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Top Israel Lobby Group Loses Battle on Iran, But War Not Over

P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2014 (IPS) - Eight years ago, Stephen Rosen, then a top official at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and well-known around Washington for his aggressiveness, hawkish views, and political smarts, was asked by Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker magazine whether some recent negative publicity had harmed the lobby group’s legendary clout in Washington.

“A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table,” wrote Goldberg about the interview. “’You see this napkin?’ [the official] said. In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”

"The neoconservatives were able to push Bush & Co. to invade Iraq in 2003, but their success required an unusual set of circumstances and the American public learned a lot from that disastrous experience." -- Stephen Walt

Eight years later, the same official, Stephen Rosen, who was forced to resign from AIPAC after his indictment – later dismissed — for allegedly spying for Israel, told a Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that AIPAC needed to retreat from its confrontation with President Barack Obama after getting only 59 senators – all but 16 of them Republicans – to co-sponsor a new sanctions bill aimed at derailing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).

“They don’t want to be seen as backing down… I don’t believe this is sustainable, the confrontational posture,” he said.

If AIPAC had succeeded in getting 70 signatures on the bill, which the administration argued would have violated a Nov. 24 interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 that essentially freezes Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for easing some existing sanctions for a renewable six-month period, that would have been three more than needed to overcome a promised Obama veto.

But, after quickly gathering the 59 co-sponsors over the Christmas recess, AIPAC and the bill’s major sponsors, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, appeared to hit a solid wall of resistance led by 10 Democratic Committee chairs and backed by an uncharacteristically determined White House with an uncharacteristically stern message.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

Combined with a grassroots lobbying campaign carried out by nearly 70 grassroots religious, anti-war, and civic-action groups that flooded the offices of nervous Democratic senators with thousands of emails, petitions, and phone calls, as well as endorsements of the administration’s position by major national and regional newspapers and virtually all but the neo-conservative faction of the U.S. foreign policy elite, the White House won a clear victory over AIPAC and thus raised anew the question of just how powerful the group really is.

AIPAC’s inability to muster more support among Democrats, in particular, came on top of two other setbacks to its fearsome reputation over the past year.

Although they never took a public position on his nomination a year ago, the group’s leaders were known to have quietly lobbied against former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defence Secretary due his generally critical attitude toward Israel’s influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Several groups and individuals closely aligned with AIPAC, notably the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) – both of which have joined AIPAC in lobbying for the new Iran sanctions bill – questioned or opposed Hagel. Ultimately, however, he won confirmation by a 58-41 margin in which the great majority of Democrats voted for him.

Eight months later, AIPAC and other right-wing Jewish groups lobbied Congress in favour of a resolution to authorise the use of force against Syria – this time, however, at Obama’s request, although clearly also with the approval of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

But the popular groundswell against Washington’s military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern conflict – as well as the reflexive aversion by far-right Republicans to virtually any Obama initiative – doomed the effort.

Neither Hagel nor Syria, however, has approached the importance AIPAC has accorded to Iran and its nuclear programme which have dominated the group’s foreign-policy agenda for more than a decade. During that time, it has become used to marshalling overwhelming  majorities of lawmakers from both parties behind sanctions and other legislation designed to increase tensions – and preclude any rapprochement — between Tehran and Washington.

Last July, for example, the House of Representatives voted by a 400-20 margin in favour of sanctions legislation designed to halt all Iranian oil exports from Iran. The measure was approved just four days before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration.

Throughout the fall, AIPAC worked hard – but ultimately unsuccessfully – to get the same bill through the Senate.

Now, two months later and unable to muster even a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, AIPAC appears to have shelved the Kirk-Menendez bill, which, among other provisions, would have imposed sanctions if Tehran violated the Nov. 24 agreement or failed to reach a comprehensive accord with the P5+1 on its nuclear programme within a year.

