Open Zion

04.17.13

Senate Dims Green-Light For Israeli Attack

With unanimous consent from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a revised version of a resolution that originally sought to green-light any Israeli attack on Iran will now pass to the hands of the full Senate. With backing from the influential Israel lobby group AIPAC and 79 co-sponsors, the non-binding resolution looks poised to pass the upper chamber. While the new language assuages some fears about the original bill, the trajectory of the stated push by one of its hawkish co-authors, Lindsey Graham, seems decidedly on track to ratchet up tensions between Iran, and Israel and the United States.

The most troubling clause of the resolution itself—one that pledged unconditional U.S. support, including "military" support, for an Israeli strike on Iran—was modified in a mark-up by the committee. Joel Rubin of the Ploughshares Fund noted to ThinkProgress that invoking the mark-up procedures was "relatively rare for this type of resolution"—perhaps spurred by harsh criticisms and activism by pro-peace groups. One of the latter groups, the liberal pro-Israel group Americans for Peace Now, which pressed its activists to get in touch with their representatives on the Hill, catalogued the changes in the new version in a press release:

  • It refers to “legitimate” self-defense, making clear that the U.S. will judge what is and is not genuinely an act of self-defense.
  • It explicitly narrows the scope of what would qualify as a legitimate act of self-defense to one taken against “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” as opposed to any Iranian targets.
  • It makes clear that support for Israel in such a case must be in accordance with U.S. law, including constitutional requirements for Congressional authorization of use of force before committing the U.S. to any military action.

The resolution was a centerpiece of AIPAC's legislative agenda coming out of its annual policy conference in March—one of the "asks" its own thousands of activists made of Members of Congress. Yesterday, the group reacted by praising the resolution's move to the full Senate and urging its passage, while never mentioning the language changes. The AIPAC press release added: "The resolution also reiterates that the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and to take such action as may be necessary to implement this policy." This is indeed the policy of Israel, and the policy of the Romney campaign, and the policy which Graham has pressed—on the same disingenuous grounds as AIPAC—upon the Obama administration, and the policy which the Congress adopted on Graham's heels. But neither Congress nor Netanyahu nor Mitt Romney set U.S. foreign policy: that's left up to the President of the United States. Barack Obama has been unequivocal that he will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon; the Iranian nuclear "capability" drawing the ire of AIPAC, Netanyahu and Congress is ill-defined, except that it surely sets a lower threshold for war.

To ignore this dynamic is precisely the point. As Scott McConnell wrote of the original version of the bill, the intent was "to broadcast the falsehood that the U.S. and Israel see the Iranian nuclear issue in exactly the same terms." It's perhaps most remarkable because it requires forgetting what happened just a few short months ago when the aforementioned forces—Congress, Netanyahu and Romeny—led respective campaigns to pressure Obama into making the shift from his own "red lines" to Bibi's, which he didn't. Papering over these lasting gaps, as Netanyahu and Obama did in Israel, doesn't make them disappear, but it does maintain for now the improbable illusion that the interests of these two nuclear-armed allies are perfectly aligned.

Netanyahu, AIPAC and Graham's Congressional pushes do, however, present this kind of unity. And that's precisely why we ought to be worried. Graham told the Washington Post's neoconservative blogger Jen Rubin—herself a war hawk—his intentions when the resolution was first introduced in January: "You have to build a case,” he said. Rubin paraphrased: "Graham favor step-by-step [sic]  approach," she wrote. "First, you rule out containment, then pledge support to Israel, and if that doesn’t work, tell Obama, 'Mr. President, here’s authorization'"—that is, the authorization for the use of military force. The resolution explicitly says it shouldn't be "construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war," but Graham's plan doesn't require an authorization now. He's saving that for later. It's safe to assume AIPAC is on board and, perhaps most consequentially, Netanyahu too.