The dynamics are simple: with such a show of US Senate support for US action in the case of a confrontation between Israel and Iran, it will become much easier for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to convince his cabinet that a pre-emptive strike by Israel will actually receive US support in the event that Israel decides to exercise its military options.
Let us be clear. The position of the US President, under advisement from US intelligence, is that such an Israel first strike is not only unnecessary, but that even the threat of it undermines the administration’s already robust efforts to discourage Iran from weaponizing its still peaceful nuclear program.
Another point should be well understood. If Israel were to stage a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, even using only conventional weapons, it would still, arguably, be a case of using nuclear weapons in a “first strike” capacity. An attack with conventional weapons on a functioning nuclear facility has enormous consequences. Since it would likely release highly radioactive materials over a wide area, it would be, for all practical purposes, the equivalent of a terrorist group detonating a “dirty bomb” in a populated civilian area.
Since, after the fact, it would be almost impossible to sort out whether Israel had used a nuclear weapon in the initial strike, or whether the resulting radiation were the result of radioactive material from the facility itself, the Israeli military, doing a simple cost/benefit analysis, might well be tempted to use a nuclear weapon in the initial attack and then make excuses later. Tragically, the results for civilians in the area would still be devastating…
In any case, as I hope readers will see, reasonable assessments conclude that S. RES 65 is another step closer to a US war with Iran. As such I hope readers of this document will reject it utterly, and communicate their views to their various representatives as quickly and forcefully as possible.
The resolution itself is presented below in black and white and my commentary is in yellow highlighting. After going through the resolution point by point, I add some analysis, a counter resolution which—in terms of the US role in this matter is more factual and to the point— and then a conclusion and a brief plea for action. I hope this document will be useful as people try to sort out just what is at stake with this terrible legislation—and also how shaky a foundation it rests upon. If nothing else it may be a useful starting point for people who wish to learn more about how AIPAC operates.
Since the document is rather long, a brief synopsis of the resolution seems in order. There are more than 30 ”whereas” phrases which pose as the premises for 6 “resolved” items listed under the heading “The Sense of Congress.” The first two “whereas items” are simple facts about the founding of Israel, the next two are laudatory descriptions of the Israeli state that only the most starry eyed young Zionist could ever take at face value. These are followed by 6 items that are examples of Iranian threats against (or even merely predictions about) Israel. Next comes one item claiming that Iran is a sponsor of terror because congress itself has previously said so. This is followed by two items about Iranian involvement in Iraq and in Syria. Then come five statements about Iran’s nuclear program and its interactions with the IAEA, and one item noting that human rights violations occur in Iran. Then there are no less than 8 items listing various statements that President Obama has made repeating his intention to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. These are interspersed with several statements about various stands congress or the administration has taken on the issue and three items which list the effect of US sanctions on Iran.
For the 7 items listed under the headings of the “Sense of Congress” and the “Rules of Construction” please refer to pages 11-13 of this document.
A full reading of the document below will reveal just how misleading, or irrelevant most of these assertions are. For readers who are short of time, my line by line commentary (in yellow highlighting) may be passed over or used merely as reference material. I hope, however, readers will at least take the time to go on and read the brief analysis section, the counter resolution, and the conclusion, (pages 13-17) more carefully.
I apologize in advance for some inevitable proofreading errors and any and all inelegances of phrasing. I would normally take more time to review such a long document, but speed is of the essence if we are to get the message out on this issue in a timely manner. I hope readers will find some usefulness in it as it stands.
The resolution begins here:
S.RES.65 -- Whereas the people of Israel have established a vibrant, pluralistic, democratic political system, including freedom of speech, association, and religion; a vigorously free press; free,... (Introduced in Senate - IS)
SRES 65 IS
S. RES. 65
Strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
February 28, 2013
Mr. GRAHAM (for himself, Mr. MENENDEZ, Ms. AYOTTE, Mr. SCHUMER, Mr. CORNYN, Mrs. BOXER, Mr. RUBIO, Mr. CASEY, Mr. HOEVEN, Mrs. GILLIBRAND, Mr. KIRK, Mr. BLUMENTHAL, Mr. CRAPO, Mr. CARDIN, Ms. COLLINS, Mr. BEGICH, Mr. BLUNT, Mr. BROWN, Mr. WYDEN, Mr. PORTMAN, Mr. MANCHIN, and Mr. LAUTENBERG) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations
Strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation.
