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Jewish World Review
March 6, 2012/ 12 Adar, 5772
AIPAC beats the drums of war
An impromptu barbershop quartet performed for participants in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as they took the convention center escalators to Monday morning’s meeting of the pro-Israel lobby. But inside the hall, AIPAC was beating the drums of war.
“The president has said he doesn’t bluff and neither can we in Congress,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), a pro-Israel hawk serving the last of his 24 years in the Senate. “The Iranian regime must hear a message from us and we must state it loud and clear: Either you peacefully negotiate an end to your illicit nuclear activities or they will be ended for you by military attack.”
The lights went up and thousands of conference attendees leapt to their feet.
Calling the Iranian threat “more serious than anything faced by the United States and Israel” during his time in office — a claim that would include al-Qaeda, Iraq, China and the Soviet Union — Lieberman pressed for an “iron-clad” resolution: “The United States will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability — by peaceful means if we can, but with military force if we absolutely must.”
The AIPAC participants roared again.
Something new, and ominous, is in the air at this week’s annual AIPAC gathering. As always, there are the ritual affirmations of solidarity with the Jewish state, and, as always, there are the usual shows of lobbying might (“largest gala ever!”). But this time there is also an intimation, from speaker after speaker, that war is coming — and probably soon.
“Despite the hour, there is still time to stop Iran without the use of force, but that time is running out quickly,” Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, told the crowd.
Much of his speech was about justifying the expected Israeli attack, as if it were a foregone conclusion. “Israel does not control the path Iran is on,” he said. “If at some point, Israel or anyone must act, only Iran will be to blame. . . . America must stand with the Jewish state.”
There is little talk about the Palestinian conflict at the AIPAC gathering this year. And the usual domestic political chatter about whether President Obama is sufficiently pro-Israel has been eclipsed by the war talk.
Obama, who used his address to warn Iran that he wasn’t bluffing about the possibility of a preemptive strike, repeated his threat while sitting in the Oval Office on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “My policy here is not going to be one of containment,” he said. “My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.”
Perhaps more ominously, Obama spoke of the standoff with Iran entering “a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.”
That is, by Obama’s standards, a forceful threat. And his would-be Republican opponents are practically clamoring for war. Mitt Romney, in an op-ed written for Tuesday’s Washington Post, called for expanding aircraft carrier groups simultaneously in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
The talk — almost an expectation — of war has echoes of the months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the attack became seen as inevitable. Whatever private misgivings Obama may have about a strike on Iran, his rhetoric this week could easily be considered a green light for Israeli action.
And if Obama is flashing a green light, Israel’s advocates in Congress are waving a starter’s flag. “I’ve got bipartisan support growing like crazy in the Senate for the idea that we’re not going to contain a nuclear-armed Iran,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) boasted Monday morning on Fox News. He said he advised Netanyahu to “never lose control over your own destiny. The Jewish people’s existence is at stake here.”
At the AIPAC conference, where attendees admired an armored personnel carrier, a surface-to-air missile and a model of an Israeli drone, that sentiment is unchallenged. Kohr deployed his highest-ton weapon in support of Israel’s right to go it alone, reminding the audience of “Israel’s promise to those who felt the flames of the Holocaust: never again.”
The real question was how soon Israel would strike. Lieberman said that waiting until until Iran gets the bomb would be too late. “For the sake of the people of Iran and all of its neighbors, Israeli and Arab, the days of the despotic regime that now rules Iran must be num
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