Several prominent Jewish and Israel advocacy organizations have undertaken a — potentially — quixotic $20-40 million effort. The goal is essentially to convince Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and ten other democrats (based on his public statements and questioning during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez seems prepared to vote “no”) and the entire republican caucus — which is not guaranteed — to vote against the recently proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
<This opinion piece will not pass judgment on the deal itself.>
Leaving aside the potential long-term implications of this advocacy effort on the Israeli-American relationship, it is important to focus on the opportunities that are being lost, by focusing solely on pushing for the rejection of the deal.
Rather than focusing all attention on the deal itself, a concerted effort should be made to strengthen Israel’s position and security in the region as well as putting pieces in place to strengthen the deal, should it pass. $40 million does not buy a whole lot anymore (although this house or Van Gogh’s “The Allee of Alyscamps” could be had). However, led by AIPAC, the combined lobbying power of these organizations, is nearly unmatched on Capitol Hill, with that in mind this is an opportunity to increase Israel’s security regardless if the Iran deal is approved or not. Making Israel more secure is the goal of every one of these organizations, whether they oppose or support this specific deal, but there is more to be done for Israel’s sake, than advocating for a “no” vote on one piece of legislation.
In no particular order, here is a list for consideration:
Increase the voluntary funding of the IAEA
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the organization truly tasked with monitoring Iran’s (or any nation’s) nuclear behavior. A question that has been raised is if it is up to the task or overseeing the most intensive inspections regime ever created. What I do know is that their current budget of $350 million — or about the same as the Baltimore Police Department — can’t possibly be enough over the long term. Together, the U.S. and Japan provide 35 percent of that overall budget. In addition to the IAEA budget, there is also something called the Technical Cooperation Fund which carries a budget about $90 million, which is based on voluntary funding.
Supporters of Israel should be pressing Congress to dramatically increase the IAEA’s funding with or without the deal. Having a better-financed oversight organization is in the world’s interest.
Oversight of JCPOA implementation
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (section D) states that:
“The President shall, within 10 days of receiving credible and accurate information relating to a potentially significant breach or compliance incident by Iran…submit such information to the appropriate congressional committees.”
The Act goes on to say that “not less frequently than once every 180 days” the President needs to submit a report to Congress on Iran’s nuclear program and its compliance with the agreement. Additionally, every 90 days the President needs to submit a “certification” that Iran has not violated the agreement and/or several other issues the Act lists.
Supporters of Israel should be pressing for Congress on clarification and oversight. They should be asking for Congress to:
- More clearly (than the 2015 Act currently does) define and state what constitutes a breach that would lead to a “snapback” of the UN sanctions. Is it something like one centrifuge has gone missing or does it need to be something even more significant — if so, what is that?
- Create a more robust reporting structure. For instance, congress should push for the creation of some kind of official committee (civilian, executive, congressional, military, intelligence, or some combination) to be in a position to oversee implementation and compliance as well as receive and issue reports more frequently than twice a year — perhaps have them issued monthly.
- Appointment of a “czar” within an administration to ensure implementation and compliance is being overseen appropriately. One of the biggest faults of the North Korea nuclear agreement was internal U.S. oversight, which fell apart even more with the transition from the Clinton to Bush administration. Perhaps a former high-ranking military or intelligence officer would be good for this role.
Increase military aide
Currently, Israel lacks a strategic bomber capability. Israel does not have the B-52, B-1, B-2 or even F-111 in its arsenal. This limits Israel’s ability to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear targets. Additionally, Israel does not posses the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), a weapon that the Pentagon has designed specifically for Iranian underground facilities. Israel even lacks the previous generation of GBU-28 (5,000 pound bomb) in their arsenal.
It is baffling, how the combined powers of the advocates for Israel have not made obtaining these assets goal numero uno. AIPAC and their allies should be focused on gaining Israel access to these technologies above anything else. If Israel’s second strike capability has lost its threat potential, than a first strike capability needs to be locked in. Without strategic bombers and next generation ordinances, that is impossible. An MOP costs between $11 and 16 million a piece, the $40 million budget dedicated to the campaign to kill the Iran deal could buy several of these essential weapons alone.
As complex, convoluted, confusing and thorough as the sections in the JCPOA dealing with sanctions and “snapback” are, the reality is that even with the “snapback” provisions in effect there is much the U.S. can and should do to inhibit Iran’s economic growth. While the sanctions based on anything other than the Iranian nuclear program remain in place there is much that can be done. Supporters of Israel should be pressing congress to do some combination of the following:
- Regardless of any potential lifting of UN sanctions, the U.S. should prohibit any company that trades on a U.S. based market (NYSE, NASDAQ, etc.) from signing contracts with any entity doing business in Iran. Furthermore, there should be a public list of any foreign company that has any sort of U.S. presence, which is doing business in Iran.
- The Treasury, State and Commerce departments should make it clear that any company that does business with Iran is not welcome to do business in the United States.
The administration has repeatedly said that all non-nuclear related sanctions will stay in place, should the deal go through. Not only that, the administration has said that having the nuclear issue off the table for the immediate future enables the administration to refocus on Iran’s other malign activities, which there is no shortage of. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee: “These run the gamut from ballistic missile technology to weapons trafficking, to the use of surrogates and proxies to naval mines and undersea activity — and last but not least malicious activity in cyberspace.” Put simply, Iran is a bad actor and there is much the administration (and world at large) can and should have been doing over the last 20 years to inhibit this activity.
Therefore, there should be a concerted effort to:
- Force the administration to follow-up on their aim to refocus on Iran’s other nefarious activities.
- Increase and strengthen the sanctions on non-nuclear activity.
- Increase the level of maritime inspections and adherence to maritime law.
- Strengthen the oversight and therefore compliance of existing U.S. and UN sanctions and regulations about arms transfers to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
- Put in place a sanctions regime that can be activated against any regional country that pursues a nuclear weapon.
A great deal of ink has been spilled hypothesizing that the Iran Deal is part of a broader shift away from the traditional American Middle Eastern allies of Israel and the Sunni states (led by Saudi Arabia). Whether or not that is true, a concerted effort should be in place to support these allies. While I’m not sure at what point we decided Saudi Arabia was a “good actor”, for the good of the region more should be done to support the countries who feel they have the most to lose from a potential deal. Among steps Congress should take:
- Passing the President’s request for Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was requested several months ago to enable a broader effort against ISIL.
- Increase funding for the training and support for allies in the region.
- Insist on the announcement of a broader strategy for the Middle East.
- Pass a resolution in favor of the President putting more “boots on the ground” to help our regional allies fight ISIL.
The Iran Deal may win approval in Congress, or it may not. Focusing solely on that one issue is a detriment to the broader security of Israel and other American regional allies. This list provides examples of the types of proposals $40 million could be better spent advocating for…or you could just buy a watch.