New legislation introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) calls for the U.S. to provide military, economic, and diplomatic support for Israel should its government decide to launch military strikes on Iran. The measure would effectively signal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can decide not just whether to enter Israel into war with Iran, but whether the United States enters such a war. It comes as tentative diplomatic progress was reported from negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran.
The unprecedented measure is being unveiled as part of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference this weekend in Washington, DC, that will bring thousands of the group's supporters to push the measure on Capitol Hill. The group will also support a new sanctions bill in the House that could authorize the U.S. to sanction companies, including in Europe and Asia, for any commercial dealings with Iran. That measure has raised concerns about further exacerbating medicine shortages impacting the people of Iran.
The Graham resolution is framed as a non-binding measure aimed at encouraging the President to implement and escalate sanctions on Iran. But the final clause "urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."
Senator Graham has made clear that "self defense" can be defined as preventive war based on redlines that Netanayahu has established that contradict President Obama's stated policy.
Graham initially announced the resolution during the 2012 Election campaign as a challenge to President Obama's comments that he "has Israel's back" and said his resolution would clarify that "in the event Israel had to take preventive action, we would have their back" in terms of military, financial, and diplomatic support.
In discussing his planned resolution, he made clear that Israel has a different set of military capabilities than the U.S., but that his measure would compel the U.S. to take action based on Tel Aviv's window instead of Washington's. "There are two different clocks here, the Washington clock and the Tel Aviv clock...The Israelis are not going to let the window close on their ability to slow down this program. They're going to act... They're going to control their own destiny."
The measure may raise a red flag for the Pentagon, which has been concerned that Israel could draw the U.S. into a war against the authority of the President and his military leadership. Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey explicitly warned last year that he does not want the U.S. to be "complicit" in an Israeli strike. The Pentagon also conducted a simulation last March that determined and Israeli strike on Iran would draw in the U.S. and leave hundreds of Americans dead in the immediate aftermath. The Pentagon leaked the report to the press, in a move widely viewed as seeking to stop Netanyahu from pushing the U.S. into war.
Military leaders from both Israel and the United States have warned in dire terms that strikes on Iran would only delay the nuclear program and make it more likely that Iran would build a weapon. Former Joint Chiefs Chairman James Cartwright recently stated that such action would require "tens of years" of military occupation by the U.S. Others have noted that such action would require as many as one million troops. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "such an attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable."
The Graham-Menendez resolution also "reiterates that the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability and to take such action as may be necessary to implement this policy." However, this is not the policy of the United States. AIPAC last year pushed measures in Congress to attempt to change that, and managed to pass them in both chambers. But the measure never was sent to the White House and did not become policy. The President pointedly stated at AIPAC's convention last year that preventing nuclear weapon acquisition, not capability, was his policy. That message has apparently been ignored.