AIPAC Pushes Tough Line on Iran as Nuclear Thaw Picks Up Pace

Will Abortive Syria Battle Affect Lobby's Effort?

Charmer? AIPAC plans to push back hard in the face of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive. Will the group’s stumble on Syria affect its new effort?
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Charmer? AIPAC plans to push back hard in the face of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive. Will the group’s stumble on Syria affect its new effort?

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 27, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
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The September 20 memo AIPAC circulated to its supporters conveyed the same sense of distrust. In it, the lobby detailed the terms and conditions that, from its view, need to be met before reaching a deal with Iran.

Those conditions include compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran suspend its production of highly enriched uranium, stop the installation of new centrifuges devoted to this enrichment and grant access to international monitors seeking to examine its nuclear sites.

“The United States should synchronize its approach to sanctions with Iran’s compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions,” AIPAC stressed. The lobby called on Washington to meet Iranian suspension of nuclear activity with suspension of new sanctions and, on the other hand, to step up sanctions if Tehran continues to advance its nuclear program.

Simultaneously, AIPAC prepared to lobby for a new round of legislation in the Senate, targeting Iran’s financial system. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization dealing with policy issues, also intends to call on Jewish groups across the country to support legislation toughening the sanctions regime against Iran.

In its memo, AIPAC urged the administration to “strengthen the credibility of military action” against Iran’s nuclear program and to “support Israel’s right to act against Iran if it feels compelled, in its own legitimate self-defense, to act.”

The question remains, how will Congress and the public respond to AIPAC’s second call in less than a month to allow the use of force in the Middle East? The lobby launched its drive on Syria in response to a call from the White House in September. But uncharacteristically, the push was stymied by a reluctant Congress, which itself faced an aroused American public strongly opposed to taking military action yet again in the Middle East following more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan with dubious results.

The prospect of an epic failure in Congress was averted only by the last minute diplomatic deal reached between the United States and Russia to try to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons via diplomatic means.

Now, as much of the world, including America, appears to be pushing the other way, AIPAC faces the task of advocating caution toward diplomacy on Iran, and maintenance of a military threat towards it.

“The debate over whether or not to engage Iran is over, because it is accepted now that diplomacy is a viable route to resolve these issues,” said Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs at the dovish-leaning Ploughshares Fund. “Syria has broken the taboo for a lot of people.”

Negotiations should now be recognized as an integral part of the “full set of tools at our disposal,” Rubin argued.

But Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the JCPA, said that Americans make a clear distinction between the Syrian case and that of Iran. “No one is enthused about going to war, but Iran is a different situation than Syria,” he said.

Gutow asserted that the American public views a nuclear Iran as a threat to the United States while Syria was not perceived as such. “I don’t think the American people are divided in regards to Iran,” he said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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