(January 4, 2019 / JNS) On the first day of the 116th Congress on Thursday, Republican senators introduced legislation to impose fresh sanctions on Syria, as well as to boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan amid the announced gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which would enhance U.S. defense and security assistance in the Middle East, improve the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship in accordance with the 10-year $3.8 billion Memorandum of Understanding, and slap on new sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad and his accomplices.
Additionally, if enacted, it would also reauthorize the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015 to help the Hashemite Kingdom respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, fight the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, and protect its borders with Iraq and Syria.
Finally, the bill would enable state and local governments in the United States to fight the anti-Israel BDS movement.
The proposed legislation rolls four bills that were introduced in the previous Congress, but were not enacted before the end of the year.
“It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East, like Israel and Jordan, remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime,” said Rubio. “This important bill will also impose new sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters who continue to commit horrific human-rights violations against the Syrian people.”
“This package of legislation is an important step towards finishing the work of the last Congress. Israel and Jordan have been steadfast allies of the United States that deserve this support,” said Risch. “Also, it is vital to confront Syrian government atrocities and end discrimination against Israel. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reviewed these bills last Congress, and they had near unanimous support. It is time to move them forward.”
Risch took over on Thursday as chairman of the committee, succeeding Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who did not run for re-election in 2018.
“I am proud to sponsor this legislation, which enhances our alliances in the Middle East, condemns the heinous human-rights abuses of the Assad regime, and takes a strong stance against the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic BDS movement,” said Gardner. “This bill greatly enhances our national security, and I urge its quick and bipartisan passage into law.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee came out in support of the bill.
“We strongly support this legislation, which has key pro-Israel provisions that had broad bipartisan backing in the last Congress,” spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told JNS.