Can They Undermine the Deal?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Senators Ron Wyden, Ben Cardin, Charles Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, and Chris Coons (seated) before a news conference on Capitol Hill to introduce the Iran Policy Oversight Act, October 1, 2015

The Republican Congress’s failure in September to pass a resolution disapproving the nuclear agreement with Iran didn’t mean that the deal was safe.* The president won a major victory when its supporters managed to bottle up the resolution disapproving the deal in the Senate, thus protecting him from having to veto it. (The House defeated a resolution to approve the deal.) But then the fight took on a new form that could threaten the agreement.

Outside groups who opposed the Iran deal have an ongoing interest in trying to undermine it, or at least bring more pressure on its backers. Some members of Congress want to mollify Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, since he’d so openly and ferociously opposed the deal and lost. Some are also trying to get right with AIPAC, the leading organization opposed to the deal, and to soothe those of their constituents who are particularly passionate backers of Israel and are upset that they voted for the deal. A group of senators has just written new legislation—widely referred to on Capitol Hill as a CYA (or “cover your ass”) action—that would give additional military equipment and other protection to Israel.

The problems with this are twofold: no matter how vaguely they couch it, the senators are proposing to send advanced offensive weapons to Israel and to impose new sanctions on Iran, both of which could possibly harm the deal. Moreover and fundamentally, the deal was generally understood to be of great benefit for Israel by removing the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon for at least fifteen years. A number of former Israeli defense and intelligence officials had expressed the view that the deal was good for Israel. A Democratic senator who backed it said to me, “It’s almost cognitive dissonance that because of the deal we have to do something for Israel.”

Nevertheless, while the voting on the resolution of disapproval was still going on, a shopping list of new weapons for Israel, believed to have been developed by AIPAC with the Israeli embassy in Washington, circulated around the Senate. Netanyahu had insisted that the list be kept under wraps lest its disclosure suggest that he wouldn’t succeed in killing the deal itself. The list included massive ordnance penetrators (MOPs), or “bunker busters,” capable of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities, and B-52s able to deliver them. No other country owns such planes and to transfer them to another nation would be a violation of the New START Treaty between the US and Russia, signed in 2010.

These new weapons were to be in addition to the extensive military assistance the US already provides to Israel—which under Obama…

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