“Clearly, the ground has shifted, dealing a huge defeat to AIPAC and other groups who have been aggressively lobbying for [the new sanctions bill],” wrote Lara Friedman, a lobbyist for Americans for Peace Now in her widely-read weekly Legislative Round-up, while other commentators, including Rosen, warned that overwhelming Republican support for the bill put AIPAC’s carefully cultivated bipartisan image at risk with Democratic lawmakers and key Democratic donors.

“They definitely lost this round and that has cost them a huge amount of political capital with the administration and with a lot of Democrats,” said one veteran Capitol Hill observer who also noted AIPAC faced “an almost perfect storm” of an administration willing to fight for a policy that also enjoyed strong support from the foreign-policy elite and an engaged activist community that could exert grassroots pressure on their elected representatives. “Senate offices were getting a couple of calls in favour [of the bill] and hundreds against. That certainly has to make a difference.”

“AIPAC and other hard-line groups remain a potent force in guaranteeing generous U.S. aid to Israel and hamstringing U.S. efforts to achieve a two-state solution, but their clout declines when they advocate a course of action that could lead to another Middle East war,” Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” told IPS in an email exchange.

“The neoconservatives were able to push Bush & Co. to invade Iraq in 2003, but their success required an unusual set of circumstances and the American public learned a lot from that disastrous experience,” according to the influential Harvard international relations scholar.

No one, however, believes that AIPAC and its allies have given up. If the P5+1 negotiations should falter, the Kirk-Menendez bill is likely to be quickly re-introduced; indeed, one influential Republican senator said it should be put on the calendar for July, six months from Jan. 20 the date that Nov. 24 interim accord formally went into effect.

“It seems likely that advocates [of the bill] are getting ready to shift to some form of ‘Plan B’ [which], …one can guess, will look a lot like Plan A, but, instead of focusing on derailing negotiations with new sanctions, [it] will likely focus on imposing conditions on any final agreement – conditions that are impossible to meet and will thus kill any possibility of a deal,” according to Friedman.

That could include conditioning the lifting of sanctions on an agreement that includes a ban on any uranium enrichment on Iranian soil – a condition favoured by Netanyahu that Tehran has repeatedly rejected and that most experts believe would be a deal-breaker.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

 
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  • race_to_the_bottom

    The main lesson to be learned here is that the appearance that Israel controls US Middle East policy is just that, an appearance.

    It can appear that way because US imperialism’s program is almost always in line with the Israeli right wing. But….when imperialism decides it has deeper interests which don’t coincide with Israel’, THAT IS IT.

    Make no mistake. It has been decided by the foreign policy elite that the current policy vis a vis Iran will lead the US into a blind alley of isolation from which escape will be difficult.

    All in all, a victory for the peoples of the world.

  • cuja1

    I am wondering if a False Flag will create the Control AIPAC demands?????
    Are the neo-conservatives only making us believe the people have won?

  • John Lasher

    Hey, everybody, what’s up?

  • John Lasher

    Are you kidding, Israel has the American body politic by the cojones. Haven’t you heard what Bibi Netanyahoo said to the Knesset about Israel’s ownership of America’s M.E. policy?

  • John Lasher

    If Israel had any more control of America they would have three or four Jews on the Supreme Court; be running the Federal Reserve System; running the banks; monopolizing the medical and legal professions; filling up the State Department and the Pentagon; “advising” the President; they would have one of, if not the, most powerful lobbies in D.C.; they would be a majority of the wealthiest people in America even though they are only a 2% minority; they would own and control all the news and entertainment media for the benefit of Israeli Zionist expansion in the M.E.; and they would get more money from us tax-payers than any other country. Let’s just hope they never get that much power over us.

  • Parvin

    Israel can not control US foreign policy at this time is because US is flat broke, bankrupt and can not go to another war. With a national debt larger than our GDP another war with a much stronger country, Iran is impossible. Iraq with all the help it got from US,France, UK, Germany and other western nations in the 80′s could not dent Iran. A lot of Iranians dies or were maimed for life but Iran remained strong. Now after so many years it is even much stronger and united nation than before. So just dream about a war with Iran.

