Washington Bureau

09.03.13

AIPAC in Full Court Press on Syria

AIPAC is breaking precedent to support war resolution on Syria. Eli Lake reports.

America’s largest pro-Israel lobby has deployed its organization in Congress to push for the president’s war authorization against Syria, according to a senior official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who called the effort a "full court press."

Earlier Tuesday, AIPAC issued a strong statement supporting the president’s call for congressional authorization of limited airstrikes against Syria. A senior official at AIPAC tells The Daily Beast that the organization’s leadership received a phone call from a senior White House official on Saturday, after the president’s surprise announcement that he would be seeking congressional authorization for a Syria strike, asking what AIPAC's position would be on a congressional resolution. This official said the lobby received similar calls from Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

While AIPAC lobbies Congress for a stronger U.S.-Israel relationship, the group rarely deploys its lobbyists in favor of war resolutions like the one before Congress on Syria. During the Iraq War debate in 2002 and 2003, the group did not make the war resolution a priority. In the days after the 9/11 attacks, AIPAC did not take a position on the authorization of the use of military force against al Qaeda. 

Instead, the pro-Israel lobby has focused much of its congressional efforts on pressing sanctions legislation against Iran in recent years, as well as working on the annual foreign aid budget. Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since the 1979 Camp David peace accords the Jewish state signed with Egypt.

The senior AIPAC official said the conversation with the White House was informational. “‘Where are you going to be on this?’ That was a similar message that came from the Hill as well,” this official said in describing the call from the White House and congressional leaders. “It was not so much an ask as much as an inquiry of where you are going to be.”

But, this official also said, the message was clear that AIPAC’s participation in the lobbying effort to pass the authorization “would be helpful.”

One reason AIPAC has decided to engage in the congressional fight over the Syria war resolution is that it sees a direct connection to Iran. “We see a direct link to this vote and dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue,” this official said. “Our view is that if this vote goes down, it will be devastating to American credibility and send a very clear message to Iran that they can press the accelerator on moving forward with their program. At this point Assad and Hezbollah are merely franchises for Iran.”