Facing a humiliating defeat in its campaign to scuttle the Iran nuclear talks, AIPAC is shifting to Plan B: make sure whatever comes out of those talks won’t survive.
The decision to drop its campaign to force a Senate vote on new sanctions legislation opposed by the White House was prompted if not directed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, according to a key sponsor. The prime minister didn’t want to come to Washington next month to address the annual AIPAC Policy Conference and not be invited to an Oval Office meeting.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), a prime backer of the now-shelved bill, appeared miffed that AIPAC threw in the towel. He reluctantly backed down after “consultations on both sides of the ocean,” an apparent reference to his friend the prime minister. Shortly after AIPAC’s capitulation, word went out that Netanyahu had been invited to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the Iran negotiations along with the Palestinian peace talks and the Syrian war.
This was a second hubristic defeat for AIPAC after last year’s failed effort to rally Congressional support for attacking Syria. Once again it overreached in challenging the president and in the process convincing too many people, unfairly perhaps, that it preferred war over negotiations.
The war question troubled many people who read the 70 words in the 8,305- word bill stating that if Israel decides to go to war with Iran, the United States “should stand with Israel” and provide it with “diplomatic, military and economic support.” There is nothing in the bill requiring advance notice or consultation with Washington. While it is non-binding “sense of Congress” language, it is interpreted as carte blanche to take America to war. That is an unprecedented and worrisome legislative demand.
One AIPAC official insisted to me that the dispute over S. 1881 was nothing more than “a legitimate disagreement” over tactics and the group’s only desire was to strengthen the president’s bargaining position.
Chemi Shalev of Haaretz was one of many who didn’t see it that way. “[I]t was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the president and to sabotage the talks,” he said. “Israel and its lobby appear to be squandering their precious reserves of political goodwill and political impact on petulant sideshows and roads that lead nowhere.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead sponsor of S. 1881, disingenuously suggested in a Senate speech last week that waiting until the talks fail would be too late.
That’s bunk. His sanctions aren’t supposed to kick in until then anyway.
If the talks tank – and President Obama said there’s a 50-50 chance they will – there will be a stampede to slap new penalties on the ayatollahs, and the president has said he will lead the way.
AIPAC’s Plan B calls for blocking ratification of any agreement with Iran by loading the enabling legislation with poison pills. AIPAC president Michael Kassen insisted his organization’s goal is “the dismantlement of [Iran’s] nuclear infrastructure.” He did not differentiate between military and civilian use.
That appears to be in step with Netanyahu’s demands for a nuclear-free Iran. Not a bad idea but not doable.
The P5+1 countries negotiating with Iran have already agreed it could have some civilian nuclear program, with the extent to be determined.
Menendez spotlighted a problem that is getting too little attention. In addition to any future nuclear threat, Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It operates worldwide, but its main target continues to be Israel. It provides weapons, funding and training for Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, PFLP-GC and other terror groups throughout the Middle East as well as for the Assad regime in Syria.
Existing sanctions legislation targets Iran’s terrorism role as well as its nuclear program, and the P5+1 will have to deal with that if it wants Congressional backing for any agreement.
Don’t count AIPAC out. Iran can still be a win-win opportunity for the wounded lobby. If the talks fail, the group can crow “I told you so,” and if they succeed, look for it to claim credit by having applied the pressure to force concessions, even though it is virtually certain to reject any Iranian compromise.
AIPAC and the hardliners have a valuable ally: Iran’s leaders. The regime has a well-deserved reputation for lying and cheating. While generally vowing cooperation and openness in speaking to Western media, back in its own neighborhood it is boasting about how little it is giving up, how much it has already won from the West and how any concessions can be reversed overnight.
Its supreme leader consistently calls Israel a “cancer,” and Iranian TV broadcasts a video showing its destruction of Israel, military leaders threaten to sink US aircraft carriers and an admiral says he is sending warships to the North Atlantic as a warning to America.
All that only fuels the argument that they don’t take the talks seriously and the negotiations are merely a ruse to hide an accelerated nuclear bomb project.
AIPAC should provide a clearer picture of Plan B and its next moves when some 14,000 activists are expected to gather at the Washington Convention Center for the Policy Conference and get their marching orders for the annual lobbying day on Capitol Hill. You can count on the top three issues being Iran, Iran and Iran.