Do Jewish leaders hope Israel will attack Iran’s nuke program?

Friday, September 11th, 2009

I had a number of calls and emails about my story about Thursday’s Iran advocacy day, and several readers asked the same question: do I believe Jewish leaders are hoping Israel will take military action to forestall the Iranian nuclear threat?

After all, one theme of the story is that an unspoken goal of the event was to prepare the ground, politically, for that eventuality.

Short answer: I don’t think so, but I do think many believe that it’s the likeliest scenario given a very sparse range of options.

Most Jewish leaders who are involved in the Iran fight are savvy enough to know that truly effective sanctions – meaning sanctions that are universally applied – will be extraordinarily difficult to implement in the current international climate.   And they are acutely aware that more than a decade of sanctions haven’t affected Iran’s leaders; if anything, they seem even more determined to cross the nuclear threshold.

So while there’s almost universal agreement that tougher sanctions are necessary, I don’t hear a lot of confidence they will work.

Most Jewish leaders also understand that an Obama administration that faces a worsening situation in Afghanistan and plummeting popular support for that war, new complications in Iraq, a depleted military and  a skyrocketing budget deficit is even less likely than its predecessor to resort to military force against Iran.

And all that is  before you get to the issue of Obama’s political base, which would be deeply opposed to yet another war.

Some on the right still yearn for a big U.S. military strike, but they’re a tiny minority among the Jewish leadership. And most realize it’s just not gonna happen.

That leaves Israel, which is the country most directly threatened by a nuclear Iran, and the IDF, which has pulled off miracles in the past.

But I also haven’t encountered many Jewish leaders who think an Israeli attack will be easy or cost free; on the contrary, the almost certain severe retaliation, the diplomatic costs and the risk of a dangerous failure are all matters of deep concern.

Publicly, the Jewish leaders I talk to continue to emphasize sanctions, and they seem to genuinely hope they will work. Privately, what I hear is fear and frustration that there are no good options, and that Israeli military action may be the inevitable result.

Meanwhile, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Jewish lobbyists on Thursday that  he’s  ready to move ahead with his  Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which was one of the key goals of participants in the Iran advocacy day.

He said that “absent some compelling evidence as to why I should do otherwise,” he will mark up the measure in October and “begin the process of tightening the screws on Tehran.”

The hope is that sanctioning  companies that help provide Iran with refined petroleum products will have more of an impact than previous sanctions, although China, Russia and some European companies, eager to keep doing business with Iran, remain significant obstacles.

Congressional insiders say the measure enjoys strong support and is likely to move forward quickly – especially in the wake of this week’s statement by Iran’s leaders that they are ready to  hold “comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive” negotiations, but not on the issue of their nuclear program.

The online publication ProPublica put a copy of the Iranian proposal online; read it here.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.