But later they try to do much more than that…
Whereas, on May 14, 1948, the people of Israel proclaimed the establishment of the sovereign and independent State of Israel;
Of the machinations that led to the UN partition of Palestine, and the US role in it that made Israeli independence possible, undersecretary of state Sumner Welles wrote that, “By direct order of the White House every form of pressure, direct or indirect, was brought to bear [on states involved in the partition vote] by American officials.”[i]
Secretary of Defense James Forrestal wrote of the above process that, “America has lost very greatly in prestige in the Arab world…the methods that had been used to bring coercion and duress on other nations in the General Assembly bordered closely onto scandal.”[ii]
Whereas, on March 28, 1949, the United States Government recognized the establishment of the new State of Israel and established full diplomatic relations;
Of this development, US Middle East Expert and Truman advisor Loy Henderson warned at the time that “partitioning Palestine against the wishes of its Arab inhabitants ignored the principles of self-determination and majority rule,”[iii] and noted that, “it would lead to the rise of fanatical Mohammedanism (Islam) of a kind “not experienced for hundreds of years.”[iv] Obviously, he was right.
Whereas, since its establishment nearly 65 years ago, the modern State of Israel has rebuilt a nation, forged a new and dynamic democratic society, and created a thriving economic, political, cultural, and intellectual life despite the heavy costs of war, terrorism, and unjustified diplomatic and economic boycotts against the people of Israel;
Israel “rebuilt a new nation” after destroying the existing one. Over 400 Palestinian villages were simply erased from the map. Israel has created a “democratic society” which countless international observers have determined differs from an apartheid state in name only. They did this “despite the heavy costs of war.” Actually, they have often started these wars themselves (1956, 1967, 1978, 1980, 1982, 2006 (Gaza and Lebanon) and 2008 and 2012 (Gaza). Most of these wars were largely paid for by the US to the tune of over 3 billion dollars a year.
As to terrorism, at least two Israeli PM’s and presidents were themselves members of terrorist gangs which committed atrocities against the British occupation (Menachem Begin of Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir of the Stern Gang (Lehi). Their acts were in the service of stealing land. Palestinian resistance, however appalling the forms it has sometimes taken, has been with the goal of national self-defense and national resistance to occupation.
The claim that Israel is subject to “unjustified diplomatic and economic boycotts” is truly mystifying. It seems to rule out as “unjustified” the only internationally recognized non-violent options that Palestinians can use to defend their national rights. Shouldn’t we be welcoming the Palestinian decision to abandon those violent forms of resistance that the framers of this resolution have just condemned as “terrorism” in lieu of non-violent means like boycotts and sanctions?
Whereas the people of Israel have established a vibrant, pluralistic, democratic political system, including freedom of speech, association, and religion; a vigorously free press; free, fair, and open elections; the rule of law; a fully independent judiciary; and other democratic principles and practices;
Israel is “vibrant” if by that you mean increasingly theocratic.
It is “pluralistic” if by that you mean having a system that almost totally excludes a huge Israeli/Arab voting block from almost any meaningful participation in their own governance.
It is “democratic” if you don’t happen to be a third class citizen (i.e. an original native of the area) and don’t happen to be subject to the martial or emergency laws that have been in place for long periods of time since Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.
The claim that Israel is guided by the “rule of law” should be accompanied by a disclaimer. Israel lacks a written constitution. Its politicians felt that the existence of such a document might someday be used to challenge the real lode star of Israeli governance—the Torah and the Talmud. Israel’s “rule of law” depends instead on its courts interpreting the so called “basic laws”. Its “independent judiciary” almost never rules against the state and, when it does, its rulings can apparently be ignored with impunity by the (apparently) equally “independent” Israeli executive branch. It is worthy of note, however, that in 2005 the Israeli supreme court defended its decision to dismantle all Israeli settlements in Gaza, and four in the occupied West Bank by use of the following argument:
‘In the course of the years, Israeli settlements have been established in the Gaza District and the area of Judea and Samaria… The status of these settlements derives from the status of the territory, which is held in “belligerent occupation”… When the petitioners settled in the Gaza strip and northern Samaria, they did so in full knowledge that they were settling in territory held by Israel in “belligerent occupation…” [v]
Under the rules of “belligerent occupation,” “While hostilities continue, the occupying state is prohibited by International Law from annexing the territory or creating another state out of it.” But by creating so-called “facts on the ground” this is exactly what continued Israeli settlement is intended to do.
So it is worth wondering why the Senators backing S.RES 65 are so willing to go to war on Israel’s behalf when Israel has refused to implement the settlement freeze asked for by US policy and why the other settlements in the West Bank, ALL of which have been ruled illegal according to international law, have not been evacuated. Overall, it doesn’t really seem that Israel acts according to any real “rule of law.” Rather, it seems it is a state where some parties can simply assert the primacy of nebulously defined national security needs, to act in all kinds of arbitrary ways.
