In addition to Mitchell’s excellent post below, I would strongly recommend Robert Wright’s post entitled “AIPAC and the Push Toward War” on his Atlantic blog today. In that post, he refers to a letter sent by Lieberman, Graham and ten other senators to the White House last week that lays out what I believe is Netanyahu’s and AIPAC‘s optimal position on negotiations with Iran, unadulterated by the need to get queasy, weak-willed Democrats on board. A copy of that letter can be seen here.]
The fact that the letter lays out positions — among them, zero uranium enrichment on Iranian territory under the current regime, ever — that would be dead on arrival in Tehran tells me that the not-so-subtle implication of Wright’s title is correct: AIPAC’s leadership wants war with Iran and opposes any negotiated outcome that falls short of Tehran’s complete abandonment of its nuclear and missile programmes. This observation probably comes as no great surprise to readers of this blog. But I think the letter is useful insofar as it exposes precisely what AIPAC, which is understandably sensitive about being tagged as a warmonger, really wants. How strongly that message is communicated in AIPAC’s upcoming annual convention will be particularly interesting.
There’s an important point that I’ve been wanting to write about for some time and still hope to at some greater length: while the Iraq invasion was an adventure championed by neo-conservatives, as well as aggressive nationalists and the Christian Right, the conventional Israel lobby, led by AIPAC, did not play a leading role in the drive to that war (although Netanyahu, who is very close to neo-conservatives, was quite enthusiastic and even testified before Congress in its favor). What I think happened was that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had long asserted that Iran was far more dangerous to Israel that Iraq, was quite skeptical of the idea. But, after becoming convinced that Bush was bound and determined to invade, he got on the bandwagon and told AIPAC to do the same in order to preserve his close ties with and influence on Bush. But AIPAC and other major lobby actors never fought for the war with the nearly same conviction and enthusiasm as the neo-cons.
With respect to Iran, I think we see a different dynamic, one in which the main impetus for war is coming from the political leadership of Israel and the lobby here, with the neo-cons acting for now as the most visible point of the spear. And because the lobby enjoys much more influence with Democrats than the neo-cons ever have, it’s a significantly more formidable force, as recent votes in Congress make clear.
While neo-conservatives and the lobby overlap and often share common goals, they do not always agree. Neo-cons typically think they know better than the Israeli government (and the U.S. government, of course) what is in its interests, while organizations like AIPAC tend to defer more (however reluctantly, given the increasingly right-wing sympathies of its leadership) to Jerusalem’s judgment. You can see this in the contrasting attitudes of the two groups to the situation in Syria: the neo-cons are united, as they have been for years, in wanting to see Assad deposed by any means necessary. (Remember that the 1996 “Clean Break” was aimed ultimately at Syria, not Iraq. AIPAC, while it clearly prefers such an outcome, seems much less committed to it, no doubt reflecting the ambivalence on the issue that exists in Jerusalem.