The U.S. response carries significant implications for Israel. Many Israel supporters worry that a reluctance to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons could weaken the U.S. ability to contain Iran’s nuclear program. The expansion of Syria’s civil war also has heightened Israeli concerns about the direct impact of the conflict, analysts said.
“As the Syrian crisis has grown in scale, it’s become more important to Israel — with the Assad regime moving closer to Iran, the archenemy of Israel, and the rise of jihadi groups also bent on Syria’s destruction, which have been popping up in areas adjacent to Israel,” said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
AIPAC is one of the strongest levers of influence on Capitol Hill, with ties to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. In August, the American Israel Educational Foundation, AIPAC’s charitable affiliate, sponsored two trips of House members to Israel — one for 37 Democrats and the other for 26 Republicans.
On Tuesday, the group organized a conference call with top rabbinical allies to provide information about how to discuss the issue with their congregants, and sent a letter to its members asking for their help in persuading lawmakers to back Obama’s request to use force.
“We believe that Congress’ failure to grant the President this authority would be interpreted as a sign of American weakness, and cast doubt about whether America will act to carry out its commitments in the Middle East — including the President’s and Congress’ pledge to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” AIPAC President Michael Kassen wrote.
A number of avowedly pro-Israel lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), came out Tuesday in favor of a Syria strike. But others are still on the fence.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said he remains in the “deeply skeptical category.” Himes, who represents New York suburbs such as Stamford and Greenwich, said calls and e-mails from his district are running overwhelmingly against a military strike.
“There’s no question that the majority of my colleagues are very, very concerned about the impact of our decision on Israel, and that’s not a simple black-and-white issue,” he said. “What if we attack and Hezbollah launches an attack against Israel? I think there’s some complexity here. But it’s also true that plenty of pro-Israel groups have built deep relationships on the Hill, so I’m sure their points of view will be considered.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.