AIPAC Flexes Its Muscle on Iran and Egypt

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AIPAC Flexes Its Muscle on Iran and Egypt

The powerhouse Israel lobby group wants more sanctions on Iran and the continuation of U.S. military aid towards Egypt--and Congress has obliged. Over the past week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has seen its legislative priorities on U.S. policy in the Middle East sail through Congress.

As Iran prepared to welcome in a new president more amenable to negotiations with the West over its nuclear energy program, AIPAC and its Congressional allies were walking overtime to scuttle any potential diplomatic progress. The House of Representatives passed a new bill yesterday aimed at crippling Iran's oil exports. There were a handful of Congressional critics of the AIPAC-backed measure, who pointed out that the bill was, as M.J. Rosenberg put it, a "preemptive strike" against Iran's new president. But they didn't come close to dissuading the House, which passed the bill by a 400-20 vote.

The House vote lined up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strategy: ratchet up sanctions, prepare for war and deride those who think that Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian president, presents a diplomatic opportunity. "You should ratchet up the sanction and make it clear to Iran that they won't get away with it. And if sanctions don't work and they have to know that you'll be prepared to take military action, that's the only thing that will get their attention," Netanyahu said on CBS' Face the Nation last month.

The House legislation was only the latest sanctions bill piled on Iran, as Rosenberg reminds us:

AIPAC has been drafting and the House and Senate passing AIPAC's Iran sanctions bills for years. They don't accomplish anything except punish the Iranian people. After all, if they did "work," AIPAC wouldn't keep having to write new sanctions bills. Iran would have surrendered to Israel's demands on the nuclear issue years ago.

On Egypt, the story was much the same: AIPAC got what it wanted. The Egyptian military's coup in June prompted a lot of pundits to talk about whether the Obama administration was going to cut off the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. delivers to the country annually. But there was never any serious chance the Obama administration was going to do so--and Israel is a key reason why. So when Senator Rand Paul introduced an amendment this week to redirect the Egypt aid to infrastructure projects at home, it was quickly shot down--and the Senators opposing the amendment cited AIPAC and the Israeli government's insistence that military aid continue to Egypt.

Open Zion's Ali Gharib runs down the revealing debate here:

[P]eans to Israel's security came from the five Senators who spoke in opposition to the amendment: Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Corker (R-TN), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John McCain (R-AZ), who even got into it with Paul about what American groups spoke with authority on Israel's interests.

Inhofe, the first to speak, set the tone. "If you have any feelings at all toward our good friends, our best friends in the Middle East--that is Israel--then you cannot consider this amendment. Israel has all of the interests at stake," he said. "We cannot do this to our friends in Israel and our other allies in the Middle East." He went on at length. Then Menendez made one of those references to American security when he said the Senate must consider "implications for U.S. national security and for our ally Israel." Later, he elaborated on those concerns--the Israeli ones, at least: "When you have hundreds of tunnels in the Sinai being used by extremists to send weapons into Gaza to attack Israel, it is about their security."

And Senator Lindsey Graham underscored the fact that AIPAC was opposed to cutting off aid to Egypt. As Gharib notes, Graham read into the Congressional record the letter AIPAC sent to Senators on the Paul amendment, which states:

We are writing to express our concerns over the Paul amendment to the Transportation/HUD Appropriations bill that would eliminate military assistance and sales to Egypt. We do not support cutting off all assistance to Egypt at this time, as we believe it could increase the instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.

There are other important reasons why the U.S. won't cut off aid to Egypt. The flow of money ensures profits for weapons companies in America, and ensures that the Suez Canal, important for oil, is also a place where the U.S. navy flexes its muscle--which is important to box Iran in.

All of those concerns--the Suez Canal, weapons contracts and Israel--underline why Secretary of State John Kerry, as Marc Ellis noted, said this week that the Egyptian military stepped in to "restore democracy." While Kerry's remarks were impolitic--the U.S. is not supposed to explicitly say it supported the coup--they undoubtedly reflected the alternate universe U.S. officials live in.

So the Egyptian military and security forces have received the message that there will be no consequences for their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. They've detained former President Mohamed Morsi, committed two mass killings of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and are now warning that the prolonged Islamist sit-in protesting the military's actions will be cleared. Expect more bloodshed soon--all backed up by the military aid the U.S., AIPAC and Israel ensured will continue to flow.

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