In concluding the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference Tuesday, executive director Howard Kohr announced that committee representatives would call upon every Senate and House member. That’s impressive, as was the number of conference attendees in a non-election year.
Kohr’s remarks were noteworthy in a couple respects. And they certainly represent a departure from past years, in which the focus tilted heavily toward the Palestinian conflict.
This year Kohr mentioned the Palestinians just once, and in passing: “We shared with you the genius of inventor Amit Gofer, who is allowing the paralyzed to walk, the near-miraculous accomplishment of Danny Gold and his team, who produced Iron Dome, which, every day, prevents the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians.” The phrase “peace process” was not uttered. This was entirely appropriate and significant.
All the yammering (the latest from Secretary of State John Kerry) about restarting or starting or thinking of starting the “peace process” is absurd. There is no peace partner for Israel; there is no “peace process.” There is a Fatah-Hamas unity government. So long as the Palestinian Authority is engaged with Hamas, it cannot and will not engage in any serious negotiations with Israel. Fixating on a fictional peace process only increases tensions between the United States and Israel (at least under this president) and gives an impression of unseriousness.
Kohr’s Iran remarks were the lengthiest part of his speech (which also discussed a broader strategic partnership with Israel and dangers in the region from Arab Spring countries):
Stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is the most important step the world can take to arrest the radical trends sweeping the Middle East. America and Israel have done much together to slow Iran’s relentless pace. And yet, the nuclear centrifuges continue to spin. We must do more together to pressure the Iranian regime by deepening the impact of economic sanctions and creating greater diplomatic isolation.
We are glad that President Obama will soon be in Israel, and we urge him while he is there to restate what he said from this very platform one year ago. And I quote: “We will use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” End quote.
We know that the key to our success on this front is the key to our success on every front. When America and Israel stand together, the chances for success are very high. That is why our message when we go to the Hill today — our message every day — is simply this: We will not stop until we stop Iran.
And if after all diplomatic and economic efforts, the mullahs still refuse to give up their nuclear ambitions, and Israel is compelled to respond to an Iranian nuclear program, we, America, must be unequivocal in our support of our ally.
And that is why we strongly support a Congressional Resolution which says the following: “If Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to our ally in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”
This is what it means to have Israel’s back!
“Linkage,” you see, is realistic, but the linkage starts with Iran, not with the PA. (“We know that the key to our success on this front is the key to our success on every front.”) How President Obama responds to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran will shape the president’s legacy, the fate of the region and the U.S. status as a superpower. After saying so many times that Iran must not go nuclear, his failure to deliver on that pledge would be a failure of tremendous proportions, signaling that we are unwilling or incapable of attending to our most important national security threats.
Because the stakes are so high, because Obama has rhetorically taken “containment” off the table and because the consequences of military action are serious, the president, many observers are worried, will be tempted to fudge, to come up with a paper agreement that gets him off the hook, poses an insuperable barrier to Israeli action and allows Iran to quietly achieve what we said was “unacceptable.”
Mike Singh of the Washington Institute writes this week about the temptation “to change one’s own bottom line” in an effort to get a deal that is actually impossible because in reality “the least Iran would accept was a far more expansive nuclear program than the U.S. and its allies could tolerate, rendering the discussions futile.” He explains:
This appears to have been the P5+1’s approach in the Almaty round — faced with Iranian intransigence, the group decided to accept what it had previously declared unacceptable, namely the Fordow enrichment facility. The existence of this facility had been secret until it was revealed with much fanfare by President Obama, French President Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister Brown in a 2009 press conference, at which they described Fordow as “a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime.”
This is exceptionally worrisome, considering it is entirely likely that, as Singh concludes, “Tehran will simply pocket the concessions offered by the P5+1, and Fordow will be lent legitimacy just as the October 2009 ‘TRR deal’ lent legitimacy to Iran’s low-level uranium enrichment activities. In this case, the U.S. and its allies may find themselves in the unenviable position of advocating a military strike on facilities that they have now declared no longer outside the bounds of international law, but tolerable under the right conditions.”
So returning to Kohr’s remarks, the import of what he says coupled with the signs of backpedaling by the P5 +1 is sobering. The objective must be to stop the Iranians’ nuclear program, not to obtain a paper agreement that masks their nuclear weapons potential, and in fact Congress has to make clear the latter is entirely unacceptable.
In oversight and confirmation hearings, in resolutions and at the bully pulpit, responsible lawmakers and outside groups and figures must guard against, to be blunt, wishful negotiations and a president all too eager to avoid reality. AIPAC’s focus is on Congress, but the concern underlying it must be with an administration that has too frequently downplayed the military threat, resents the use of resources for national security and put people in key spots (e.g. secretary of defense, the Iranian negotiating team) whose judgment is faulty and credibility nonexistent.