The Iran nuclear deal poses colossal challenges to Israel on many levels, among them, how effectively Israel’s voice is being heard in Washington and in the region. AIPAC has made some excellent arguments about why the deal should not be approved by the U.S. Congress, citing the absence of anytime, anywhere short-notice inspections (which is how the Obama administration initially characterized the deal), a failure to make sanctions relief conditional on full Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, the absence of military site inspections, and that it gives the Iranians the ability to store most of their centrifuges, rather than destroy them. There’s only one problem – according to three recent surveys, most American Jews, and most Americans more generally, favor the agreement.
Before the Iran Deal was reached, 59% of American Jews supported the idea of agreement, and virtually the same number (60%) supported the deal after it was concluded, according to polls conducted with 1,000 adults who identified themselves as Jewish in June and July by J Street. This exceeds the percentage of overall adult Americans who support it (56%), according to a poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post immediately after the agreement was signed in Vienna. Given the agreement’s numerous flaws (as noted above), one wonders how many of these people have actually read the agreement, understand it, and have thought critically about it. Presumably, very few.
In this Kafkaesque scenario, what chance do AIPAC and Israel have of successfully influencing Congress’s vote? The short answer is, not as much as many would like to believe, for two reasons. First, it appears that AIPAC does not represent the views of the majority of American Jews. Of the approximately 5.5 million Jews in the U.S., fewer than 100,000 are members of AIPAC, and most appear not to identify with its conservative platform. Second, although AIPAC has punched very much above its weight with great impact for decades, whatever impact it may have on this particular issue through its hearty lobbying will be a byproduct of the domestic political dynamics accompanying the debate in Washington, rather than the driving force behind it.
Despite the polling, there is growing opposition to the Deal in Washington and around the country, and it appears likely that Congress will vote to reject the deal and that President Obama will override it. There is also a very real chance that Congress will override the override, as its details become more widely known among constituents, even though many political pundits don’t see it that way at the present time. Regardless of how the vote plays out, Middle Eastern politics are likely to get even more complicated, but in the process, it may actually enhance AIPAC and Mr. Netanyahu’s ability to influence the dialectic going forward.
Whether the deal is rejected or not by the U.S. Congress, in the process, conservatives in Israel and in the U.S. will have enhanced their ability to flex their lobbying muscles going forward, and Israel will be well positioned to receive enhanced defense assistance from the U.S. The reason Israel should see a net benefit in that regard is because either the perceived threat from Iran’s proxies will grow if the deal is approved, or U.S. lawmakers will want to grant Israel some defense ‘sweeteners’ should the deal not be approved, to make amends with Israel. The Iran deal masks the strength of the bilateral military relationship between Israel and the U.S., and whoever occupies the White House starting in 2017 should have a better relationship with the Israeli government than President Obama has had.
From a regional perspective, the Israeli government will certainly not change its tune if the deal is approved. The nascent threat from Iran will of course continue, and very likely worsen, as a result of Iran’s enhanced ability to support its proxies throughout the region. Additional defensive weapons from America will no doubt prove useful over time. While Israel will likely see a net loss in terms of an even more hostile regional landscape, it will gain from its budding marriage of convenience with Saudi Arabia (which also vehemently opposes the deal, even though it will not publicly state so) and the other Gulf states which share a similar view of Iran. That dynamic will no doubt contribute to the tectonic shifts going on in the region, so Israel will not be left out of the equation. We should expect other ‘unusual’ regional alliances to emerge — both in favor and against Israel’s interests — in time.
With the U.S. and Turkey finally making some military overtures in Syria, and with a pan-Arab military force having been utilized against the Houthis in Yemen, there is some reason to believe that the landscape may start to shift a bit more in Israel’s favor, should those forces be used against Iranian interests in Syria and Iraq. But the political mosaic that is the Middle East is, and will remain, entirely unpredictable. There is as much chance that the Islamic State will grow in size and strength as that it will be defeated in the near term. At least Israel has the benefit of knowing that that all the other parties are busy killing each other and that it is not the immediate target of the ongoing conflagration in the region. If Israel plays it cards right, its influence in Washington and the region could very well grow.