Washington — With tension between Jerusalem and Washington on the rise over the preferred policy for dealing with Iran, supporters of Israel are urging lawmakers to back a resolution moving the goalposts in this debate closer to the views of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
A proposed Senate resolution, supported by the pro-Israel lobby, would shift America’s red line in dealing with Iran from preventing the Islamic Republic’s acquisition of nuclear weapons to stopping it before it achieves “nuclear capabilities.” Authors of the resolution believe that it is the only way to ensure that Iran ceases to be a threat to the region.
Opponents see it as moving America too close to a declaration of war.
The resolution, now gaining signatures in the Senate, will be the legislative centerpiece of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as it convenes for its annual Washington conference, to take place in early March. The conference is expected to serve as the key arena for discussing American-Israeli differences over Iran as it hosts President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidates at a time when experts believe that Israel is nearing a decision on whether or not to launch a military strike.
The Senate resolution, co-sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, Independent Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, was officially rolled out February 16 after weeks of debate over its language.
The resolution, which is nonbinding, urges the president “to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.” Co-sponsors of the resolution argued that it was merely giving weight to a commitment already made by Obama when he spoke out against allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities.
“The purpose of this resolution,” Graham said in a February 16 Capitol Hill press conference, “is to say to the world, to our citizens and to the president, ‘We agree with you, and we have your back, Mr. President.’”
While nuances in the new Senate resolution may seem minor, they could potentially change the way the United States acts in regard to the Iranian nuclear issue. Iran has been continuing its work to enrich uranium as part of a military nuclear program, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But it has not yet reached a point of acquiring nuclear weapons. The point of achieving nuclear capabilities, however, is not clear-cut, and Iran may have already passed it. In that case, the Senate resolution could be understood as a call for immediate action against Iran.
“It is a standard that in my opinion is more real and perhaps in some senses higher than saying ‘The red line is when they actually have nuclear weapons,’” said Lieberman, who explained that in his opinion, achieving nuclear capability means having the components to produce a nuclear weapon.
But critics argue that the definition of “nuclear capability” is vague and that it points to top American intelligence and military officials who stated that Iran has not yet made a decision to use its nuclear capability for building atomic bombs. “This Senate resolution is essentially shrinking the space available for the administration to conduct diplomacy,” said Joel Rubin, policy and government director at the Ploughshares Fund, an organization focusing on nuclear nonproliferation. According to Rubin, if the administration adopts the policy suggested by the Senate, it will likely have to turn to a military option.