Whereas, since the 1979 revolution in Iran, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have repeatedly made threats against the existence of the State of Israel and sponsored acts of terrorism and violence against its citizens;
As to, “making threats against the existence of the state of Israel”, the salient point is that when we assess the seriousness of the kind of threats usually involved in “hate speech” the person making the threat is assessed as to the seriousness of their intent AND their ability to carry it out. Hate speech laws in the US are usually enforceable only if the person making a threat has in his or her possession the means to carry it out. This rule is intended to rule out action based on loose talk by drunks at bars. On that count, the item above and the following 4 items are void and irrelevant. In real terms, Iran has no means to carry out any of the threats listed above or below.
Further, the kind of hate speech used by Israeli politicians and religious leaders against the Palestinians and their allies easily matches anything the Iranians have said. They have denied the very existence of Palestinians, have threatened to deport them, have characterized them as “roaches” and so on.
As to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, this is real and reprehensible. It should be noted, however, that many states close to the US, and the US itself, have used violent, extralegal acts in the furtherance of their policies. Notably, Israel has recently used cyber attacks and assassinations on the streets of Tehran (which were apparently conducted by Israeli state security organizations). In addition to the war OF terror waged by early Zionists against the British occupation, and such horrific acts of ethnic cleansing as the well documented massacre at Deir Yassin, Israel has even used terror against other Jews. As Ahron Bregman writes,
“ It is worth mentioning that what inspired the departure of Iraqi Jewry was not only the harsh treatment of the Iraqi regime, but also a campaign of harassment carried out by Israeli agents, who tossed hand grenades near sites where Jews used to gather in order to frighten them out of Iraq and induce them to emigrate to Israel.” In the end, according to Bregman, 123,371 Iraqi Jews went to Israel, and about 25,000 stayed behind. [vi]
An interesting use of terror indeed.
Whereas, on October 27, 2005, President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a world without America and Zionism;
Whereas, in February 2012, Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei said of Israel, `The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off. And it definitely will be cut off.';
Whereas, in August 2012, Supreme Leader Khamenei said of Israel, “This bogus and fake Zionist outgrowth will disappear off the landscape of geography.”;
Irrelevant—see above—and this actually seems more of a historical prediction than a threat
Whereas, in August 2012, President Ahmadinejad said that “in the new Middle East . . . there will be no trace of the American presence and the Zionists”;
Whereas the Department of State has designated the Islamic Republic of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and has characterized the Islamic Republic of Iran as the “most active state sponsor of terrorism” in the world;
So apparently our government’s main evidence that Iran is a state sponsor of terror is that our government has designated Iran as a state sponsor of terror? This is just too circular for me. It reminds me of the House’s rejection of the Goldstone report. First the House decreed that said report would not be accepted or read into the congressional record as evidence of Israeli crimes during their 2008 assault on of Gaza—then they decided that there was no evidence of Israeli crimes during their 2008 assault on Gaza. Do we think that such tactics will win us broader world support for our stance?
Whereas the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided weapons, training, funding, and direction to terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hizballah, and Shiite militias in Iraq that are responsible for the murder of hundreds of United States service members and innocent civilians;
Both Hizballah and Hamas came into existence as direct responses to previous Israeli aggression and Israel’s failure to peacefully resolve the Palestinian issue. Now the existence of these two groups, which is only in small part dependent on Iranian aid, is being used to create the groundwork for further Israeli aggression. Haven’t we gone far enough down this dead-end road?
As to Iraq, Iranian meddling there has little to do with Israel. Nevertheless, I’d feel more comfortable with this charge if I knew for sure that weapons and aid leaking across Iran’s long and porous border with Iraq (a border neither the US, the new Iraqi government, or Iran seems to be able to truly control) actually emanated from the government in Iran. It seems just as likely that they come from people acting independently in support of their fellow tribes-people, families or religious compatriots.
Whereas the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided weapons, training, and funding to the regime of Bashar al Assad that has been used to suppress and murder its own people;
I guess any aid that Iran gave to Syrians at any time in the past (even a gun “provided” twenty years ago—and which perhaps was fully paid for just like a gun at a US gun show) might qualify for this… I’m sure that some of those arms are also in the hands of rebels as well—whoever they are. Perhaps these people in the Middle East know that “weapons free zones” just lead to mayhem, while a plethora of weapons makes a people safe from tyranny. That is, at least, the message I am hearing from many current sources in the US as our own debate over gun control continues…still, I’m not sure it justifies this resolution
Whereas, since at least the late 1980s, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in a sustained and well-documented pattern of illicit and deceptive activities to acquire a nuclear weapons capability;
OH! AT LAST! FINALLY ! THE REAL PROBLEM! Let me quote what Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst with the RAND Corporation, said of the Graham-Menendez resolution (S.RES 65).
"First, it could be interpreted as endorsing an Israeli preventive strike against Iran, which runs counter to U.S. strategy. The U.S. intelligence community judges that Iran has not made the political decision to create nuclear weapons. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability is not imminent, hence an Israeli military strike against Iran at this moment is not necessary or justified." Nader added that the measure "could also send the message, not only to Iran, but also the wider international community, including major powers like China and Russia, that the United States is not serious about solving the nuclear issue peacefully." The result might be for Iran "to pursue nuclear weapons more aggressively than ever before."[vii] (My underlining).
