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Mushroom Clouds on the Horizon: Iranian Nuclear Threats Dominate AIPAC

Iranian nuclear threats to Israel and beyond loomed large among policy makers and experts at the recently concluded American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.

File - In this Sept. 27, 2012 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shows an illustration as he describes his concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions during his address to the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided the U.N. with a memorable moment with a cartoon bomb a year ago, and he can be expected to again call for a hard line against Iran's nuclear program backed by the credible threat of force. But the goalposts have moved a little: some at the General Assembly's annual meeting will be calling for a more nuanced approach by the world in response to the emergence of a moderate Iranian president. Credit: AP

Policy makers and experts addressing the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on March 2-4, 2014, consistently expressed opposition against Iranian nuclear weapons proliferation. Such unanimity, though, could not conceal widespread conference skepticism about President Barack Obama’s administration effectively meeting this danger.

“You know that I like to draw lines, especially red ones,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joked during his March 4 closing address in reference to his Sept. 27, 2012, United Nations speech.

At AIPAC, though, Netanyahu wanted to “draw a clear line…between life and death,” vowing that Jews would “never be brought to the brink of extinction again.” “There is unanimity” in Israel concerning Iran as “clearly the most dangerous threat” to Israel and beyond, Israeli Labor Party head Isaac Herzog likewise stated on the conference’s opening day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Getty Images) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Getty Images) 

Netanyahu emphasized that Iran threatened the wider world beyond Israel.

“That Scud’s for you,” he stated in an adaptation of Anheuser-Busch’s “this Bud’s for you” slogan when discussing Iranian missiles that will soon range beyond Israel to America. Even Iranian enrichment capability in a “threshold nuclear power would deliver a deathblow to nuclear nonproliferation” in a “Pandora’s Box” of other proliferating Middle Eastern states.

The nuclear Iran “nightmare” would place American Middle East bases at risk as “our entire regional calculus” changed, Sen. Chris Coons declared during a March 2 panel with former Sen. Joseph Lieberman. A nuclear Iran after years of American opposition would be an “even more devastating blow” to nonproliferation than North Korea, international security analyst Emily Landau subsequently agreed with Coons during another panel.

“The international community will look powerless.”

“We do not have a policy of containment…we will not allow a nuclear Iran,” Sen. Charles Schumer flatly declared March 3. This policy existed “not just to protect Israel” but also critical American Middle Eastern interests such as oil. “Deep, deep concern” by Schumer for the region demanded that the United States “use all, all available tools” against Iranian proliferation.

File - In this Sept. 27, 2012 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shows an illustration as he describes his concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions during his address to the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided the U.N. with a memorable moment with a cartoon bomb a year ago, and he can be expected to again call for a hard line against Iran's nuclear program backed by the credible threat of force. But the goalposts have moved a little: some at the General Assembly's annual meeting will be calling for a more nuanced approach by the world in response to the emergence of a moderate Iranian president. Credit: AP In this Sept. 27, 2012 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shows an illustration as he describes his concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions during his address to the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Credit: AP 

Prior to Schumer, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Democratic Party House Whip Steny Hoyer emphasized bipartisan opposition to Iranian proliferation. Hoyer warned that “Iran cannot use negotiations simply to buy time.” On Iranian nuclear proliferation “there can be no compromise,” concurred AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr on March 2, “the policy must be one of prevention.”

Rhetorically, President Barack Obama’s administration seemed to agree.

Citing Obama’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew insisted March 2 upon “no alternative” to Iranian nonproliferation. “All options remain on the table,” Lew warned in repetition of Hoyer earlier while discussing “one of the most pressing concerns” for both Israel and America.

“We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period,” Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the following night. Invoking Obama’s “complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security,” Kerry declared “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Iran’s “existential threat” to Israel also endangered the globe such that stopping Iran “is not some favor…for Israel.”

Kerry and Lew’s plan to forestall Iranian proliferation included the Nov. 24, 2013, Joint Plan of Action (JPA), a six month interim agreement trading international sanctions relief for an Iranian nuclear program halt. The JPA’s estimated $7 billion sanctions relief was “only a small taste of how things could improve” for an Iran suffering the “most comprehensive sanctions regime in history,” Lew stated. After the Iranian economy contracted 6 percent last year, unemployment and inflation were over 15% and 30%, respectively. “Iran is not open for business,” Kerry repeated a line of Lew’s, “until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs.”

