President Barack Obama’s agreement with Iran to establish a strict inspection regime over its nuclear program is good for everyone. For the U.S. and its friends in the region, it eliminates the likelihood of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a competition that would inevitably involve Washington and escalate. For Iran, it will end the punishment of the Iranian people through sanctions, it has been welcomed by reformers in that country and it could lead to an easing up and normalizing of the current regime. Even Israel, which is crying wolf, benefits from an Iranian government that has had most of its tools for creating a nuclear weapon taken away or placed under strict control. It allows Israel to remain the only nuclear weapon armed power in the Middle East, which, from Tel Aviv’s perspective, must be regarded as desirable. And Israel also will also be receiving a windfall of new U.S. taxpayer provided weaponry as well as the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, whom many Israelis regard as a hero.
A majority of American Jews supports congressional approval of the agreement, a larger percentage than for Americans overall, even though that view is not shared by many Jewish organizations. So Israel’s desire to upend the arrangement must be based on something else, and that something is almost certainly what Iran represents as a regional power. Iran has more than ten times the Israeli population, is physically nearly seventy-four times larger, has abundant oil resources and a young and highly educated workforce. It is geographically well situated on both the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea with borders on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan Turkmenistan and Turkey. Israel has never been seriously bothered by the potential of an Iranian nuke, which has been little more than a pretext. It has been concerned over Iran becoming an unfriendly regional superpower, similar to Turkey. Its response to that threat has been to align United States policy with its own in an attempt to convert Iran into a perpetual enemy. Now that alignment is broken and Israel (or to be more precise its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) is completely losing it, pulling out all the stops to break the deal.
Israel’s Lobby in the United States has declared war and has mobilized behind the effort, to include its assets in congress and the media. On the day when the agreement was announced, CBS evening news played a short recorded clip of Obama’s announcement but then followed it with a much longer live interview with Netanyahu. Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer has been observed frantically visiting Capitol Hill congressional offices and there are reports that a number of Israeli government officials and politicians are on their way to Washington to personally lobby at all levels of the federal government. It is even rumored that Netanyahu himself might make a visit just before the crucial vote. The main talking point for all the Israeli officials is that the agreement will guarantee Iran’s eventually obtaining a nuclear weapon, which has been Netanyahu’s frequently repeated refrain.
Other arguments being made are predictable, stressing Iran’s destabilization of the region, its human rights record and its support of “terrorists.” An Israeli think tank funded by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is even citing allegations that Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, a claim that has long been discredited.
Many other criticisms of Iran are largely being improvised and expanded as they go along to include the claim that Iranians are liars and cannot be trusted. Many of the arguments are being replayed by friends in the media. The intent of the sustained barrage is to influence Congress directly while creating a groundswell of popular opinion opposed to the agreement that will eventually convince those sitting on the fence and translate into a veto proof vote against Obama in Congress. With the GOP commanding a majority in both houses, the numbers suggest that even if each Republican senator or congressman votes “no” a considerable number of Democrats must do likewise. Many are under intense pressure and are wavering, meaning that every single vote will be important.
An unprecedented amount of money is being raised to fund the effort. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Executive Director Harold Kohr has advised all of its more than 150 employees to cancel their summer vacation plans as everyone has to be on hand to fight against the Iran agreement. Martha’s Vineyard is believed to be in recession as a result.
The Washington Post is reporting that AIPAC alone is going to spend between $20 and $40 million on television, radio and newspaper ads plus direct lobbying. It has prepared phone scripts for its tens of thousands of activist supporters to use in calling the media and congressmen. The war chest will be funneled through a new alphabet soup organization that is being set up for the purpose, the Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which has former Senator Joe Lieberman on its advisory committee. TV ads are already appearing in the Washington area and there has been a “Stop Iran” rally in New York City. The television ads carefully and deliberately do not mention Israel at all and seek to make a case that Iran is a danger to the United States.
Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran joins other organizations active in the effort, to include United Against Nuclear Iran, the Emergency Committee for Israel, Christians United for Israel, the Zionist Organization of America, the Republican Jewish Coalition with its 40,000 members, the Israel Project, Jewish Federations in Boston and Miami, the Anti-Defamation League, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the American Enterprise Institute, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute, the McCain Institute and Taglit-Birthright Israel, each of which will have its own budget and targeting. It is not inconceivable that more than $100 million could be spent to derail the agreement, but bear in mind that that is mere chump change to Sheldon Adelson, who is likely funding much of the effort.
The Jewish American media is also speculating regarding an apparent AIPAC plan to up the ante by directly targeting some congressmen who support the president, making clear that it will seek to unseat them in 2016. They are reportedly calling it the “doomsday weapon.” It remains to be seen if voters would be swayed by a campaign based on Israeli interests directed against mostly Democratic congressmen in districts where there might be few Jewish or evangelical voters, but the leak of the plan in the media is most likely a ploy to intimidate some congressmen who have contested seats and who are hesitating regarding how they will vote.
Against all that pressure, the White House will be busy making its case, but beyond that there is little organized opposition to the enormous pro-Israel lobbying effort that will be taking place. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will no doubt do its best by placing some ads and do its own face-to-face lobbying, but it will be hugely outspent by the pro-Israel billionaires and will be invisible when confronted by the tremendous access the Lobby enjoys to the media and Congress.
Now consider for a moment what is happening here: the de facto and de jure agents of a foreign government are actively and openly lobbying and propagandizing to overturn an agreement entered into by the President of the United States. The Israeli government is over here working the U.S. Congress and media directly on the issue, an unparalleled and almost unimaginable violation of diplomatic norms and a sign, if one was needed, that Netanyahu has no respect whatsoever for the White House. To be sure, the American citizens who are engaged in this effort have a perfect right to campaign to change government policy but they should be asking themselves if they are placing Israel’s perceived interests ahead of those of their own country given the lack of any plausible argument suggesting that Iran is actually threatening the United States or will do so in the future if the agreement is concluded. Indeed, the threat from Iran, if there is one, is minimized by reducing its ability to enrich uranium.
So the debate over Iran is, as usual, really all about Israel. I don’t know how the mostly Republican Congressmen who are taking the lead in opposition to an agreement are able to square what they are doing with their own consciences in light of their once-upon-a-time election to the legislature of the United States of America. They should perhaps recall that they do not represent Israel and they might also consider that they are actually damaging the security of the United States by their actions. Most Americans, who are being ignored by Congress, oppose by an overwhelming majority either giving Israel any more aid or releasing Pollard and most support the agreement with Iran. The American people have been bearing the burden of unnecessary wars since 2001 and it is past time that they be given a break from the apparent imperative to defer to the presumed interests of foreign leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu. If Israel’s friends are calling on Congress it is time that ordinary American citizens begin to do the same to demand that the agreement with Iran be approved. We far outnumber the Israel firsters and we will have to be heard, so let’s do it.