Iran Deal Leaves Congress as Last Israel Shot to Stop Accord

Updated on

The emerging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers leaves the U.S. Congress as the final battlefield in Israel’s campaign against an agreement it views as dangerously flawed.

When asked about their views, Israeli officials “should inform members of Congress what Israel thinks,” Dore Gold, director-general of the Foreign Ministry and a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Times of Israel on Monday. “We have to raise our concerns in a very honest way, with mutual respect.”

Israel has lobbied the U.S. legislature against the accord backed by President Barack Obama, most contentiously during Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session over White House objections. The dispute has brought the U.S.-Israel alliance to its lowest point in decades.

Netanyahu, who issues near-daily statements condemning the proposed nuclear deal, told members of his Likud party in Jerusalem on Monday that Iran keeps getting new concessions from the negotiators. “We are committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” he said.

Opening another front in his offensive, Netanyahu’s office opened a Twitter account Monday in Iran’s Farsi language, an aide said, and sent two messages. The prime minister’s staff are also working on a Farsi version of its Facebook page, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the matter was diplomatically sensitive.

60 Days

Legislation passed in May gives the Republican-controlled Congress 60 days to review an agreement. Lawmakers could then vote on a joint resolution to approve or reject it, or take no action. Obama could veto a rejection, and the House of Representatives and Senate would each need a two-thirds majority to override him.

Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced concerns about the pact that’s taking shape. Israel says it will allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons, an objective it denies having. Among other things, Israel contends the deal wouldn’t allow proper supervision of nuclear facilities.

“The prime minister is going to pursue with every available means at his disposal, his efforts of persuasion directed at the Congress, and American public opinion in general,” said Zalman Shoval, a Netanyahu adviser and two-time ambassador to the U.S.

Lobbying Democrats

That effort, says Shoval, will entail Israel’s staunchest Republican and Democratic allies in Washington, and the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The prime minister will also reach across the Israeli political aisle to enlist opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, he said.

The biggest challenge will be mustering enough Democratic votes to override any Obama veto, said Yehuda Ben-Meir, head of the National Security and Public Opinion Project at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.

“It’s a long shot, but Netanyahu is committed to this,” Ben-Meir said.

Both Herzog and former finance minister Yair Lapid, now an opposition lawmaker, while opposed to the Iran deal, criticize Netanyahu’s campaign as unnecessarily antagonistic toward the Obama administration.

Doors Shut

“We need to work differently,” Lapid said Monday at a meeting of his Yesh Atid party. “Not to ask our friends in the Senate and the House to oppose every clause in the agreement, because then they won’t listen to us. We should focus on the inspections regime, which is the Achilles’ heel.”

If lobbying fails, Israel holds a risky last card. Officials have emphasized that agreement or not, “all options remain on the table,” including a military strike. Some Israeli security analysts say an assault would put back Iran’s fortified nuclear program several years at best without crippling it.

“The bottom line is that they’re going for a bad deal, which will obviously require us afterward to continue to get ready to defend ourselves by ourselves,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in parliament Monday.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE