined defense sales until December 31, 2022 that was first granted by the U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015.
It would also express the sense of Congress that the U.S. and Jordan should negotiate a new Memorandum of Understanding through FY2022 to enhance Jordan’s military capacity and local economy.
The president would be authorized to establish and operate an enterprise fund to provide the assistance, which would terminate upon liquidation or December 31, 2022 — whichever comes first.
Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act
This section of the bill would impose new sanctions on supporters of the Assad regime in Syria, encourage negotiations to end the crisis, and begin investigations that will eventually lead to the prosecution of war criminals. It’d impose new sanctions on anyone who:
Does business with or provides financing to the Syrian government, its intelligence or security services, or the Central Bank of Syria;
Provides aircraft or spare parts (or financing for either) to Syria’s airlines;
Does business with transportation or telecommunications businesses controlled by the Syrian government;
Supports Syria’s energy industry.
The president would be able to waive sanctions on a case-by-case basis. Sanctions could also be suspended if the parties to the conflict engage in meaningful negotiations and the violence against civilians has ceased. The suspension would be renewable if it is critical to the continuation of negotiations and attacks against civilians have ceased.
The Secretary of State would be authorized to support entities that are collecting and preserving evidence for the eventual prosecution of those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The president would be required to give Congress a report with the names of those who are responsible for or are complicit with violating the human rights of the Syrian people.
The bill would also require the president to submit a report on the potential effectiveness, risks, and operational requirements of establishing and maintaining a no-fly zone or safe zone over part or all of Syria.
Combating BDS Act
This section of the bill would allow a state or local government to adopt and enforce measures to divest its assets from, prohibit investment of its assets in, or restrict contracting with:
An entity engaged in a commerce- or investment-related boycott, divestment, or sanctions (BDS) activity targeting Israel; or
An entity that owns or controls, or is owned or controlled by, or is under common ownership with such an entity.
Such state or local measures wouldn’t be preempted by federal law. States and local governments that try to adopt or enforce such measures would have to comply with requirements for notice, timing, and opportunity for comment.
Further, this section of the bill would amend the Investment Company Act to prohibit a person from bringing a civil, criminal, or administrative action against a registered investment company based solely upon that company’s divestment from securities issued by a person engaged in a commerce- or investment-related BDS activity targeting Israel.
This bill would express the sense of Congress that:
- The U.S. and its partners have played a positive role in Syria and Afghanistan by fighting terrorist groups, countering Iranian aggression, deterring further use of chemical weapons, and protecting human rights;
- A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from the ongoing fight without effective countervailing efforts to secure gains could allow terrorists to regroup and destabilize these regions and create a vacuum which could be filled by Russia or Iran;
- Diplomatic negotiations to secure peace and reconciliation in Syria and Afghanistan are gaining traction but are fragile;
- The Trump administration should “pursue a strategy that sets the conditions for the long-term defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as the protection of regional partners and allies, while ensuring that Iran cannot dominate the region or threaten Israel;”
- The administration should certify those conditions for the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS are met before any significant U.S. withdrawal; and
- That nothing in this bill could be construed as authorizing the use of military force under the War Powers Resolution.