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As relations between Washington and Jerusalem veer onto unusually rocky terrain, two separate delegations of Congressional Democrats and Republicans will visit Israel in the next couple of weeks bearing a crucial message to the Israeli people: Congress' commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship remains steadfast.

America stands with Israel for both moral and strategic reasons. Israel is not only a democratic ally and our only true friend in the Middle East; it is also a vital pillar of U.S. national security strategy. When it is strong - its borders secure, its people free from the threat of Iran and its terrorist proxies - the Middle East is a much more stable and peaceful place.

On the other hand, if Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah are allowed to grow stronger at Israel's expense, the resulting victory for radical forces would deal a blow to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. Terrorism gains legitimacy and momentum when it is shown to work.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are on their way to Israel to affirm that she does not stand alone on the front lines of the ideological battle against extremism. We come to get an up-close view of the geostrategic threats facing our two nations and to discuss solutions with our Israeli counterparts.

But this year the public disagreement between the governments of the United States and Israel over "natural growth" in neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the West Bank has given renewed urgency to our mission. Rumors of a potential aid cutoff or the imposition of other sanctions from the U.S. Defense Department and State Department may not even be true, but they have succeeded in rattling the Israeli people.

Some of my colleagues in Congress do not agree with me that Israel has a right to accommodate the natural growth of its population in its settlements. But nearly all of us are united in our determination to preserve the vibrant U.S.-Israel relationship. We flatly reject the notion of putting sanctions on Israel.

There are two critical reasons why, especially at this time, we oppose applying undue pressure on Israel.

First, it is counterproductive to the U.S. goal of promoting Mideast peace. Without requiring simultaneous Palestinian concessions, we would be signaling to the Palestinians that it is only Israel that has to do the heavy lifting. This may explain why the Palestinian Authority has spurned the Netanyahu government's standing offer to engage in peace talks.

Instead, we must demand that the Palestinians stamp out anti-Israel incitement and stop dragging their feet on fighting homegrown terrorism. And we also ought to insist that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan move the Arab world toward a normalization of relations with Israel.

Second, the excessive hand-wringing over natural growth is a diversion from the main threat in the Middle East: Iran. We need to exert all of our efforts in rallying the international community around a program of sweeping economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic - and we can't do it too soon. As Iran pushes forward on its illegal nuclear program and uses its terrorist proxies in the region to foment violence against our friends, America must not shy away from the threat. We must stand with our allies.

On that score, the good news is that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to the Middle East this week to emphasize that America is determined not to allow Iran to go nuclear.

We in Congress agree. With the stakes this high, our presence in Israel will reassure both the Israelis and the international community that America won't lose sight of the big picture.

The writer is the Republican whip and the representative for Virginia's 7th District in Congress. He also serves as chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.