WASHINGTON – The US Senate passed legislation Friday to enhance security cooperation between Israel and the United States.

The measure, which passed by unanimous consent with 69 senators as co-sponsors, calls for the strengthening of the countries’ bilateral relationship by increasing coordination in the fields of missile defense, homeland security, energy, intelligence and cyber-security. It also seeks to improve Israel’s qualitative military edge, a long-time stated goal of American foreign policy.

A similar measure has already passed the US House of Representatives and now the two versions have to be reconciled before being sent to the White House for the signature of President Barack Obama.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly welcomed the Senate action Friday.

“As the United States faces an increasingly dangerous environment in the Middle East – the mounting threat posed by Iran, instability in Syria and the strengthening of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, whose reach stretches into the Western hemisphere – now is the time to enhance our strategic cooperation with our stable, democratic ally Israel,” AIPAC said.

“AIPAC calls on Congress to reconcile expeditiously these two bills to bolster the ties between the United States and Israel.”

In the US House on Friday, several members criticized the decision of UNESCO to put the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the World Heritage List.

“We all know that this vote today was not about the Church of the Nativity, as the resolution was opposed by the church’s religious caretakers,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman said. “Rather, this was just another attempt by the Palestinians to make an end run around direct peace negotiations with Israel. The Palestinian strategy of pursuing unilateral UN actions is flawed and dangerous and only moves the parties further away from peace.”

He added, “I’m particularly disappointed with the actions of France, the only European country to vote in favor of this resolution.”

On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Obama administration for letting China out of new sanctions penalties for buying oil from Iran.

The sanctions were legislated by Congress but give the administration the option to exempt countries it considers to have made serious efforts to curb dealings with the Islamic Republic.

“The administration likes to pat itself on the back for supposedly being strong on Iran sanctions. But actions speak louder than words, and today the administration has granted a free pass to Iran’s biggest enabler, China, which purchases more Iranian crude than any other country,” Ros-Lehtinen charged.

And she pledged, “Congress will once again fill the leadership vacuum created by the administration, and work to strengthen sanctions against the regime in Tehran.”

An administration official, briefing reporters on the sanctions and exemptions for China, pointed to a 25-percent reduction in imports between January and May of this year, when China was involved with a pricing dispute with Iran.

The official, speaking under ground rules of anonymity, also noted a posting on a Chinese energy website indicating a more fundamental change in policy.

“What we have now also is what we believe to be an authoritative statement on this China energy website, where the Chinese are indicating that a structural change in their crude oil imports will allow for

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