In response to the successful conclusion of the P5+1 talks in Vienna, the Israeli government, leading members of the congressional “war party” and an influential claque of neoconservative journalists have joined forces, working overtime to torpedo the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran.
The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, has staged an aggressive lobbying campaign against the JCPOA. Last Wednesday, Dermer met with 40 House Republicans to lobby against the deal. According to Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, Dermer told them that the deal “changes the destiny of the world.”
And on Monday of this week, Dermer addressed a meeting of the Republican House leadership at the behest of Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Readers may recall that Dermer had previously teamed up with the House leadership to engineer an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in March.
In that address, Netanyahu deployed his trademark subtlety and declared that Iran was a “threat to the entire world.”
Indeed, the Israelis have been sounding the alarm over the dangers of a deal long before the deal was even reached. On March 25, The New York Times reported that at a dinner Dermer hosted for several members of Congress, the ambassador “made it clear that there would be a clash if a nuclear agreement with Iran was reached.”
Yet it should be pointed out that the clash that has ensued is most assuredly not between the American Jewish community (for whom Netanyahu presumptuously assumes the right to speak) and the Obama administration. A poll conducted by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, an independent, nonprofit media outlet, shows that the American Jewish community supports the JCPOA by a margin of 20 percentage points.
Nevertheless, as The Washington Post reported in the days immediately following the announcement of the deal, AIPAC is funding a new group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which is “expected to spend $20 million to $40 million on advertising and campaigns in 30 to 40 states to mobilize opponents of the deal.”
AIPAC can, as usual, expect plenty of help from the US Congress. House Speaker John Boehner has vowed that Congress will “do anything possible” to torpedo the JCPOA, and former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman recently appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to say that “this is a bad deal for America, a bad deal for Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East and a bad deal for the world.”
And yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee convened to question Secretaries Kerry, Moniz, Carter, and Lew, as well as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey. It made for neither pleasant nor enlightening viewing. If, as it seemed, war-party heavyweights John McCain, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Tom Cotton were engaged in a fear-mongering contest, then Graham clearly walked away the winner.
“Does the [Iranian] Supreme Leader’s religious views compel him over time to destroy Israel and attack America?” the South Carolina Republican demanded of an incredulous Ashton Carter. Graham, growing increasingly irritated with Carter’s reluctance to play along, then asked Carter, “Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran?” Graham, his voice growing tremulous, shouted the answer to his own question: “We win!”
Embarrassing as that was, none of the senators had the poor judgement to go as far as GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who, in a grotesquely inappropriate allusion to the Holocaust, declared that the deal would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
Meanwhile, the Beltway’s hearty band of unreconstructed neoconservatives have been hard at work drumming up opposition to the deal. Leon Wieseltier weighed in from his perch at The Atlantic with a typically portentous offering, bemoaning the allegedly pernicious implications of the deal.
To Wieseltier’s eye “there was something grotesque about the chumminess, the jolly camaraderie, of the American negotiators and the Iranian negotiators,” while the negotiations themselves represented a “twisted moment in American foreign policy.” Warming to this theme, Wieseltier insisted that, far from trying to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Iranians, “we need to despise the regime loudly and regularly, and damage its international position as fiercely and imaginatively as we can, for its desire to exterminate Israel.”
Neocon stalwart Eli Lake praised Wieseltier’s essay, recommending it to “every alleged progressive snookered by the Iran deal.” And Lake himself has been doing his level best to make sure his own readers don’t get “snookered” by the likes of Glenn Greenwald, who he accused of “Jew baiting” because Greenwald had the temerity to suggest that congressional opposition to the deal might just have something to do with Israeli’s strenuous lobbying against the deal.
As former career CIA analyst Paul Pillar recently observed, the truculent nature of the opposition to the JCPOA is comprehensible “only if one realizes that the opposition is being driven by other reasons some people have for wanting to kill this agreement and to preclude any agreement with Iran.”
And yet, so far anyway, the combined efforts of the Israeli government, the war hawks in the US Congress and their neoconservative allies like Wieseltier and Lake have come to naught. Polls indicate that 54 percent of voters polled favor the deal moving through Congress, as against 39 percent who would like to see it blocked.
Congressional opponents of the deal should take note.