Whereas, since September 2005, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which Iran is obligated to undertake as a non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, done at Washington, London, and Moscow July 1, 1968, and entered into force March 5, 1970 (NPT);
Violation of the safeguards agreement of a treaty which Iran willingly signed on to (and which Israel has never signed on to or otherwise been subjected to scrutiny under) is not in itself proof that Iran is actively seeking a nuclear weapon. In fact, there is still no hard evidence that Iran has made the decision to do so. Iranian state policy still seems to be that nuclear weapons are “un-Islamic.” In point of fact, Iran has been far more transparent than Israel about its nuclear programme.
Whereas the United Nations Security Council has adopted multiple resolutions since 2006 demanding of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran its full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and its full cooperation with the IAEA on all outstanding issues related to its nuclear activities, particularly those concerning the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program;
Israel remains in non-compliance with many UN resolutions, most notably 242 and 194. These are still cornerstones of US policy. I cannot even begin to list those UN Resolutions against Israel that were defeated by the US’s use of its veto power (quite often without anyone else supporting us at all).
Whereas the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has refused to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions or to fully cooperate with the IAEA;
Well, note my two previous points. It should also be said that in the case of Iraq, the US used international inspection agencies to insert spies into the country. Given this fact, any sovereign state would be suspicious of the independence and security of the data collected by such agencies. Are Israel and the US the only states which have a right to make decisions based on their own security concerns?
Whereas, in November 2011, the IAEA Director General issued a report that documented `serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme,' and affirmed that information available to the IAEA indicates that `Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device' and that some activities may be ongoing;
I love this clear language: “Serious concerns,” “possible military dimensions,” “activities relevant to,” some activities “may be ongoing.” This is all so vague it could mean almost anything—or nothing.
Whereas the Government of Iran stands in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for denying its citizens basic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, religion, peaceful assembly and movement, and for flagrantly abusing the rights of minorities and women;
I think we all know Iran violates human rights –just like many other regimes against whom we are definitively NOT writing a resolution that opens the door to war. Our major regional ally Saudi Arabia would be just one example. Israel itself is, of course, another. Just to take one point, the whole rationale of Israeli checkpoints across the occupied territories is to deny free movement to Palestinians.
Whereas in his State of the Union Address on January 24, 2012, President Barack Obama stated, `Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.';
It seems like the sponsors of S.RES 65 are truly grasping at straws here. For one thing, President Obama is head of the executive branch. He can interpret his own words as he sees fit. Why is a senate which regularly fails to cooperate with him trying to make its war making powers dependent on his words—especially when so many of the GOP co-sponsors of this bill will certainly attack WHATEVER he does vis a vis Iran?
Whereas Congress has passed and the President has signed into law legislation imposing significant economic and diplomatic sanctions on Iran to encourage the Government of Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and end its support for terrorism;
Since the above item merely describes a reasonable action short of war, it is hard to understand why it is cited here for the sake of justifying war.
Whereas these sanctions, while having significant effect, have yet to persuade Iran to abandon its illicit pursuits and comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions;
Again, no proof has been submitted here that Iran is actually conducting any serious “illicit pursuits.”
Whereas more stringent enforcement of sanctions legislation, including elements targeting oil exports and access to foreign exchange, could still lead the Government of Iran to change course;
Yes. True. So again, why steer a course that rather clearly leads towards confrontation and war?
Whereas, in his State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, President Obama reiterated, `The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.'
This is a critical piece of S RES 65. Obama has said that he will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That is plain enough. The 6 “Whereas” items which follow repeat similar assertions by the president. Yet when the weak “Whereas premises” of S RES 65 finally conclude, items 4 and 5 of the “Sense of Congress” section” set standards far beyond any rationale this resolution might have established. That is, they don’t merely refer to stopping Iran from “getting a nuclear weapon” they refer to stopping Iran from “getting a nuclear weapons capability.” The difference is enormous, but I will briefly defer that topic till we reach the appropriate section. What does seem clear is that this resolution is being considered in a political context where Israel has repeatedly threatened to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran and at the same time is trying to frame such an act of aggression as an act of “self-defense.
Whereas, on March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, `Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.'
Same objections as above
Whereas, on October 22, 2012, President Obama said of Iran, `The clock is ticking . . . And we're going to make sure that if they do not meet the demands of the international community, then we are going to take all options necessary to make sure they don't have a nuclear weapon.'
Same objections as above
Whereas, on May 19, 2011, President Obama stated, `Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.'
