Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu told the AIPAC annual conference in Washington on Monday that the military option against the Iranian threat must be "the last resort," Army Radio reported. Netanyahu added that economic sanctions must be immediately implemented in every way possible. "It's possible to hit the Iranian economy hard, as 80% of it relies on oil exports," he said.
AIPAC conference speeches (video)
Non-Jewish students, officials flock to AIPAC
Earlier, US Vice President Dick Cheney warned 6,000 supporters gathered at AIPAC's annual policy conference on Monday that failure in Iraq would endanger Israel.
Cheney warned of "chaos and mounting danger," as well as a strengthened Iran and emboldened terrorists - in the case of an early American withdrawal from Iraq.
Stressing that he stood before the crowd "as a strong supporter of Israel" and that "Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than George Bush," Cheney declared: "A precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for the United States and the entire Middle East."
His address comes at a time of swelling criticism of the Iraq war in America as a whole as well as from many quarters of the Jewish community.
Many US Jewish leaders have moved away from supporting the war or been quiet on the issue. At the same time, AIPAC and the community at large have stepped up efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But in Cheney's speech to AIPAC, a lobbying organization widely regarded as the most powerful on matters of foreign policy, he charged: "It is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened, and Israel's best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened."
One Jewish leader who spoke on condition of anonymity said Cheney seemed to be asking the AIPAC members to reevaluate their positions on Iraq and to support the administration's case.
"The message," the Jewish leader said, "was, 'Please don't be so quick to flex your muscle and do the politically easy thing, which is to jump on the bandwagon to withdraw from Iraq.'"
He added that national disaffection with the situation in Iraq and the suggestion that a Jewish neoconservative cabal pushed Bush into war has meant that "there's been a pretty widespread stepping away of Jewish organizational support for Iraq."
If backing for the administration's Iraq policy has diminished, organized Jewry's activism on Iran is swiftly picking up steam.
Stricter sanctions against the Islamic Republic stands atop the AIPAC agenda and will be one of the key lobbying points - along with continued aid to Israel and a firm international line against a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority - when thousands of AIPAC members from the conference visit Capitol Hill to meet with legislative representatives and staffs on Tuesday.
The issue was also highlighted by AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr in his speech delivered after Cheney and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke.
He called for tougher UN Security Council sanctions on Iran and for support of new legislation closing loopholes on current US sanctions on Iran.
In the major annual public laying out of AIPAC priorities, Kohr said, "Any sign of weakness, any sense that we are willing to take options off the table, will be taken as a signal that they [Iran] can proceed with their plans. America's message must be clear on this issue - no divisions, no weakness."
He also endorsed divestment from Iran, an effort he noted Jewish communities and others are spearheading in 10 US states.
Netanyahu, who spoke at a closed session later in the day, also called for divestment. He noted that many Americans unwittingly aid the Iranian economy by investing in companies that do business with Iran.
"By insisting that their investment dollars not be used in Iran, the American public can send a powerful and effective message," he said. "For the regime in Teheran, the blow of divestment could prove fatal."