U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following statement today at a Full Committee hearing titled "Israel's Right to Defend Itself: Implications for Regional Security and U.S. Interests." Opening statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"Two weeks ago, the Middle East again erupted, and Israel was forced to defend herself against the persistent and ongoing barrage of rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian extremists. Israel's successful military operation, Pillar of Defense, eliminated Hamas's top leaders and disabled several rocket launch sites depleting Hamas's operational capabilities. This is not just about specific actions by Hamas in Gaza but about a Palestinian Authority that does nothing to reign in Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups, and allows intolerance and incitement to violence against the Jewish State to fester.
"There have even been public reports indicating that the Palestinian Authority has continued to pay the salaries of both Palestinian extremists in Israeli prisons, and pledged to pay for Hamas' salaries if they were to enter into a power-sharing agreement with the PA. And today, as we know, Palestinian leader Abbas plans to exacerbate the problem by presenting a bid for non-state membership at the United Nations instead of initiating direct talks with Israel in order to bring long lasting peace to the region.
"What will the day after the vote look like? There must be consequences for Ramallah's rejectionism and continued irresponsibility.
"The constant sound of sirens, as rockets from Palestinian extremists head toward Israeli towns and cities, is a sobering reminder of the imminent threats facing the Jewish State. Israel is surrounded by rogue regimes and terrorist organizations that wish to wipe her off the map. Fortunately, the United States and Israel have collaborated in developing the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which saved so many lives during the recent attacks. I would be interested in hearing from our witnesses their thoughts on if and how this successful model can be replicated with other critical regional allies, such as Jordan, for future cooperative activities.
"We face serious challenges region-wide--from Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, to the ongoing violence in Syria, to transitions region-wide. The central questions I hope our witnesses will address in their testimony: What now? Where do we go from here?
"Hamas has a lot of weapons left in its arsenal and intends to re-arm, with Iran providing weapons to be smuggled through the Sinai. The Egyptian government has yet to crack down on arms smuggling through the Sinai or crackdown on the use of Sinai as a sanctuary for violent Palestinian extremist groups to launch rockets at Israel. Yet, the Administration seemed to go out of its way to praise the Morsi government for making the ceasefire agreement happen. According to news reports, Administration officials indicated off the record that President Obama was investing heavily in Morsi and views him as someone with whom the U.S. could do business. Of course, then Morsi immediately engaged in a massive domestic power grab, claiming virtually unlimited powers.
"What steps should the Congress take to hold the Morsi government accountable for its actions? What further conditions should be placed on U.S. political, economic, and military support to Egypt?
"For example, one month after our embassy in Cairo was attacked, without any adequate protection from Egyptian authorities, the Obama administration requested a transfer of $450 million in cash assistance to Egypt. This was met by strong Congressional opposition, but what more can we do?
"Earlier this year, the Obama administration decided to send economic aid to the Palestinians over Congressional objections. This included the use of taxpayer funds for such dubious projects as: cash for work in Gaza, scholarships for Palestinian students, and office refurbishments and improvements to the PA agencies and ministries.
"In the last three years alone, the United States has provided over $2 billion in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians. Yet, this did not serve as an inducement for the Palestinians to: act responsibly, to effectively combat extremism, to pursue sustained unconditional direct negotiations with the Israelis, or to abandon their unilateral statehood scheme at the U.N. At a time when our own economic situation is in dire straits, should the U.S. be helping the Palestinians rebuild their economy and providing them with millions in hard-earned U.S. taxpayer dollars while Palestinian extremists embrace violence and undermine the peace process?
"Finally, we cannot forget the existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel, U.S. allies, and national security interests in the region. I am deeply concerned that the Administration's foolish embrace of yet another round of negotiations will only embolden the Iranian regime. Rather than embark on this dangerous and foolhardy course, we must accelerate and expand our sanctions--and work with likeminded allies to strengthen their bilateral sanctions regimes--to compel the Iranians to verifiably and permanently abandon their dangerous polices.
"As events unfold, we must closely analyze our foreign policy objectives in the region and scrutinize every taxpayer dollar being spent in this fragile economic environment to ensure that we are able to regain lost leverage and effectively pursue our national security objectives."