Washington, DC – When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress last week, his message on Iran was clear. While the sanctions passed against Iran are “vitally important,” he said, “the Ayatollah regime briefly suspended its nuclear program only once, in 2003, when it feared the possibility of military action.”
Netanyahu had delivered a similar message to Vice President Joe Biden last November, telling him that only military threats, not dialogue, can stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That effort earned public pushback from U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who, along with other top U.S. military leaders, has warned of the dire consequences of yet another war in the region.
But in the House chamber, Netanyahu’s calls for saber rattling drew a standing ovation from members of the House and Senate. And, just prior to his speech, a resolution was reintroduced by over forty House Republicans that would green-light preemptive military strikes by Israel against Iran.
At the same time, just blocks away, similar messages calling for war threats and further sanctions were being delivered by top U.S. and Israeli officials at the annual AIPAC conference.
The day after Netanyahu’s speech, over ten-thousand AIPAC activists flooded Capitol Hill to lobby Congress to support new sanctions on Iran that had been introduced by the leadership of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The legislation, H.R.1905, had been rushed to be introduced in time for the AIPAC conference, with the House of Representatives even delaying its scheduled vacation for several hours in order to formally present the new sanctions and obtain a bill number to be printed on AIPAC lobbying materials for the conference.
The bill would impose a de-facto embargo on Iranian exports of petroleum, oil, and natural gas. It also takes the unprecedented step of denying any waiver authority for the President to ease the proposed embargo for humanitarian or even national security reasons.
NIAC organized a letter with other major Iranian-American, Jewish-American, arms control, human rights, and pro-peace organizations highlighting the dangers posed by the measure for both the U.S. and the Iranian people.
The letter calls for members of the House and Senate to oppose or demand significant changes to the new sanctions legislation. It notes that the oil embargo imposed against Iraq in the 1990s leading up to 2003 invasion of that country was estimated by UNICEF to have contributed to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children and failed to change the behavior of Iraq’s government or prevent a disastrous war.
But with strong coordinated efforts by AIPAC and the calls of Israel’s Prime Minister, Congress appears poised again to begin considering new “crippling” sanctions against Iran less than one year after it last passed “comprehensive” and “strangling” sanctions against Iran. In just one week following AIPAC’s lobbying efforts, the sanctions bill has earned over ninety cosponsors.
NIAC has warned that international diplomacy is necessary to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue and that these bills would mandate a go-it-alone approach that would unravel the Obama administration’s success in uniting the international community, which had previously been divided in its approach to Iran.
NIAC has also endorsed measures to support internet freedom and build goodwill with the Iranian people, through actions such as President Obama’s recent student visa fix, and ongoing efforts like allowing Iranians to access satellite internet and allowing the exportation of civilian aircraft parts to prevent deadly plane crashes in Iran.