The leaking of information on an Israeli air strike in Syria and a growing divergence in approach to Iran sanctions have accentuated the Obama administration’s differences with the Israeli government.
Last week the U.S. confirmed publicly that Israel was responsible for a strike on a Syrian military base near the port city of Latakia. The attack reportedly took out arms bound for the Lebanon-based terror group Hizbullah.
“The United States pulled the rug out from Israel in leaking the story,” Lenny Ben-David, former deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington under prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, told JNS.
“When these actions become public, it changes the game,” Ben-David said.
Reports on Israeli television were particularly fierce in their criticism of the Obama administration’s leak, which top Israeli military analysts referred to as “scandalous,” “illogical,” “unfathomable” and “foolish.”
Meanwhile, several prominent U.S. Jewish groups find themselves caught between differing American and Israeli policies on Iran. Netanyahu has renewed his call for tougher sanctions on Iran and left open the possibility of a military strike to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, though the Obama administration prefers not to implement new sanctions during Western negotiations with Iran.
Following reports that Iran may be two weeks away from enriching uranium to weapons grade, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee announced it would not back down from pressing Congress to enact tougher economic sanctions against Iran.
“AIPAC continues to support congressional action to adopt legislation to further strengthen sanctions, and there will absolutely be no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts,” AIPAC president Michael Kassen said in a statement.
“Until Iran suspends its enrichment program, additional sanctions are vital for diplomacy to succeed,” Kassen added.
The announcement came not long after American Jewish leaders met with senior administration officials at the White House and were asked to refrain from pressing for stronger Iran sanctions while negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program persisted.
AIPAC’s announcement favoring additional sanctions represented a sharp shift in the lobby’s support for the administration’s Middle East policies. Recently, AIPAC lobbied in favor of military action against Syria at the behest of the Obama administration.
“After AIPAC went out on a limb to support Obama on a Syrian attack, don’t look for them to be running to Obama’s support now,” said Ben-David, who served for 10 years as AIPAC’s director of research and information in Washington and then for 15 years as founder and director of AIPAC’s Israel office.
Lobbying Congress in favor of military action against Syria for its reported use of chemical weapons was a bit of a gamble for AIPAC, according to Ben-David. Even though Obama called for an attack in a nationally televised address, military action did not have much domestic or international support.
Christians United for Israel and the American Jewish Committee, like AIPAC, will continue to push for stronger Iran sanctions despite the Obama administration’s policy on the issue.
“Nothing has changed,” CUFI executive director David Brog told JNS. “We should all know that for years Iran has used talks to buy time while they proceed with their illegal nuclear program. We should all know that even after President Rouhani’s election, the Iranians haven’t slowed their nuclear program but have actually accelerated it.
“And we should all know that Supreme Leader Khamenei – the real power in Iran – has not changed his positions one bit. We mustn’t give Iran a comfortable window within which to complete their nuclear work. So long as Iran continues to build its stockpiles of enriched uranium, we should at the very least be strengthening our sanctions.”
In an op-ed published by Haaretz, AJC executive director David Harris wrote, “Since it is the ever-toughening sanctions that got Iran to negotiate in the first place, there needs to be a reminder that things will get still worse for Tehran if nothing changes soon on the ground.”