The Netanyahu-GOP Bout Against the Iran Deal: Is It All Over but the Shouting?

Iran could be their last hope: a violent move by Tehran, especially against America, could still turn the Congressional tide.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem August 16, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem August 16, 2015. Credit: Reuters
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

It ain’t over till it’s over, but there are growing indications that it may be over, to all intents and purposes. The campaign to repeal the nuclear agreement with Iran is facing imminent failure. The last hopes of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Republicans could very well depend now on Iran itself: a demented, violent move by Tehran could still turn the tide, especially if it is directed at America rather than Israel. Jerusalem’s efforts to turn the rocket attack on Israel’s north last week into an incriminating smoking gun have failed to do the job.

Despite the polls that show U.S. public opinion hardening against the Iran deal, and notwithstanding embarrassing allegations that Iran will play a role in inspecting itself, the momentum is with the Obama administration. Centrist senators from conservative states who were viewed as potential candidates to vote against the agreement, such as Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have committed to support. No less importantly, Jerry Nadler, whose 10th Congressional District includes hawkish and Orthodox Borough Park in Brooklyn, has become the first Jewish lawmaker from New York to come out in favor of the deal; his move, which has been hailed as courageous, puts a kosher stamp on Jewish support for the administration’s position and possibly paves the way for wavering Democrats, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to follow in his path.

Among realistic opponents of the deal, there is very little talk anymore of an overall triumph; the battle now is over an honorable defeat, but even that is far from certain. The chances of a bloc that could override a presidential veto are less than slim; some Democrats are setting their sights now on securing 41 senators who would oppose cloture and thus avoid the need for a presidential veto altogether. Republicans need to persuade potential Democratic “defectors” to join Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez, who have already committed to opposing the deal: the target is still within reach, but seems more distant than before.

Obama is sparing no effort to dissuade his party’s elected officials from crossing the lines. Although the latest CNN/ORC poll had 56% of the U.S. public asking for Congress to veto the deal, 70% of Democrats thought otherwise. Members of Congress and Senators who are up for reelection and are still facing party primaries will think twice before upsetting their partisan fans. The fact that GOP lawmakers are unanimously opposing the deal makes the life of potential Democratic critics even tougher: if they had any brains, Republicans would have persuaded 3-4 of their own representatives to side with Obama and thus create the illusion that the vote is a matter of conscience, not party politics.

Republican Senator Bob Corker admitted last week that the administration’s main line is proving effective: this is the deal, there is no other, it’s best for all, including Israel and the alternative is horrid. Netanyahu’s counterclaim that there is still a better deal to be had has proven less than convincing: he and his supporters should have possibly stuck with their original insistence that “no deal” is the way to go.

The same is true for the categorical and sometimes hysterical, A to Z, top to bottom negation of each and every clause in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); it does not square with the endorsements of scores of top experts, officials, generals, and diplomats that have come out in favor the accord. AIPAC and other opponents have failed to provide similar numbers of public figures with commensurate prestige and expertise to buttress their claims. Even in these crazy days that Donald Trump is racing towards the White House, the reasoned testimonies of experts still carries some weight.

The petition published in the New York Times on Thursday by 26 former senior leaders of the American Jewish community also buttressed the sense that the force is now with the administration. It shattered the claim that, with the exception of J Street, American Jewish leadership is solidly backing Netanyahu against Obama. In his Friday address to Jewish communities, Obama hopes to press his case and thus alleviate some of the ongoing pressures on hesitant Jewish Democrats.

Many of Israel’s enemies are already celebrating the breach of Jewish solidarity on an issue deemed to be existential for Israel, as well as the potential damage to AIPAC’s prestige and power of deterrence, all of which should have been expected. On the other hand, the apparent split in the Jewish community provides Obama’s opponents with a familiar rogues’ gallery of those who should be blamed for their own impending defeat: leftist, liberal self-hating Jews on both sides of the ocean, from former security chiefs Ami Ayalon and Efraim Halevy through J Street all the way, even if they are in no way connected, to the New Israel Fund.

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