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Congress introduces bill to make Israel ‘major strategic ally’

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Republican and a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation that would make Israel a "major strategic ally," a unique designation.

The bill, introduced Monday by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), was timed for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, and 13,000 activists are expected to lobby on Tuesday for the measure and Iran-related bills.

The "major strategic ally" bill codifies a number of existing facets of the U.S.-Israel relationship, including annual defense assistance and cooperation on missile defense, energy research and cyber security.

It also calls for Israel to join the program that waives pre-arranged visas for select nationals entering the United States.

The Iran-related bills would tighten sanctions aimed at forcing that country to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program and call for the president to support Israel should it feel "compelled" to strike Iran. The Islamic Republic insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

Speaker after speaker at the AIPAC conference called on the Obama administration to make clear that Iran faces a military option if it does not comply with demands to make its nuclear activities more transparent.

"We need to recognize that military action against Iran may become necessary to protect America, Israel and our allies," Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, said in his address Monday night.  

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, sounded a similar call.

"If there is one lesson we have learned about the Middle East in recent years, it is that nuance is not only not effective but can be dangerous," he said. "We must speak with unambiguous clarity: The United States will not accept a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran."

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