The Israel Lobby likes to say (and hear members of Congress saying it as well) that there isn’t an inch of daylight between Israel and U.S. political leaders. And that’s generally so. But I’ve just read a memo produced by Aipac which diverges from the Israeli government’s absolutist approach to Iranian nukes. Netanyahu’s position is that Iran must not have any enrichment capacity. Essentially, it must renounce its entire nuclear program.
This memo takes a different view:
Now that the P5+1 has inked an initial agreement with Iran, America must not only ensure full Iranian compliance but also insist that any final deal deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability.
…Congress has provided the leverage to spur Iran to seek talks; now it must press the administration to negotiate a verifiable agreement that will prevent Iran from ever building nuclear weapons.
Interestingly, this is precisely the Obama administration position. And the divergence between these two positions has caused no end of heartburn between Bibi and Barack. So why does Aipac take the president’s point of view on this and not Israel’s?
There are a number of reasons: first, because while Aipac may be many bad things, it isn’t stupid. It knows that polls show Americans support the Geneva agreement by a two to one margin. Though I haven’t heard of any polls of Jewish opinion, my strong suspicion is that American Jews support it in comparable numbers. So Aipac figures: why rock the boat?
They’ve just been stung by Congress and the president’s refusal to endorse military action against Syria. They don’t want to go down that road again. One thing that is very important to the Israel Lobby group is to be a winner. It hates to lose. It always wants to ensure that Israel’s “enemies” in Congress are the losers, but never Aipac itself.
Further, the group is trying to take a longer-term view. It has six months either to turn American opinion against the deal or to watch as it unravels. It must believe it’s better than even money that the signatories will find a fly in the ointment that will cause the agreement to collapse. Either the Iranians will be resistant or the French will develop a backbone and come to the rescue; or a terrorist attack will derail the process.
Of one thing you can be sure: Aipac is not in disagreement with the Israelis. Aipac wants precisely what Israel wants: not just an end to Iran’s nuclear program, but regime change. The difference between the two is that Israel doesn’t sugar-coat its position, while Aipac finely calibrates its agenda according to which way the political winds are blowing. As of now, they’re not blowing Israel’s way.
In fact, the DC Lobby organization wants to have it both ways. It wants to agree with the administration that the essential goal is stopping an Iranian bomb. But it also wants to keep in its back pocket the chance for advancing Israel’s demand for no nuclear enrichment:
The interim agreement does not require that Iran come into compliance with six mandatory U.N. Security Council resolutions, which demand Iran suspend all enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water activity…
Here, Aipac infers that the mere fact of Iran having any enrichment capability gives it a path toward a bomb:
Any final agreement must deny Iran both uranium and plutonium paths to develop nuclear weapons.
Any final deal will likely preclude Iran from developing nukes, but it will not shut down its uranium enrichment. No pragmatic observer of this process believes this will happen. So even the intimation that you support shutting down this aspect of Iran’s program means you really support Israel’s absolutist position–you’re just too slick or frightened to say it outright.
Aipac does contradict the administration position in one significant way: it endorses ever more draconian sanctions against Iran. Though it understands this brings it into conflict with the President, it couches its position as supporting his goals: to bring Iran to the table and make it more willing to give up its supposed goal of building nukes.
This memo doesn’t mention that if the Lobby wins and sanctions worsen, the current official U.S. policy of reaching a deal with Iran will be dead. That would leave Aipac as the last man standing in the debate. A diplomatic solution will be gone and the only thing remaining will be the military option–Israel and the Lobby’s preferred course.
There are several problematic passages in the memo. Here it outright distorts the agreement:
Iran will retain all of its nuclear material and will be able to continue the research and development aspects of its program….The agreement imposes no restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts…
This is actually not true. Iran has a large amount of 20% enriched uranium. Under the deal, a significant portion of it would be reprocessed so that it could not be used as part of any weapons-making process. This is extremely important since Iran’s 20% enriched material is what would be needed to make a bomb. Without that, it can’t proceed toward nuclearization.
The willful misunderstanding of the Geneva protocol continues here:
Iran thus far has denied inspectors access to key facilities, such as Parchin, where the IAEA suspects nuclear weapons-related experiments have been conducted.
The deal actually gives inspectors access to Iran’s most secret facility, Fordo, and also gives them access to the heavy water reactor at Arak. These are both facilities that have been largely or wholly off-limits to the IAEA.