The most powerful pro-Arab lobby in Washington may be AIPAC – that’s right, the vaunted pro-Israel lobby. When the going gets tough on Capitol Hill, that’s who gets called in to help.
Most recently it stepped in to block a move by some prominent senators to halt U.S. assistance to Egypt in response to the bloody crackdown on Islamist demonstrators protesting the army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.
It wasn’t the first time AIPAC went to bat for an Arab country, even when it was technically in a state of war with Israel.
The Arab states have a wealth of diplomats and hired guns from K Street who are paid millions to protect their interests and burnish their images, but when they get in trouble, many turn to Israel and its friends.
On one occasion it was to dissuade some lawmakers from blocking the sale of American fighter planes to Morocco. At the time that North African country was technically in a state of war with Israel, but the two had a mutually beneficial clandestine relationship. At the time some members of Congress sought to demonstrate their pro-Israel bonafides by reflexively trying to block any arms sale to an Arab country. The Moroccans asked for help.
On another occasion the Lebanese ambassador personally visited AIPAC offices to express his appreciation for helping on something his country wanted from Congress, and to share some intra-Arab gossip.
Jordanian diplomats and AIPAC lobbyists frequently shared information on legislation and other matters of mutual interest long before the kingdom and Israel formally made peace.
When some high-ranking members of Congress sought to withhold part of Egypt’s aid money in order pressure then-President Hosni Mubarak to clean up his human rights record and begin adopting some political reforms, AIPAC lobbyists and Israeli diplomats intervened.
As violence flared across Egypt again last month, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky offered an amendment to halt that country’s $1.3 billion in military and $250 million in economic assistance. That brought fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to the floor to read a letter from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee addressed to Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican:
“We do not support cutting off all assistance to Egypt at this time” because that “could increase instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.”
The amendment went down 86-13.
While AIPAC was working the Hill with letters, phone calls and private visits, the Israeli government was assuring Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi , the coup leader, he wouldn’t have to worry about his American aid package.
But reports are circulating inside the Beltway that the administration has decided to suspend aid this month but won’t say so formally. What is critical for Egypt is not the money – their rich Gulf friends could replace that – but what that money would buy for Cairo, Jerusalem and Washington.