Pro-Israel groups: NIE rattles our anti-Iran efforts

Fear accusations will intensify that Jews are aligned with neoconservatives and are pushing for a war.

ahmadinejad makes point  (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad makes point
(photo credit: AP)
Many pro-Israel groups are acknowledging privately, and in some cases publicly, that the new US intelligence assessment on Iran is a significant blow to their efforts to isolate Iran and ease its threat to Israel. Though one of the National Intelligence Estimate's conclusions was that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 due to international pressure, that's hardly comforting to Jewish organizations who feel Iran poses as a great a danger as ever and now think it will be even harder to convince the international community and American public of that. There's also some concern that further efforts to depict Iran as an immediate threat will intensify previous accusations from some quarters that Jews are aligned with neoconservatives and are pushing for war with Iran. "It's highly problematic, obviously, because it gives people who want to get off the hook an opportunity to do so," The Israel Project's founder Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said of the NIE's effect on countries and international businesses who for economic and political reasons haven't wanted to slap serious sanctions on Iran, a policy her group advocates. "I see this as a major setback," she continued, adding that the halting of the weapons program reported in the NIE had been wrongly interpreted as meaning a diminished Iranian threat. In fact, she pointed out, the NIE found that the country was continuing at full speed with the components of such a program - most significantly the enriching of uranium - in defiance of the international community. "The story [of the NIE] has been widely misreported as an indication that the Iranian military threat [is] over or has been overblown. It's not true. It's not what the report says," said Jason Isaacson, director of the American Jewish Committee's Office of Government and International Affairs in Washington. He stressed that he wouldn't call the report or the media coverage a setback, but said that "the reality has to be pointed out to people, and my concern is that there's a level of artificial euphoria that's driving the story." Several Jewish officials participated in a conference call arranged by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Tuesday, a day after the declassified report was released, to discuss the effect of the findings on their outreach efforts. "It was a lot of people saying, 'Oh My God! How are we going to talk about this now? We have to be very careful about our messaging,'" said one participant who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that he was struck by the lack of discussion of the implications of the report on its merits and whether it should cause any rethinking within the community on the issue of Iran. "You have to take the report as positive. I was happy when I saw it," he said. But, according to the official, the reaction was largely negative and the call mostly focused on how to reshape the message on Iran - away from the immediacy of the threat and towards an emphasis on Iran's role in terrorism and human rights abuses. Emphasizing the need to take action on the Iranian threat could further strengthen accusations of Jewish ties to neocons charged with pushing for an attack on Iran, said another Jewish official who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "When the pro-Israel community's only friends on TV [yesterday] were George Bush and [former US ambassador to the UN] John Bolton, both of whom are disliked and mistrusted by the American public, that's a problem," the official said. Indeed, many groups have been trying to widen awareness about Iran and backing for action like sanctions to Democratic constituencies in a bid to gain broader support as well as form a wide coalition of constituencies. That becomes harder as Iran is identified with politics and ideology. Pro-Israel activists, though, have seen some positive implications of the report. Mizrahi pointed to the additional time that the international community feels it has to deal with Iran - and therefore for sanctions to work. "If people see this report as taking the military option off the table," she said, "they may be more willing to talk about sanctions." She said that in any case American public opinion was against business ties with Iran: "Our polling has shown consistently that Americans understand that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that alone makes them not want to have their pension fund money, for example, invested in Iran." Hadar Susskind, Washington Director for the Jewish Council For Public Affairs, said it would be "incredibly naïve" to take the NIE report as meaning that Iran doesn't pose a threat, but did think it offered some reason for reflection and at least one good finding: "It shows a really positive development, that Iran clearly is susceptible to world pressure."