Same objections as above. But why doesn’t this rule apply to Iran, which is threatened on various sides by an unstable Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention nuclear armed China and Pakistan (the latter a Sunni Muslim state under serious threat of destabilization and possible takeover by Salafists)? That is not to mention the proximity of nuclear Russia, or the US, with its own nuclear capability in the Persian Gulf. Finally it leaves out the threat posed to Iran by two internal insurgencies (from Kurds and Baluchis) as well as the mass of Sunni Arab counties in the Gulf, countries where anti Shiite sentiment fanned by Salafist ideology has been on the rise. Over the course of history Iran has faced threats and incursions from all of these nations.
So, although there is still no proof that Iran has actually decided to try to obtain a nuclear weapon, we must acknowledge a simple fact: given the same set of historical circumstances, almost any state governed by rational actors, motivated by the security needs of their homeland, would probably want to acquire a nuclear weapon. That said, the idea that Iran would use such a weapon to attack a state which it does not even border, which is a thousand miles away, and which could easily annihilate it (Israel probably possesses between 200-300 nuclear weapons AND reliable delivery systems) would be a pointless act of national suicide. Those who are fond of insisting without any real rationale that the idea of a nuclear armed Iran is “unthinkable,” simply evade these hard truths.
Further, if Israel is really supposed to be able “to defend itself, by itself” why is this resolution promising US support really needed?
Whereas, on September 21, 2011, President Obama stated, `America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.'
Same as objection as above. The stated sentiment in no way justifies supporting a pre-emptive strike against Iran.
Whereas, on March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, `And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel's back.'
Same objection as above. The stated sentiment in no way justifies supporting a pre-emptive strike against Iran.
Whereas, on October 22, 2012, President Obama stated, `Israel is a true friend. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I've made that clear throughout my presidency . . . I will stand with Israel if they are attacked.'
Same objection as above The stated sentiment in no way justifies supporting a pre- emptive strike against Iran.
Whereas, in December 2012, 74 United States Senators wrote to President Obama `As you begin your second term as President, we ask you to reiterate your readiness to take military action against Iran if it continues its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. In addition, we urge you to work with our European and Middle Eastern allies to demonstrate to the Iranians that a credible and capable multilateral coalition exists that would support a military strike if, in the end, this is unfortunately necessary.';
As is clear, Legislators made the request and (as is also clear) President Obama gave the assurances he felt were in order. Again, the fact that the request was made in no way justifies supporting a pre-emptive strike.
Whereas the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-150) stated that it is United States policy to support Israel's inherent right to self-defense: Now, therefore, be it resolved…
The authors of S RES 65 seems out to obscure rather than to clarify a key point: US support of Israel’s right to “self defense” should clearly NOT mean support for a pre-emptive strike on Iran by Israel. Unfortunately, the positions previously staked out by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all suggest that Israel fully intends to portray a pre-emptive strike as an “act of self-defense”. S RES 65 looks like an attempt to create a scenario where Netanyahu can assure his war cabinet that he can risk a unilateral strike on Iran with virtual impunity, having already garnered US support in the Senate for his actions by the legislative end run around the US president known as S RES 65. Obviously, should such a train of events be set into motion, President Obama will be hard pressed to let Israel down. In other words, the gist of the resolution is to make war easier and more likely and (and this is the most appalling thing) to make US involvement in such an adventure a course of action that Israel will determine unilaterally. It was bad enough that under President Bush the House and Senate effectively ceded their power to declare war to the US executive branch. This kind of effort by the Senate to cede that power to a foreign country is completely unprecedented. Yet, in practical terms, this resolution is a big step in that direction.
With all the premises of S. RES 65 in hand, we can now examine the “action part” of the resolution, (the “Sense of Congress” ) and also the very brief “Rules of Construction.”
: Now, therefore, be it Resolved,
SECTION 1. SENSE OF CONGRESS.
(1) reaffirms the special bonds of friendship and cooperation that have existed between the United States and the State of Israel for more than sixty years and that enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and among the people of the United States;
(2) strongly supports the close military, intelligence, and security cooperation that President Obama has pursued with Israel and urges this cooperation to continue and deepen;
(3) deplores and condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the reprehensible statements and policies of the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran threatening the security and existence of Israel;
(4) recognizes the tremendous threat posed to the United States, the West, and Israel by the Government of Iran's continuing pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability;
(5) reiterates that the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability and to take such action as may be necessary to implement this policy;
(6) reaffirms its strong support for the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urges the President to continue and strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation;
(7) declares that the United States has a vital national interest in, and unbreakable commitment to, ensuring the existence, survival, and security of the State of Israel, and reaffirms United States support for Israel's right to self-defense; and
(8) urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.
The Sense of Congress
As to items 1-3 listed in the “Sense of Congress” section, they simply reiterate how much all Americans supposedly love Israel and how much we all (supposedly) abhor the Republic of Iran. Not much new here.
