NEW YORK – US Vice President Joe Biden and, via satellite, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be headlining the 2013 Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The annual conference, which will take place in Washington March 3-5, is among the most significant events in the pro-Israel community’s calendar, and is expected to draw 13,000 participants and hundreds of members of Congress.
At the conference, AIPAC officials plan to unveil a new “strategic concept” related to the US-Israel relationship, one official told The Times of Israel Tuesday: “Introducing legislation in the Senate and House that will designate Israel as a major strategic partner of the United States.”
That designation, the first of its kind, will formalize and expand US-Israel cooperation on a series of issues, including missile defense, medical research, energy, counterterrorism and cyber-security.
According to the official, the idea is a natural extension of the perception in Washington that Israel is among the United States’ most stable allies. “Looking at the instability in the [Middle East] region, Israel increasingly is seen as a force of stability and a critical strategic ally of the United States. Part of the concept is to recognize not only that Israel is a critical ally to the US in the region, but also that it’s contributing on these issues around the world,” the official said.
The list of dignitaries expected at the conference include Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird and a “who’s who” of congressional leaders: House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Republican whip John Cornyn (R-TX), and senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Netanyahu will be speaking through a live satellite video feed from Israel.
On March 5, the conference’s final day, participants will take to Capitol Hill to lobby their representatives and senators on issues related to Israel.
The two top issues that AIPAC will be raising with members of Congress that day: Iran and foreign aid.
On the slate will be a new Senate resolution “that will essentially say that if Israel is compelled to act against the Iranian nuclear threat, Israel will have the complete support of the US to defend herself,” the AIPAC official said.
The group will also push for legislation in the House “that will clarify and expand the president’s authority to sanction any entity that does trade with Iran.”
In the face of looming budget cuts, AIPAC will also be lobbying hard to maintain the level of US aid for Israel.
“Our message is going to be that at this time of extraordinary security challenges, it’s no time to cut foreign aid to Israel,” the official said.
At stake are some $3.1 billion in aid that could be hit hard by sequestration, or automatic spending cuts set to take place Friday if Congress doesn’t strike a deal to cancel or delay the cuts, and some $479 million in missile defense cooperation and the Iron Dome program.