  • Vanessa

    Yes if jews had that much power in amerikwa it would be truly scary, almost like Master Blaster. Thankfully, as we all know that could never happen, so its alright for us to safely turn our backs on that possibility and never watch out for it, so we can focus our attention on more important things, like what Michelle Obama wore, and Kardashians, and racism. Oh yes! Don’t forget about racism! It’s under every stone, you know.

  • John Lasher

    At a Dunkin’ Donuts this morning I watched a full 5 minutes on TV of Justin Bieber’s getting arrested for racing in a Maseratti and DUI. Hey, maybe they’re beginning to report the really important news, huh?

  • John Lasher

    Oh, surely China will give us another loan so we can continue to protect our “brave little ally in the M.E.” and the “only democracy in the M.E.” We could also go in debt to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to get money to keep the evil Iranians in their place. After all, we are the police force of the world – the only country dumb enough to go bankrupt for the sake of a tiny little hangnail of a nation that has been using us like a rented mule for decades.

  • Parvin

    I agree with you about Israel control over American government, however I don’t think the American people will go for another war, especially one with Iran.

  • John Lasher

    I hope you’re right, but the people don’t have much to do with what the Congress does anymore. 87% of the American people were against going to war in Europe in 1941, but the Zionists, even then, knew what a false-flag incident like Pearl Harbor could do for them. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, let me know and I’ll elaborate.

  • M B

    Stooges who were behind evil comunism now shift to evil islam
    Has the american learned anything from 70 years of induced fear ?

  • Parvin

    I understand quite well what you are saying. However, I have faith in American people, Just a few months ago Obama was ready to bomb Syria but American people stopped him. Apparently out of 100 emails and phone calls to congressional senators and representatives offices, 98 were against and at the most 2 in favor. Let’s hope that American public is waking up to the harm Israel and AIPAC are causing us.

  • oscar

    Not so sure that that was the main reason (American peoples opposing to bomb Syria) If I remember correctly first the UK changed its mind that meant that the only “ally” for the US was France not so trustful I suppose then Russia was serious about actively supporting Syria, so it was a combination of factors but probably NOT the American people.

  • John Lasher

    Do you know what percentage of the American people were against invading Iraq? Afghanistan? 98 people are hardly enough to sway the plans of Obama’s Zionist handlers. Face it, things are going just the way they are supposed to for the ultimate goals of the NWO.

  • Parvin

    Yes you are right, there were more people and countries involve. But if American people had been for the attack Obama would not have hesitated. That is how Bush got to attack Iraq. Some 68% of American were for it because Chaney told them that Iraq was involved in 9/11. Most Americans are not that active in politics but when they don’t want to go to war they act.

  • emwatcher

    Parvin’s wording was unclear, but clearly it meant 98% against attacking Syria and only 2% for.

  • hondurenodepuracepa

    I am angry at Senator Robert Menendez for betraying those who voted for him and the rest of the American people. Then I realized that most of those senators and House representatives are the same. Pigs who are elected by the people but their alliance is for Israel and a small group who manages our foreign affairs. I have a broken heart and discussed by these people who sell themselves and work for foreign governments.

  • Jojo

    Israel is made up of FAKE JEWS KHAZARS who are former communist of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Palestine is the land of the true bloodline of ancient Jews. The synagogue of Satan Revelations 2:9 applies to Israel. Not to mention they have destroyed America and their obby AIPAC lied to Bush to start a war,

  • Jojo

    Israel also had a huge hand in 911! How can America support these monsters? They are even trying to control the Internet . The pro Israel blogs block all the truth and Israel hires people to post pro Israel non sense on blogs. These people are pathetic! Wake up America before they destroy you in another war!

  • Jojo

    Israel is behind killing Net Neutrality on the Internet so they can keep America dumbed down to the real truth. We need to fight that to.

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