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To Combat Iranian Aggression, Congress Must Swiftly Pass DEFEND Act in the NDAA

Flags of Israel and Iran waving together
Image via iStock

Almost immediately after President Biden returned from his Israel and Middle East trip, Iran issued a statement declaring its capability to develop a nuclear weapon. The growing threat that enhanced Iranian nuclear capabilities pose to the region – and the entire world – continues to accelerate the need for regional unity to counterbalance the rogue nation. Fortunately, strong US leadership and a sustained US-Israel relationship have already helped build a more integrated and stable Middle East region.

The US House of Representatives recently passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that includes numerous provisions that enhance the US-Israel security relationship, including $500 million for joint US-Israel missile defense programs such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow, $40 million for the US-Israel counter unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program, and a new US-Israel program to combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The NDAA also includes the Deterring Enemy Forces and Enabling National Defenses (DEFEND) Act, important legislation that will promote US leadership in the region and deter Iranian aggression.

The bipartisan and bicameral DEFEND Act, introduced by Abraham Accords Caucus members Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), James Lankford (R-OK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), alongside Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), David Trone (D-MD), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Don Bacon (R-NE) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), seeks to further strengthen security cooperation among the countries to combat Iranian aggression through enhanced air and missile defense capabilities. The bill urges the Department of Defense (DoD) to strategize in conjunction with Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other partners and allies in the region to formulate an integrated defense, and it allocates 180 days for the Secretary of Defense to put forth a defense plan and threat assessment.

Legislators put forth this bill in the wake of a drone attack on the US consulate in Iraq believed to be committed by Iranian proxy forces in retaliation against Israel – another stark reminder of the lengths that Iran will go to attack the United States and seek to remove the “Israeli cancer” from the global map. Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism and agent of instability in the region, and its unrepentant, aggressive efforts to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, to support destabilization in the region, to fund terror groups targeting Americans, Israelis, and others, all continue to threaten peace, stability, and security across the entire world. As Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the head of the US Central Command with jurisdiction in the Middle East, stated in his confirmation hearing: Iran is “the number one destabilizing factor in the Middle East with their malign behavior” and expressed praise for the increasing security cooperation among Israel and its new Arab allies.

The DEFEND Act provides another opportunity to demonstrate the positive power of strong American global leadership and a robust US-Israel relationship. The Act builds off the Abraham Accords – which have already resulted in innumerable diplomatic, economic, and cultural exchanges between Israel and neighboring Arab nations that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago – by providing a transformative vision for a new security architecture in the Middle East that benefits our national security priorities, safeguards Israel, and secures the entire region by combating an increasingly aggressive Iran and its terror proxies.

As the DEFEND Act makes clear, Congress has a critical role to play in ensuring that the Abraham Accords reach their full potential to support a new future for the Middle East. That’s also why it remains so critical to maintain and expand the overwhelmingly bipartisan pro-Israel consensus on the Hill. The House has already passed its version of the NDAA that includes the DEFEND Act; it is now incumbent upon the Senate to do the same, without removing the DEFEND Act provision as its version of the NDAA undergoes modifications.

The DEFEND Act, which enjoys broad support in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, would be another positive step forward. As the Abraham Accords have proven, a strong US-Israel relationship is a force for good in this world, reducing the likelihood of war and enhancing the prospects of peace for all.

About the Author
Jeff Mendelsohn is the founding Executive Director of Pro-Israel America. Jeff brings years of legislative, political and organizational experience, having served as chief of staff for two Texas members of Congress for a dozen years. During his ten-plus years at AIPAC, Jeff launched and managed the AIPAC Outreach Program which successfully engaged non-Jewish constituencies, including Hispanics, African Americans, progressives, veterans and evangelical Christians in pro-Israel activism.
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