Iran tests power of Israel Lobby
- Iran showdown tests power of `Israel lobby'
By Jim Lobe
Apr 26, 2006
George W. Bush addresses AIPAC members in Washington on May 18, 2004.
To his right is AIPAC's executive director Howard Kohr and to his left
is AIPAC president Bernice Manocherian. Photo: Wikipedia"No lobby has
managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American
national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously
convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially
WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - One month after the publication by two
influential international relations scholars of a highly controversial
essay on the so-called "Israel Lobby," their thesis that the lobby
exercises "unmatched power" in Washington is being tested by rapidly
rising tensions with Iran.
The Israel Lobbydefined by professors John Mearsheimer of the
University of Chicago and Stephen Walt, academic dean of Harvard's
Kennedy School of Government, as "the loose coalition of individuals
and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a
pro-Israel direction"has pushed, far more visibly than any other
domestic constituency, both Congress and the Bush administration
toward confrontation with Tehran.
Leading the charge has been a familiar group of neo-conservatives,
such as former Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle and
former CIA director James Woolsey, who championed the war in Iraq, but
who have increasingly focused their energies over the past year on
building support for "regime change" and, if necessary, military
action against Iran if it does not abandon its nuclear program.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the premier
Israel lobby group whose annual convention last year featured a giant,
multimedia exhibit on how Iran is "pursuing nuclear weapons and how it
can be stopped," has also been pushing hard on Capitol Hill for
legislation to promote regime change. Despite White House objections,
the group has sought tough sanctions against foreign companies with
investments in Iran.
Similarly, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), whose leadership is
considered slightly less hawkish than AIPAC, has recently taken out
full-page ads in influential U.S. newspapers entitled "A Nuclear Iran
Threatens All," depicting radiating circles on an Iran-centered map to
show where its missiles could strike.
In their 81-page essay, entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
Policy" and condensed in a shorter essay published in March in the
London Review of Books, professors Mearsheimer and Walt, pillars of
the "realist" school of international relations, argue that
Washington's Middle East policy is too closely tied to Israel to serve
its own national interests in the region, particularly in the
so-called "war on terror."
They believe that the power of the Israel Lobbyderived, among other
things, from its ability to marshal financial support for Democratic
as well as Republican politicians, its grassroots organizational
prowess and its ability to stigmatize critics as "anti-Semitic"is
"No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what
the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while
simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests
are essentially the same," the authors argued. They note that the
lobby, while predominantly Jewish, also includes prominent Christian
evangelicals and non-Jewish neo-conservatives, such as Mr. Woolsey and
former Education Secretary William Bennett.
In the administration's decision to invade Iraq, pressure from Israel
and the lobby played a "critical"although not exclusiverole,
according to the paper, which cited pre-war public prodding by Israeli
leaders and by leaders of many major Jewish organizations as evidence,
although it notes that most U.S. Jews were skeptical and have since
turned strongly against the war.
Neo-conservatives closely associated with the right-wing views of
Israel's Likud party, both in and outside the administration, played a
particularly important role in gaining support for "regime change" in
Iraq stretching back to the mid-1990s, according to the paper.
But even during the run-up to the Iraq war, Israeli leaders, notably
then-Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, depicted Iran as the greater threat, a theme that was picked
up by the Lobby, led by the neo-conservatives, immediately after
"The liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of
the Middle East. ... But the next great battlenot, we hope a military
onewill be for Iran," wrote the Weekly Standard's neo-conservative
editor, William Kristol, in early May 2003.
Shortly thereafter, neo-conservatives and other hawks led by Vice
President Dick Cheney succeeded in cutting off ongoing U.S.-Iranian
talks on Afghanistan and Iran and killing an offer by Tehran to engage
in a broader negotiation on all outstanding differences.
What makes the growing confrontation with Iran so remarkable is that
the Israel Lobby appears to be the only major organized force here
that is actively pushing it toward crisis.
Mainstream analysts, including arms control hawks that favor strong
pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, have spoken out against
military action as far too risky and almost certainly
counter-productive. Even analysts at the right-wing Heritage
Foundation have voiced doubts. "It just doesn't make any sense from a
geopolitical standpoint," said Heritage's James Carifano, noting
Iran's capacity to retaliate against the U.S. in Iraq.
The Iranian exile community, which has generally favored more pressure
on Tehran, similarly appears divided about the consequences of a
military attack, with some leaders fearing that it would strengthen
the regime, Mr. Walt told IPS.
While insisting that military action against Iran's nuclear program
should only be a last resort, the Israel Lobby, on the other hand,
appears united in the conviction that an attack will indeed be
necessary if diplomatic efforts, economic pressure and covert action fail.
"Iranian President Mahmoud (Ahmadinejad) sees the West as wimps and
thinks we will eventually cave in," Patrick Clawson, deputy director
of research of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think
tank established by AIPAC, told New Yorker investigative reporter
Seymour Hersh. "We have to be ready to deal with Iran if the crisis
Mr. Hersh summarized Mr. Clawson's bottom line as: "Iran had no choice
other than to accede to America's demands or face a military attack."
That was much the same message delivered by Mr. Perle and rapturously
received by the attendees at AIPAC's 2006 convention in March. The
convention, at which the keynoter, none other than the
administration's ultimate hawk, Mr. Cheney, vowed "meaningful
consequences" if Iran did not freeze its nuclear program, drew several
hundred Democratic and Republican lawmakers in what could only be
described as a show of raw political power.
"I don't think there's another group in the country that has two
successive conferences in which the centerpiece was beating the drums
for war in Iran," noted one senior official with another major
pro-Israel organization, who asked not to be identified. "They are the
main force behind this."
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