All You Are Hearing Now after the Iran Debate Is Wrong 

“Nattering Nabobs of Negativism”

With the Congressional showdown on the Iranian nuclear agreement ostensibly over, the U.S.-Israel relationship is being eulogized by some commentators. Years ago, wordsmith William Safire penned (for an infamous vice president) the appropriate words to describe today’s doomsayers:  They are “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

My positive predictions after the congressional experience may be counter-intuitive, but here they are:

  • The U.S.-Israel relationship is not on the rocks and will continue to thrive.
  • The partisan Democratic-Republican rift on the Iranian deal will be healed on issues involving Israel, particularly as the 2016 election season approaches.
  • The pro-Israel advocates in the United States, foremost among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), will emerge stronger after the debate.
  • And Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing internationally and in Israel will not be harmed.

Family Feud

President Barack Obama stated in a webcast to American Jews on August 28, “Like all families, sometimes there are going to be disagreements. And sometimes,” he continued, “people get angrier about disagreements in families than with folks that aren’t family. I think this is going to happen pretty quick, because we both have a shared interest in – not just preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but also making sure they’re not sending weapons to Hizbullah… even on this particular issue of Iran, we agree more than we disagree.”

Obama promised to continue the close security relationship with Israel.  His Iran deal depends on extensive intelligence sharing, and Israel’s legendary intelligence services give as good as they take.

There was no way the Iran nuclear deal would have been blocked.

With the “defeat” of the Iran deal’s opponents, it is time to state a truth about the Congressional process we just experienced: There was no way the Iran nuclear deal would have been blocked.  The most powerful lobbyist in Washington, the President of the United States, would have pulled out all stops – and he probably did — to defeat the resolution of disapproval. Ask Senators Menendez or Schumer how far the Administration went to wrangle Democratic mavericks.

If the resolution had any significant chance to pass in Congress and secure a veto-proof two-thirds majority, the Administration would have pulled the deal for retooling.  The president was never going to suffer a defeat on this issue.

Israel’s opposition, therefore, was not aimed at torpedoing President Obama’s grand Iran plan, but to exposing the nature of Iran’s regime, its threats against Israel and the West, and the folly of embracing Iran as an ally.  It’s the same message I heard Prime Minister Netanyahu deliver to Vice President Al Gore a meeting in the White House in the late 1990’s.

Opposition at home

In opposing the deal, AIPAC conducted a dignified, nonpolemical, non-partisan campaign – the kind that earns great respect in Washington and in the American Jewish community.  It happened in previous legislative battles (I can attest first-hand from the “failed” AWACS campaign), and there’s no reason for the positive results to be any different this time around.  Like the historic AWACS battle on behalf of the Saudis, this Administration may have won a pyrrhic victory for its Iranian partners. Iranian activity will now be under greater scrutiny than ever before. New congressional sanctions because of Iranian human rights violations or support for terrorism support are not out of the question.

The Iran deal debate opened a rift between congressional Democrats and Republicans, and it wasn’t helped by the messy handling of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March 2015.  But the political tremors have passed. Large numbers of members of Congress from both parties have visited Israel since then and heard from Israeli experts and politicians from the right and left of the seriousness of the Iranian threats.

With the 2016 elections shaping up, congressional candidates from both parties will restate their admiration for Israel and commitment to its security.  Israel’s detractors – including those from the fringes of the Jewish community – will blame Israel for its recalcitrance on the issue of a Palestinian state, but candidates understand that the issue is a non-starter when the Palestinian leadership is crumbling and Hamas is gearing up for another round of bloodshed.

The Battle before the Battle

Lastly, Israel’s campaign against the Iranian deal may play a role in long-term U.S. policy.  We may have witnessed an Israeli battle strategy I once heard attributed to Moshe Dayan called “the battle before the battle.” Prior to an anticipated large battle, a smaller battle or skirmish takes place to establish the battlefield, lay out the parameters of the fight, and perhaps deliver a cautionary message of deterrence.

Did the bruising Iran fight precede another, bigger Obama policy initiative on the issue of Palestinian statehood to be pushed through the United Nations?  The advocates and opponents pretty much would break along the same two sides of the Iran battle.

Earlier this year, one of Israel’s most vocal detractors, Peter Beinart, instructed members of J Street, an Iran deal supporter, that it should support actions Obama may take at the UN on behalf of Palestinian statehood.

“[Obama] needs support from you [to support a Security Council resolution] because this effort is the most important move that he can realistically make in the rest of his presidency,” Beinart exhorted a J Street meeting. “He is more willing to take that on if he knows that he will have people in the Jewish community behind him.”

If such a resolution is raised at the United Nations, Washington by then may decide to forego a second battle.

About the Author
Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He is a public affairs consultant, writer, researcher, editor, and historian of early photographs. Ben-David is the author of "American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs." He worked for AIPAC for 25 years in Washington and Jerusalem.