When I hear senators say they
want to enact harsh new anti-Iran sanctions that the administration says can do
more harm that good to the nuclear negotiations I am reminded of the angry
parent who tells a child that the spanking he’s about to get “hurts me more than
it hurts you, but it’s for your own good.”
That’s what the backers of the
bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 want us to believe. Sen. Robert
Menendez (D-New Jersey), the lead sponsor and chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, says the bill is essential to keeping the pressure on the
Iranians and letting then know “what could appear at the end of the tunnel” if
talks fail or they cheat on any agreement.
They already know that, Obama
told reporters last Friday; he left the clear impression he considers the Senate
bill to be little more than political posturing that can do more harm than good
to efforts to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think
the Iranians have any doubt that the Congress would be more than happy to pass
more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a day, on a dime,” he said. The
sanctions that brought the Iranians to the table are still in place and being
enforced during the talks, he added. “We lose nothing during this negotiation
The Senate bill demands Iran dismantle all of its “enrichment
and reprocessing capabilities and facilities,” something Israeli Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu has been calling for as well – but a goal few experts believe
Netanyahu has not spoken out publicly on this bill, and he
has lowered his rhetoric following his angry outbursts of a few weeks back, but
there are signs he’s pushing for this legislation behind the scenes regardless
of what the administration wants.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), a
strong backer of the bill who often boasts of his close relationship with
Netanyahu, said the best way to convince Iran to give up nuclear weapons is “by
ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them.”
It is doubtful he’d be
breaking with the White House and taking a leadership role in pressing this
legislation if his friend in Jerusalem didn’t approve.
And the new
Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu confidante and former Republican
activist, gave a speech in Atlanta last week that, according to a news account,
also called for bucking the administration and enacting stiffer
Dermer said new restrictions would further cripple the Iranian
economy and help persuade Tehran to abandon any nuclear weapons plans,
Globalatlanta.com reported. The Iranians need to “have a freight train of
sanctions that are coming right at them,” he explained as he dismissed as a
bluff Iranian threats to quit the talks if new sanctions are
AIPAC, which is usually in synch with Netanyahu, is leading a
full court press on Capitol Hill against the administration, and most Jewish
organizations have joined the campaign to make sure senators hear from
constituents and contributors about the need to back the bill.
unusual move, 10 Senate Democrat committee chairs – four of them Jewish – have
called on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to delay action on the bill.
They cited an unclassified intelligence assessment saying, “New sanctions would
undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive agreement with Iran,”
reported Laura Rozen of AI-Monitor.
But that may be exactly what
Netanyahu – who has made no secret of his disdain for the administration’s
attempts to negotiate an end to the Iranian nuclear threat – wants.
White House has threatened to veto the bill but with the strong support of many
Jewish organizations and many Democrats, that’s unlikely. The president would
risk being accused of being soft on Iran and siding with the ayatollahs against
the friends of Israel.
Which is a big reason the bill has the strong
support of Republicans, who reflexively oppose anything this president wants
anyway. What’s more, a veto override is not out of the question. So look for a
face-saving compromise or for the Senate Democratic leadership to keep it off
The backers of the new sanctions bill have a very strong ally
in Tehran. The government there has been boasting of the great success it has
had already in breaking the sanctions and boosting their economy without giving
up anything and recognition of their right to enrich uranium. That may play well
at home but it poisons the atmosphere here.
The Iranians know Israel’s
supporters are the real driving force behind the tough US approach. They have
wall-to-wall support on Capitol Hill and pick up more votes every time Iranian
leaders spew their hatred for the Jewish state and call for its demise. The
worst comes from the very top, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Taken together, these only strengthen the hand of those who
question Iranian intentions, and they probably wouldn’t mind being proven right
in their suspicions that the won’t surrender their ambitions to build the bomb.
For many of these skeptics a military strike is the only solution.
himself gives the talks a 50-50 chance of success, but insists we “lose nothing”
by negotiating because “there are verification provisions in place.” We already
“had the first halt and, in some cases, some rollback of Iran’s nuclear
capabilities,” and “it is very important for us to test whether” Iran wants an
The Iranians understand that if the talks fail support for
military action will grow. And to emphasize that point, the Senate bill contains
non-binding language offering Israel full support – some say encouragement – if
it chooses to go to war with Iran “in legitimate self-defense.”
term, the pro-Israel lobby and its signal callers in the Netanyahu government
appear to have a strong hand on Capitol Hill, but in the long run the risks they
run are huge – starting with the risk of piling more evidence on to the claim by
some that Israel is determined to thwart any diplomatic settlement with Iran and
force the United States into another war we cannot afford.
learn anything when George W. “Shoot first and ask questions later” Bush went
storming into Iraq?