It is items 4 and 5 that should give us real pause. As I already noted, they don’t merely refer to stopping Iran from “getting a nuclear weapon,” (as most of President Obama’s statements cited above do) but to Iran “getting a nuclear weapons capability.”
Up to now, Israel’s rhetoric has been framed around keeping Iran from “getting a nuclear weapon”. That is a relatively high bar. A workable bomb must both be tested and married to a delivery system. Given today’s monitoring systems, the possibility that an Iranian weapons test could go undetected is remote. (This was not the case when Pakistan managed to stay “under the radar”—and in fact, they only stayed under the radar up until the testing point). But when you speak only of a vague thing called a “weapons capability” no one really knows what they are dealing with. The claim that Iran had obtained a “weapons capability” might actually mean that a real, testable bomb was still years away from completion.
For all I know, the phrase “obtaining a nuclear weapons capability” could simply mean that there is uranium ore somewhere in some country, that someone like Albert Einstein lives there, and that the country in question has some 1945 grade industrial capacity.
In fact, given the truly sloppy way that the AIPAC authors and Senate sponsors of S RES 65 have crafted their legislation, and given the kind of nonsense they are apparently inclined to take as evidence (and even list as premises for action), almost any kind of expertise, coupled with certain kinds of equipment and certain raw materials, might qualify as possession of a “weapons capability.” The phrasing here opens the door to all kinds of mischievous and self-serving interpretations by those inclined to engage in war.
Items 6-8 of the “Sense of Congress Section” seem unremarkable. They appear to simply reiterate once again how much we all love Israel and how committed we are to its “defense.” It seems tame enough. Unfortunately, given the seeming inclination of this congress to take every Israeli statement at face value, and to marginalize any evidence that contradicts their pre-conceived ideas about the various parties involved, it seems highly likely that even a clearly “pre-emptive” Israeli first strike against Iran, without even the courtesy of informing the US of its intent (and thereby risking a direct warning to stand down), will be construed by this Congress as an Israeli act of “self defense”. True, international law does not recognize pre-emptive strikes as acts of self defense, but this “nuance” will doubtless be conveniently lost in the so-called “fog of war.”
SEC. 2. RULES OF CONSTRUCTION.
Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.
This caveat has clearly been added to make Senators feel they are voting for a resolution that doesn’t really commit them to anything. I don’t think anyone should be taken in by this bland assertion. By substantially lowering the bar for war by talking of “weapons capability” rather than “weapons,” the resolution makes the path to war much easier. Further, the act of having voted for this resolution (without any real negative political consequences) will make it that much easier for Senators to vote for a similar resolution in the future—even if it bends the facts even a little further. As the Rand analyst cited earlier put it, “Make no mistake: though non-binding, this Graham-Menendez resolution—announced as an AIPAC initiative before being introduced in Congress—is a pro-war effort.” [viii]
If Israel finds itself militarily engaged with Iran as the result of launching a pre-emptive strike, there will be enormous pressure on Senators and on the President to rush to Israel’s support. The promise that we will do so that is embodied in the resolution, makes it just that much likelier that Israel (especially under Netanyahu) will take that chance.
I have removed the yellow highlighting from this point on because what follows is my own text.
An analysis of S.RES 65:
Having refuted the premises for S RES 65 point by point, and having also deconstructed the “Sense of Congress” section and the “Rules of Construction” point by point, let me just suggest the possible Israeli rationale for sending AIPAC to lobby the US Senate on behalf of passing this legislative disaster into law.
As I have already pointed out, the whole resolution obscures crucial issues and muddies key points. Sadly, this appears to be exactly the result that the authors are seeking. How can one explain such an attitude? My guess is that Israel’s PM Netanyahu, having made a spectacle of himself at the UN last year with his talk of “red lines” and his “road-runner” cartoon caricature of a bomb, is out to score political points. He must be doubly chagrined that his bet that Romney would win the US presidency didn’t come through and triply disappointed that his own re-election went so badly. (To be specific, few Israelis seemed to share his fanatical obsession with, or fear of, Iran and its intentions). That being the case, I hope that the American public will not be taken in by it either.
With all this on Netanyahu’s plate it must have been frustrating for him to realize that Iran may not even be close to crossing the “red line” he had previously set. I suspect he now sees that he can only push Iran over his “red line” by substantially lowering the bar. By shifting the debate suddenly away from the issue of Iran “getting nuclear weapons,” to the much more vague accomplishment called “getting a nuclear weapons capability,” that is exactly what this AIPAC inspired resolution does.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term will expire this year. Since he has become a loathed figure in the US press, I suspect Netanyahu will miss him. It will be much harder to justify an Israeli military strike against a new Iranian President who may be much more reasonable. Netanyahu has staked most of his career on a confrontation with Iran. He is clearly under some time pressure to follow through in some way. But America’s traditional friendship with Israel is definitely not an excuse to support any misguided Israeli politician who talks himself into a corner: Netahyahu’s misguided policies should in no way commit the US to a war with Iran.
