John Kerry’s “don’t screw the Ayatollah” sales pitch has worked about as well as one might imagine today. One of the key figures for Kerry and Barack Obama to win on Congressional approval for the deal seems to care less about Ali Khameini’s trust in American good faith than in protecting American interests. Former DCCC chair Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) told Newsday that he will oppose the deal, despite a great deal of thought on how he might be able to support it:
The highest-ranking Jewish Democrat in the House announced his opposition to the nuclear accord with Iran on Tuesday, in a blow to the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts.
“I’m going to vote against the Iran deal,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) — the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — told Newsday.
“I tried very hard to get to yes. But at the end of the day, despite some positive elements in the deal, the totality compelled me to oppose it.”
The Hill also notes that House Democrats Nita Lowey and Ted Deutch have also announced their opposition, based on the pass it gives Iran on sponsorship of terrorism in the region. “After a decade in public life working to stop Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons,” Deutch wrote to his constituents in the Sun Sentinel, “I cannot support a deal giving Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief — in return for letting it maintain an advanced nuclear program and the infrastructure of a threshold nuclear state.”
This might be particularly embarrassing for Barack Obama. The Times of Israel reports today that Obama met with leading Jewish political figures yesterday, stressing that a rejection of this deal would eventually lead to war. It would also ruin relations between Israel and the US, Obama warned:
If the US Congress shoots down the Iranian nuclear deal, America will eventually be pressured into a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities, which will in turn increase terror against Israel, US President Barack Obama told Jewish leaders Tuesday, a source who was present at the meeting said.
During the two-hour meeting, Obama said it was legitimate for opponents of the deal to lobby lawmakers to reject it, but added that a discussion focused on personal attacks, rather than the merits of the deal, could jeopardize the coherence of the American Jewish community and ultimately the resilience of US-Israel relations, according to Greg Rosenbaum, the chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council. …
If Congress succeeds in killing the deal and Iran were to subsequently walk away from the agreement and start enriching uranium again to weapons-grade levels, the opponents of the deal will pressure the US government into launching a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, the president was said to have argued.
“But the result of such a strike won’t be war with Iran,” Rosenbaum said, quoting the president.
Iran is not going to launch a full-fledged assault on America, knowing that its military, with an annual budget of $15 billion, stands no chance against the US Army and its budget of close to $600 billion, the president said. Rather, Iran’s terrorist proxies will attack American and Israeli targets, for instance by ramming aircraft carriers or arming terrorist groups along Israel’s borders.
“They will fight this asymmetrically. That means more support for terrorism, more Hezbollah rockets falling on Tel Aviv,” Rosenbaum quoted Obama as saying. “I can assure that Israel will bear the brunt of the asymmetrical response that Iran will have to a military strike on its nuclear facilities.”
Actually, that sounds less like a dire hypothetical than a replay of last summer. Iran’s proxies in Gaza actually did rain down rockets on Tel Aviv, and they have been arming terrorist groups along Israel’s borders for decades. Those who recall that Hezbollah is entirely a proxy army for Iran against Israel must have been mystified by this warning, especially since the Obama administration hasn’t exactly provided much fortitude against those proxies in the past. Let’s not forget Kerry’s aborted attempt to bolster Hamas in Qatar during the Gaza war, which enraged Israelis for rewarding Hamas for launching thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians.
Obama’s pitch appears to have backfired, and not just on Capitol Hill. The American Jewish Committee also announced its opposition to the deal today, saying that it has “indeed validated Iran’s future status as a nuclear threshold state:”
We listened carefully to the arguments of those in favor of the deal, who, inter alia, asserted that Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb would be blocked for at least 10-15 years; that it would use the cash windfall of unfrozen assets and the lifting of sanctions largely for domestic purposes; that the Middle East would not witness the specter of nuclear proliferation; that the inspection and verification regime would be the most intrusive ever developed, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) up to the task, including ascertaining possible military dimensions of Iran’s past program; and that perhaps Iran would, with time, open up to positive change and greater cooperation.
And we listened to the opponents, who asserted, inter alia, that this deal at best only delayed but did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure; that it in fact created a legitimate pathway for Iran to emerge as a nuclear threshold state even if it never violated the deal; that at least some of Iran’s new infusion of funds would be used to stoke further terror and instability in the Middle East and beyond; that America’s allies in the region were profoundly unsettled by the agreement and its broader implications; and that there were concerns about Iran’s ability to deceive the international community, as it had done in the past at Natanz and Fordow, and as other countries, including North Korea and Syria, had also done.
In the end, AJC’s leadership concluded overwhelmingly that we must oppose this deal.
Much as we respect those in the P5+1, led by the United States, who painstakingly negotiated the agreement over the span of years, and who confronted one challenge after another with Iran and also, it should be noted, had to manage the complex interaction within the P5+1 itself, there are too many risks, concerns, and ambiguities for us to lend our support.
By abandoning the earlier negotiating posture of dismantling sanctions in exchange for Iranian dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure, and instead replacing it with what is essentially a temporary freeze on its program, the P5+1 has indeed validated Iran’s future status as a nuclear threshold state, a point that President Obama himself acknowledged in a media interview.
Given the nature of the Iranian regime and its defining ideology, AJC cannot accept this prospect. It is too ominous, too precedent-setting, and too likely to trigger a response from Iran’s understandably anxious neighbors who may seek nuclear-weapons capacity themselves, as well as, more immediately and still more certainly, advanced conventional arms, adding an entirely new level of menace to the most volatile and arms-laden region in the world. Surely, this cannot be in America’s long-term security interests.
And by lifting the freeze on Iranian assets in relatively short order, removing sanctions will surely trigger many visits to Tehran, as evidenced already by German Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economy Sigmar Gabriel’s desire to be among the first. Furthermore, ending the ban on arms flow to Iran within five years and on missile technology, which would help its ICBM program, within eight years, will benefit the regime enormously – and without a demand that Iran change its destabilizing and dangerous behavior. This includes its frequent calls for “Death to America and Israel,” and its hegemonic ambitions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen. AJC cannot accept this prospect, either.
The New York Times once referred to the AJC as being “widely regarded as the dean of Jewish organizations in the United States.” Their decision, in the wake of the hard-sell approach coming directly from Obama and Kerry, will have some impact on Congress as it contemplates its options. Will it be enough to get the two-thirds necessary in both chambers to override an Obama veto? It might — if Obama and Kerry keep talking.