An opportunity for the JPA to succeed without additional, congressionally imposed sanctions, was “critically important” according to Lew. A demonstrated willingness to negotiate would maintain international support for sanctions and justify any subsequent military “force as a last resort.”

 In this Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, a worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File) In this Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, a worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File) 

Seizing “what might be the last best chance for diplomacy” was also “crucial” for Kerry, who worried that a military strike meant Iran’s nuclear program “going underground and becoming more dangerous.” With “eyes…wide open” towards Iranian malfeasance, though, Kerry asserted that new Iranian sanctions would only take two hours for congressional approval.

Sanctions “are not a spigot that can be turned on and off,” Sen. Robert Menendez disagreed on March 4. “Time to pass new sanctions” against Iranian JPA violations might be lacking, Menendez warned, as six months would be necessary “to bring sanctions online” and a year for their effect. The JPA, for example, has done nothing to hinder Iranian research on faster uranium enrichment centrifuges that would shorten the time necessary for Iranian proliferation. Iran “can simply unlock the door” on its nuclear program hardly affected by the JPA after the interim agreement’s end, something “that sounds a lot like” past North Korean proliferation.

“Iran’s nuclear aspirations did not materialize overnight” and in regime thinking are “fundamental to its existence,” observed Menendez. Iran “remains surrounded by powerful adversaries in the region,” German Marshall Fund international security analyst Ash Jain noted during a March 3 panel.

A nuclear Iran additionally “will become basically invulnerable” to military responses against aggression such as support for terrorism worldwide, argued Landau. It is moreover “highly unlikely that Iran would simply walk away” from $40 billion direct investment in the nuclear program, Jain noted. Thus “it is hard to imagine any combination of incentives” to dissuade Iranian proliferation, Kohr had earlier stated.

“If past is prologue,” Menendez was “skeptical of Iran keeping its promises.” Peacefully stopping Iranian proliferation necessitated “continuous international commitment” to Iranian sanctions, yet the “international community seems to want any deal more than…a good deal.”

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30:  U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office, September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama was meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Syria and Iran. Credit: Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office, September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama was meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Syria and Iran. Credit: Getty Images 

A “rush of business delegations” had gone to Iran excited by merely speculative sanctions relief. Whether sanctions could survive or even strengthen in the face of business interests was thus questionable, notwithstanding Lew’s assertion that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

The “bottom line is that it is sanctions, tough sanctions…that brought Iran to the table,” Schumer, an opponent of JPA sanctions relief, stated. Diplomacy without more pressure “has zero chance of succeeding” and “greater pressure on Iran will not make war more likely” but “less likely,” Lieberman and Netanyahu, respectively, agreed.

Lieberman envisioned congressional approval for more sanctions as well as a readiness to support American military action against Iran. Its leaders should “practically beg us” for sanctions relief as economic ruin endangered regime survival, Jain’s fellow panelist Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argued.

Yet a “nuclear Iran in the near future” appears likely to Ros-Lehtinen. The Iranian economy has gone “from despair to hope” with 4-5 percent growth predicted by 2016, noted Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies analyst Mark Dubowitz appearing alongside Landau. Businesses have undergone a “shift from fear to greed” concerning entering Iran’s “huge…extremely lucrative market,” meaning the “sanctions regime is already eroding.” Obama Administration actions in places like Syria have meanwhile “significantly degraded” any military option’s credibility. Newer, faster centrifuges will concurrently allow Iran in the future to develop clandestinely nuclear weapons in relatively small facilities.

“Iran is not a Middle Eastern problem, Iran is a global problem,” warned Dubowitz’s fellow panelist Ilan Berman from the American Foreign Policy Council. The “Iranians are over here,” Berman noted while discussing with Dubowitz Iranian terror networks reaching into Latin America and attempting strikes in the United States. Nuclear weapons will mean “more of what you see now” in Iranian aggression such as supporting Hezbollah. Landau, though, argued that any Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would be “very stupid” given Israeli retaliation and that Iran already “can do so many things” against Israel.

The “proliferation cascade” following Iranian proliferation cited by Berman could extend beyond the Middle East to Asia, Dubowitz noted, where Japan is the “turn of a screw” away from a nuclear weapon. “A much larger target set later” of nuclear-armed Middle East states all hostile to Israel following Iranian proliferation, Berman meanwhile observed, might make Israeli preemption against Iran appealing. The Iran crisis had only a “modest chance” for a “peaceful resolution,” Sen. John McCain concluded on March 3.

Andrew E. Harrod may be reached at: andrew.harrod@live.com.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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