With two weeks until Iran’s presidential election and with an announcement last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran has accelerated the installation of critical nuclear infrastructure, allowing Tehran to greatly increase the pace of its uranium enrichment, the U.S. Senate and House have passed legislation emphasizing Iran’s global threat and restating America’s support for Israel.
First, last week, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs presented HR 850, bolstering sanctions against Iran. Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) authored the bill, which would also expands penalties against those who violate existing Iran sanctions and increase sanctions specifically targeting human rights violations in Iran. The bill now has a bipartisan group of 344 co-sponsors.
“As the threat of a nuclear-capable Iran continues, Congress is once again leading the way to impose crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime. In the House, I, alongside my Florida colleague Rep. Ted Deutch, introduced HR 938 [in March], a bipartisan legislation with almost 300 co-sponsors, seeking to strengthen the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship,” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told the JT. “There couldn’t be a more important time for the U.S. to remind the world that we will not sit idly by while these threats put in peril the very existence of our friend and democratic ally, the Jewish State of Israel.”
Then, the Senate voted 99-0 on S. Res. 65, which emphasizes the global threat posed by a nuclear Iran and calls for “the full implementation of [U.S.] and international sanctions.” The resolution likewise urges that “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the U.S. government should “stand with Israel and prove, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress, to authorize the use of military force [and] diplomatic, military and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people and existence.”
Why now? Does this latest round of legislation/support have any meaning?
With regard to the sanctions, if HR 850 passes, the bill will give President Barack Obama the power to bar businesses from operating in the U.S. if they engage in any significant commercial trade with Iran. The Senate statement falls short of a call for U.S. action against Iran — and is not legally binding — though leaders say the timing is right and the call strong.
“It expresses the sense of the Senate. It is symbolic, but it sends a message,” explained Orde Kittrie, professor of law at Arizona State University and a national thought-leader on the subject.
Kittrie said he thinks the statement was motivated by general frustration in the Senate — with Iran, but also with the current administration.
“The administration does not seem to be sufficiently results-oriented with regard to stopping Iran’s nuclear program,” said Kittrie. “I think the Senate is reiterating that if Israel feels compelled to take military action, the U.S. will stand with Israel. … I would also read the resolution as a signal to the Iranians that there is a credible military threat — either from the U.S. or from Israel.”
The statement comes about a month since the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its people, something that President Obama said would signal a red line and U.S. intervention. That red line was crossed without action, and the Seate, explained Kittrie, may have felt the need to strengthen the American position and the notion that military action could happen.
“The sanctions twist Iran’s hand behind its back and make it harder for Iran to move forward. But we also want to give Iran the sense that even if it makes it through the sanctions, it won’t be able to enjoy its nuclear program — the U.S. will bomb Iran if necessary,” the professor said.
Jay Bernstein, the host of the Shalom USA radio program, said he would not consider the resolution meaningless, but he said it is not wrought with meaning, either. He said ultimately the decision about military action would be up to the president. The resolution expresses support for military action — as necessary — but does not break down who will take that action. He said the real elephant in the room is whether Israel will be forced to take action on its own or whether the U.S. will take action alongside the Jewish State.
“The most effective player here would be America,” said Bernstein.
Dr. Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, expressed similar sentiments and told the JT that Israel will need to protect its national security, but it is his
assumption that any military attack would be “timed and coordinated” with the U.S.
The timing, however, of the bill and the Senate resolution, said Abramson, could be tied to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He said the group does seem to be making strides toward sitting down together, and just as the Palestinians likely feel pressured to come to the table in order to receive a $4 billion economic boost, so, too, do Israelis feel pressured to work with Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure support when it comes to Iran.
“For Israelis,” said Abramson, “the incentive is coordination on Iran.”
An economic adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the link between political progress and economic assistance and insisted the climate was not right for peace talks. Israeli officials have expressed that Israel’s position is two states for two people and have in recent weeks acknowledged that concessions would have to be made to move forward.
As has been the case over the last several years, officials are still in watch-and-react mode when it comes to Iran. Few thought-leaders expect change. A recently released list of “approved” candidates for the June 14 Iranian election includes predominantly hardliners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“There have been sanctions. I support sanctions,” said Bernstein. “I don’t believe sanctions are ultimately going to change the behavior of the Iranian government. … Even the opposition parties are in favor of a nuclear Iran. Sadly and ominously, it is going to take some military action.”