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Israel as ‘major strategic ally’ bill passes key House panel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill that would enhance the already close U.S.-Israel defense relationship.

The bill initiated by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (D-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the top two members on the committee’s Middle East subcommittee, passed unanimously on Wednesday. Leaders of the full House of Representatives will decide if the measure goes to the full House for consideration.

It names Israel a “major strategic ally” of the United States — no other nation has the status — and includes measures that would encourage enhanced cooperation such as missile development, energy and homeland security.

The measure also calls for expanding the reserve of U.S. weapons stockpiled in Israel and recommends that Israel join the U.S. visa waiver program, allowing for unfettered travel between the countries once Israel meets its requirements.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which strongly backs the bill, said it would “dramatically strengthen the relationship between the two allies as they work to confront new threats and challenges in the Middle East” and encouraged the full House to take it up.

Similar legislation is under consideration in the U.S. Senate.

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