Gillibrand: US-Israel Relations Remain Strong

Jan 13, 2016

Senator Gillibrand (pictured here with Benjamin Netanyahu) was joined on the trip by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand last week led an official Senate trip to the Middle East to meet with allies to discuss strategy to fight global terrorism. Her trip included meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand led an official Senate trip to the Middle East last week to meet with allies and discuss a  broad range of regional security issues, including the threat from groups such as the Islamic State and Hezbollah, as well as progress on implementing the Iran nuclear agreement.

Gillibrand, a Democrat, says she and seven other senators met with heads of state, ambassadors and other top officials in Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Austria during the trip to discuss strategies to counter Iran and fight global terrorism.   "We sat down with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Reuven Riblin, discussed Israel's future, and the constant threat of terrorism that our ally faces every single day.  We talked about the unique bond our two countries share, and about how critically important it is for our alliance to remain strong, as strong as ever.  And we all agreed that the United States and Israel should sign an updated military MOU [Memorandum of Understanding ] sooner rather than later.  My colleagues and I traveled to southern Israel as well, and saw incredible technology there that the Israeli military is developing with the U.S. military to detect tunnels and to defend against terrorism.  This technology is a clear example of how Congress can act to help strengthen Israel's security. Last June, I supported funding this program in the Senate, and last week I was finally able to see it firsthand."

Gillibrand there referring to her support for funding for anti-tunnel technology in the National Defense Authorization Act in June 2015.

Lahav Harkov is a Jerusalem Post parliamentary reporter.  She comments on the significance of the delegation of Democratic Senators Gillibrand led.   "It was the first such delegation since the battle over the Iran Deal last summer, and it really shows the strong bi-partisan support in the U.S. for Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East, as a country that shares a lot of values with the U.S.  And I just wanna sort of emphasize that it’s bi-partisan, not only Republicans, that even if there were some differences over the Iran deal, for example, and over some specific issues, the support is still there. And this delegation, I think, was reassuring to a lot of Israelis, and I think to some Americans who care about Israel.”

Gillibrand also met with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to learn about the progress of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear agreement, which Gillibrand supported in September.

The senators and IAEA officials discussed how they will monitor Iran’s implementation and ensure that it is held accountable. Gillibrand says her position on the Iran deal has not changed.  "The reason why the deal is better for the United States' national security and Israel's national security, is because it cuts off the three known pathways to any nuclear bombs, and in fact, before the agreement comes into full force in terms of easing sanctions, the Iranians have to perform on all their end of the bargain. So there is a facility which is a heavy water facility that frankly, if it was up and running you couldn't bomb it at all because it would create a nuclear bomb site. Under this agreement they're going to have to fill that facility with concrete, meaning it's a future bomb target, meaning it can never be used as a heavy water plutonium facility again, it really stops the pathway to a bomb. the other facility that's deep in the ground, all that production comes to the top of the ground, another national security priority for the U.S. and Israel. And one of the best parts of the agreement is now we will have access through the IAEA to inspect their entire supply chain, which is something we could have never hoped for."

In Turkey, Gillibrand and the senators held meetings with Turkish officials to discuss the threat from the Islamic State and other terrorist groups and the Syrian refugee crisis. They also met with government officials in Saudi Arabia, including women appointed to Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, to discuss counterterrorism efforts and U.S.-Saudi relations.