Crucially, this whole issue does not really revolve around a disagreement about whether the US should strive to ensure the safety of Israel or not. I take it as a given that we should—just as I believe we should work for the peace and security of all nations. The real disagreement lies in how we can truly secure Israel’s safety, as well as the security of its neighbors, in the long term.
In my opinion, there is a much better way to ensure Israeli security than the one embodied in S RES 65. That is to help wean the current Israeli leadership from the notion that they can continue to accomplish their central tasks by brute military force. If Israel is to ever find a sustainable way to “defend itself, by itself,” what it truly needs is the psychological shock of having to finally, really contemplate what that would mean without US support. They need our help to make this essential psychological breakthrough.
Repeated, but essentially mindless assurances from the US Congress (such as those in evidence in S. RES 65)— assurances that the US will always be there to bail Israel out when it gets into trouble, have clearly created in Israel a mindset of dependence, coupled with an arrogance that paradoxically seeks to deny that dependence. This has led to the current situation where Israel’s leaders descend on the annual AIPAC conference in the US to demand ever greater levels of commitment from the American taxpayer, while at the same time trying to bully, denigrate and condemn the same leaders that those American taxpayers have elected. All this is unacceptable by any standard. It not only distorts the American political system, it also radically distorts the Israeli political landscape.
In the long term, Israel cannot afford the ongoing cost of its continued occupation of, and settlement of, Palestinian land. At the same time Israel seems unable to contemplate giving Arab-Israelis their full rights. It also appears unable to either leave, or to annex the occupied territories. As long as it is unable to settle its issues with its Palestine neighbors and (in fact) cohabitants, it leaves an irritant that anyone from the extreme Israeli right (an increasing force for instability in Israel), the extreme Sunni salafists, or the extreme Iranian Ayatollahs, can each exploit to their own advantage. Were this irritant removed, Hamas and Hezbollah would probably fade into insignificance and Iran would probably lose most of its influence in the area.
As a whole, then, the current Israeli policy dominated by the primitive and fundamentalist precepts of the Likud and other rightist Israeli parties, a policy which is given unchecked scope by S.RES 65, are untenable in the long run. In order to remedy this situation, a shock must be administered—a shock that can only come from the US.
To that end, an end where Israel can live in sustainable peace and security with its neighbors, I offer the following resolution as a counter to S. RES 65.
- 1.Whereas US intelligence continues to suggest that Iran has not yet even made the decision to acquire a nuclear weapon;
- 2.Whereas US and many Israeli intelligence officials continue to assert that the Iranian nuclear threat is not yet imminent;
- 3.Whereas, due to budget constraints and fatigue, the US military appears unready to shoulder the strain of any kind of major war in Iran;
- 4.Whereas US intelligence seriously doubts Israel’s ability to halt or even substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program by an independent military strike;
- 5.Whereas US intelligence estimates that a major campaign against Iran is likely to have enormously unpredictable, but largely negative consequences, not only for the US economy, but the European economy and the world economy in general;
- 6.Whereas these consequences, not all of which can be foreseen, are highly likely to plunge the world into global recession and make the repayment of any new US war debt highly problematic;
- 7.Whereas ill-considered military and diplomatic action in the Middle East, by the US (especially at the behest of Israeli politicians) severely complicate US efforts to successfully contain anti-American sentiment and the terrorism that sometimes flows from it;
- 8.Whereas the current Likud government of Israel endorses in its charter, and apparently seeks to further by its confrontational policies, a set of goals regarding the final status of Palestine that directly contradicts the longstanding stated policy of the US;
- 9.Whereas the budget sequester facing the US, agreed on a bipartisan basis, will enforce large cuts in defense and security spending;
10.Whereas the passage of legislation like S.RES 65 further complicates the ongoing diplomatic efforts by the executive branch to gain substantive changes in behavior from Iran by peaceful, non-violent, and internationally recognized means;
11.Whereas American military leaders have stated that nothing feeds the anti-Americanism that motivates hostile actions against US forces across the region more than the continuing US support for Israel;
12.Whereas Israel continues to occupy, confiscate and settle Palestine land in violation of international law;
13.Whereas recently released documents have revealed deep failures by Israel’s intelligence agencies, especially their failure to predict the 1973 Yom Kippur War;
14.Whereas those same Israeli intelligence agencies also rendered false assessments confirming the existence of WMD’s in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq;
15.And whereas such erroneous assessments by Israel have imposed serious costs, burdens and embarrassments on the US;
Be it therefore resolved:
- That US policymakers will refrain from basing foreign policy decisions on intelligence reported by Israel.
