House passes enhanced Israel cooperation bill

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation that reaffirms and enhances U.S. policy commitments to Israel’s security. 

The United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, which was sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), passed Wednesday by a vote of 411-2. The legislation garnered bipartisan support from 294 co-sponsors prior to passage. 

The two members that voted against the legislation were Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and John Dingell (D-Mich.). Also, nine members of the House voted “present” on the legislation.   

In addition to expanding military cooperation between the two countries, the legislation states that it will be U.S. policy to provide Israel with essential military capabilities to preserve its qualitative military edge in the region. 

Some provisions appear aimed at assisting Israel particularly in any possible confrontation with Iran. The legislation recommends that the United States provide Israel with "air refueling tankers, missile defense capabilities, and specialized munitions." Israel has sought an air-refueling capacity as a means to cover the distance to Iran in the case of a strike. "Specialized munitions" could include bunker-busting bombs that could reach redoubts where Iran is suspected of building a nuclear weapon capability.

During floor debate, Cantor and Hoyer spoke out about the importance of the legislation to boost the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship.

“This bill reaffirms Israel’s right to defend itself against threats and puts Congress on the record about America’s longstanding commitment to the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship, a unique and special relationship founded on shared interests and shared democratic values,” Cantor said.

Hoyer said the legislation was vital to increasing cooperation between the two countries, so they “can further deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability and work together to combat terrorism that threatens both of our countries.” 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbied for the legislation during its annual policy conference in March, released a statement applauding the bipartisan support for the measure. 

The U.S. Senate is considering similar legislation that is sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Thirty-two sponsors have signed on to the legislation, but there has been no indication as to when it will be taken up by the Senate. 

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