AKUS @ AIPAC Conf: Senate leader vows Congress will declare red lines for action on Iran

A guest post by AKUS

Just returning from my first AIPAC conference, one of 13,000 attendees, including 2,000 students from campuses across the nation, it appears that the press has largely overlooked the most important speech at the conference by focusing on the speeches by Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama reiterated that he wants to give sanctions time to work, especially after (if?) the Europeans make good on their promise to halt all oil purchases from Iran after July 2012. At the same time, he has repeated that his policy is not one of containing Iran, but of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. He believes that Iran is at least two years away from building its own nuclear weapons, but he made no reference to the possibility that it could acquire nuclear weapons from another state, such as North Korea or Pakistan. It is not clear if that possibility has entered his, or the USA’s, strategic calculus.

The Guardian has tried to make much of Obama’s statement that too much loose talk only helps Iran by driving up the price of oil, as if it was directed only at Israel. Obama, I suspect, regrets the statement since it was so open to misinterpretation. He was clearly referring to the endless discussions in the MSM and elsewhere, by everyone, not just Israel and Israelis.

A clearly downcast Netanyahu made a largely platitudinous speech at the conference, reiterating his responsibility to keep the safety of Israel uppermost.

He made much of Israel’s ability to strike at its enemies without needing assistance or approval, unlike 1944, pointing to a copy of a letter he has from the time when Jewish organizations begged the Allies to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz only to be told the resources to do so would be more effectively deployed elsewhere. He was clearly drawing a parallel with existential threat posed by Iran and the Holocaust, and demonstrating his skepticism that sanctions will be effective against Iran. He stated that Israel would take steps to defend its people, unlike the situation that prevailed in 1944, before the State of Israel was founded. I for one do not believe Israel can go it alone in Iran, at least with any effect – time will tell.

But the most striking and potentially important speech was delivered by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority leader in the Senate. He made it absolutely clear that not only is “overwhelming force”, as he repeatedly called it, an option, but that it is THE option that will be used against Iran if sanctions do not work – and he appeared to say quite clearly that he believes that sanctions have been applied too late to stop Iran now.

McConnell called for a “clear declaratory statement” from the Administration that if Iran enriches uranium to the level that it can be used in nuclear weapons, or if it acquires a nuclear weapon (presumably from a third-party), the USA will respond with overwhelming military force. Since he feels Obama is not willing to make such a statement, he intends to use the Republican majority in the House to put through such a resolution, and he believes that there is a majority in the Senate that would support the same proposal.

If this happens, it is a major new element in what has till now been largely a war of words against Iran finally accompanied with sanctions that are clearly hurting.

Perhaps McConnell, unlike others, has a clearer understanding that a government like Iran, not as strongly beholden to an electorate as fully democratic states, can allow continuing sanctions to be enforced, as such economic pressure – they believe – may only serve to inflame their population against the outside world rather than causing a change in the regime’s behavior, or a change of the regime itself.

A few quick notes about the conference:

The conference was attended by a massive 13,000 delegates, including many African-Americans, Christians, and, notably, 200 members of Congress supportive of Israel. Another notable guest speaker was supermodel Kathy Ireland. The entire cavernous Washington Convention Center was filled to capacity.

Much is made in MSM like the Guardian of the financial clout of AIPAC. The presence of the Congress-men and –women belies that. They were there, and constantly appear at the conference year after year, because of a genuine feeling that the U.S. and Israel share the same values and the same threats and concerns. Yes, AIPAC is exceptionally well-organized to lobby Congress, but those who think it can buy off hundreds of Congressmen with money simply do not understand how close and deep the ties are between the two countries. AIPAC lobbies on values and security issues shared by both countries.

The conference also showcased Israel advances in electric cars and water purification, and military coordination with the USA. Especially interesting was an enormous Humvee that has been equipped with Israeli anti-IED technology and which is used by American forces in Afghanistan, and, formerly, Iraq. The (non-Jewish) mother of a returned US veteran who used such vehicles spoke movingly about her visit to the factory in Israel where the special armor is made and how she values the assistance Israel has given to making US soldiers’ lives safer.

Finally –one of the highlights for me was an address by Yehuda Avner, former speech writer to Israeli Prime Ministers Ben Gurion, Eshkol, Meir, Rabin and Begin, promoting his book “The Prime Ministers”, which comprises memoirs of those leaders and their interactions with other national leaders. By now well into his eighties, I would think, he spoke engagingly and often hilariously of events from 1947 onwards and the words and actions of the leaders involved. I recommend the 700+ page book to all – you can download an electronic copy to your Kindle, iPad or NOOK.

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