- That S. RES 65 will be withdrawn from any further consideration without being put to a vote
- That all US aid to Israel will be immediately suspended under the current sequester, to be reinstated only after passing a thorough review by all branches of government (including a rigorous assessment in terms of the Arms Export Control Act)
- That the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) will henceforth be forced to register as a lobby of a foreign power that has interests that differ substantively from those of the US
- That the US will cease to use its veto power in the UN Security Council to block the UN’s full recognition as a member state
- And finally, that US aid to Israel will remain suspended until Israel freezes all settlement activity in the Occupied Territories, terminates its occupation of the West Bank, ends its retaliations against Palestinian initiatives to achieve statehood through the non violent mechanisms provided by the UN, and makes substantive moves to re-engage in meaningful peace talks.
In the 65 years since the founding of Israel, advocates for Israel have constantly claimed that the people of that state need strong assurances and security guarantees before they ‘can afford to take the risk of making peace with their neighbors.’ The current situation proves the fallacy of this “common wisdom” which has dominated US thinking on this issue for decades.
At no time since 1948 has Israel ever been stronger or more secure. It has one of the strongest militaries in the world. It has a nuclear capacity its adversaries do not. Its two main traditional threats, Egypt and Syria, are in such total disarray that they will take years to recover. Contrary to Netanyahu’s assertion that Iran is close to having a nuclear weapon, such a development actually still seems years away—if Iran even decides to go that route. If there were ever a time to settle the Palestine issue, the time is now.
Yet the Likud government of Israel is not only NOT moving in that direction, it is focused on picking a fight with Iran—a country a thousand miles away. Paradoxically, the stronger and more secure Israel is in fact, the less and less it seems inclined to find away to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors. The truth is, if there were a just and comprehensive peace in Israel/Palestine (a development which AIPAC shuns and militates against above all others) Hamas would quickly abandon its militancy, Hezbollah would become irrelevant outside of Lebanon and Iran would rapidly lose influence in the area. These developments would be highly positive.
In other words, the problem is not Israel’s lack of security, but its over abundance of power. Legislation that further empowers the current Israeli course of action—like S RES 65 –simply makes that problem worse. The counter resolution I have suggested here is the kind of thing that might administer the psychological shock that is needed to force Israel into a real re-assessment of its long term situation. Such a public display of US disapproval will not materially weaken Israel’s current security posture, rather it will strengthen those forces for peace in Israel that have become complacent or moribund. This is essential if a peaceful long-term solution to the problem is ever to be found.
If Israel were to seize this chance to make peace, the new governments which finally emerge in Egypt and Syria might be far more inclined to allow Israel to become integrated into the region in a more positive way. If the current status quo continues, however, new, more representative governments in Egypt and Syria will probably be far more radical. There is another paradox as well: in spite of its overwhelming military edge, recent Israel efforts to use that military force against the largely unarmed civilian populations of Gaza, the West Bank, or Lebanon have been fruitless debacles. The lesson is plain—military force will not make Israel secure in the long run.
Finally, confronting S.RES 65 represents a real opportunity to reshape American thinking on Middle Eastern issues and to help break the AIPAC stranglehold on creative, forward thinking discussion of those issues. The Resolution highlights the poverty of our current approach. A US war with Iran, for the sake of avoiding a real discussion about resolving the Palestine/Israel conflict would be a double tragedy. There should be no doubt that the passage of S.RES 65, as it stands, opens the door to that ugly possibility wider.
I hope you will do whatever you can to bring the facts about S.RES 65 to the attention of your elected representatives, to the current administration, and your friends and neighbors. To that end, please feel free to use this article as a resource.
Gilbert Schramm is an Oregon native with extensive experience living and working abroad. Starting in 1989, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in both Yemen and Bulgaria. He has since worked in Pakistan, Qatar, South Korea and Saudi Arabia and has travelled widely in the Muslim world. He holds degrees in English literature, history (with a focus on the Middle East and US Foreign Policy), and education, as well as an MA in applied linguistics (with a focus in intercultural communication). He writes regularly about the Middle East and other current political issues.
[i] Fisher, Eugene and Bassiouni, M. Cherif. Storm Over the Arab World: A People in Revolution. Follet, 1972. p 40
[ii] Ibid, p 41
[iii] Christison, Kathleen. Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on the Middle East. 1999, University of California Press, pp 88-89
[iv] Kaplan, Robert D. The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite. The Free Press, 1993. p 95
[v] Gorenberg, Gershom. The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. Times Books, 2006, p 363
[vi] Bregman, Ahron. “A History of Israel” Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p 72.
[vii] Gharib, Ali. The Daily Beast. Senators Press Resolution To Green-Light Israeli Attack On Iran. Feb 28, 2013