Funding Illegal Israeli Settlements
The Minnesota State Board of Investment is honor bound when it invests monies from Minnesota’s public employee pension funds. Each of the Board members, which includes Governor Mark Dayton (Chair), State Auditor Rebecca Otto, Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Lori Swanson know, or should know, that by investing in Israel Bonds the Board has violated its fiduciary responsibility to only invest public pension funds prudently. Israel Bonds are government bonds issued by the State of Israel.
Earlier this month I appeared before the Board members to urge them not to invest in Israel Bonds. Immediately after I ended my presentation, the Governor handed the other Board members a previously prepared written motion to continue investing the state’s pension funds in Israel Bonds. All of us in the packed hearing room understood that my testimony had been wasted. Facing members of the pro-Israel Lobby who had been seated in the front row, three of the four board members voted to invest. Only the State Auditor, Rebecca Otto, voted against the motion.
I’ve seen this pressure before. It usually consists of a subliminal threat by the pro-Israel Lobby to cut off any campaign money to those who defy what the Lobby wants. That is the same kind of threat that allowed Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to travel to the United States to dictate to our Congress how American foreign policy should be conducted. I believe that the 36 standing ovations for Bibi and the 47 Republican Senatorial signatures on the letter to Iran were eager messages to the Israeli Lobby telling them how much Congress appreciated the campaign money given each election cycle to its obedient members. When I served in the US Senate I well remember the threats directed against me for not being obedient enough to the Lobby.
The Board of Investment’s vote to use Minnesota pensioners’ money to buy the low-yield bonds issued by Israel is, without question, highly imprudent and illegal, especially because the Board knows how the money will be used. American money plunged into Israel Bond sales is fungible, meaning that the money is lumped into Israel’s General Fund, and then used for anything Israel wants, without restriction. That also means that the money sent to Israel is used for settlements. Israel’s settlements are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupier from transferring any part of its civilian population into the territory it occupies. Article 49 was adopted by the international community after WWII as a direct response to Nazi Germany’s illegal and brutal occupation of lands belonging to its neighbors. Both the United States and Israel have signed the Fourth Geneva Convention. Even the United States Government has acknowledged that Israel’s settlements are illegal.
Beyond just exploiting American elected officials in their political zeal to become complicit in financing illegal Israeli settlements by using money from taxpayer funded public employee pension plans to do so, Israel has a long history of inflicting damage on American interests. During the 1967 Middle East War, Israel’s military attacked and attempted to sink a fully flagged American Navy vessel—the USS Liberty—which had been ordered to monitor the War by assuming a listening post off the coast of Egypt and Israel. Using fighter jets, as well as torpedo boats, Israel killed 34 American sailors and wounded another 171 sailors in the process.
What was painful for the survivors and the families of those Americans killed and wounded by Israel were the duplicitous actions of our own public officials, starting with President Lyndon Johnson, by refusing to allow fighter jets of the Sixth Fleet to come to the aid of the Liberty when it was under attack and working to cover up evidence of Israel’s deliberate attack on our ship and the killing and wounding of our sailors.
That wasn’t the last injury against American interests by our so called “ally.” In the 1970s, Israel recruited and paid a Pentagon employee, Jonathan Pollard, to sell to Israel a “truckload of secret documents,” as described by our then Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger.
More recently, a Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, was indicted by the Justice Department in 2004 for handing over classified information on Iran to two employees of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the leading lobby for Israel. Franklin, a former United States Department of Defense employee, pleaded guilty to several espionage-related charges and was initially sentenced in January 2006 to nearly 13 years in prison. Amazingly, Franklin’s sentence was later reduced to ten months house arrest and 100 hours of community service. In reducing his sentence, the Judge told Franklin that his community service should consist of “speaking to young people about the importance of public officials obeying the law.”
Franklin had passed highly classified information to AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman, whom AIPAC later fired. Initially indicted for illegally conspiring to gather and disclose classified national security information to Israel, all charges against Rosen and Weissman were eventually dismissed.
These are just a few examples that we know about where Israel’s activities have seriously damaged United States interests. What we do not know, including the extent of the duplicity of our public servants, would most likely fill the pages of a book.
Not only is the Investment Board’s action imprudent and illegal with respect to giving Minnesota retirees’ money to a country that has never hesitated in harming America’s interests and will use the money to violate international law, it also tells Israel that it can do what it wishes, without paying any penalty, and that it can even get the United States to pay the price for it.
The Minnesota Investment Board should obey the law whether or not Israel’s Lobby dislikes that decision.
James Abourezk is a former US senator from South Dakota. He is the author of: Advise and Dissent: Memoirs of an ex-Senator.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he did not commit to freezing settlement construction during his meeting with US President Barack Obama and that he will reject any agreement with the Palestinians that does not meet Israel’s security needs.
Israel Radio quoted Netanyahu on Friday, on his way back to Israel, telling Israeli journalists that he considered extending the negotiating period between the Israelis and Palestinians in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework agreement unlikely to make a difference for the Israeli coalition government, as most of its members reject the idea of establishing a Palestinian state.
He added that he will reject any agreement with the Palestinians that “does not meet Israel’s needs and poses a threat to its security, even if there are attempts to impose such an agreement on Israel.”
Netanyahu refused the possibility of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank territories if the negotiations fail, stating that he does not prefer this possibility and that “the unilateral withdrawals (from south Lebanon and the Gaza Strip) have not justified themselves nor did they provide security stability for Israel”.
Netanyahu returned to Israel today following his visit to the US which started on Sunday in which he met with Obama in the White House and gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Tuesday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced, while receiving a delegation from the Israeli left-wing party Meretz a few days ago, that he is not opposed to extending the negotiations period, but demands that settlement construction is suspended and prisoners are released.
Below are the remarks of US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew before the 2014 Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC) These are clearly the remarks of the banker for the Empire. It should be noted that Lew’s remarks on Ukraine appear to be in line with those of Rand Paul and though Lew’s comments clearly show that he considers Israel as the 51st, and most important state, his views on sanctions are more moderate than those of Rand.
Read the remarks only if you have a strong stomach. Note the re-introduction of the IMF as key financial enforcer. During a stop over in SF, Lew admitted that the IMF is a tool of the US.
I want to thank President Kassen, incoming President Cohen, the Board of Directors, and everyone for inviting me here today. There are so many familiar faces in this room—friends of many years from my time in Washington, New York, and around the country. It is truly wonderful to be with you.
Before turning to the focus of my remarks, let me say that we are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine with grave concern. As President Obama told President Putin yesterday, Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity is a breach of international law. I have spoken several times to the Ukrainian Prime Minister who assures me that the government is prepared to take the necessary steps to build a secure economic foundation, including urgently needed market reforms that will restore financial stability, unleash economic potential, and allow Ukraine’s people to better achieve their economic aspirations.
The United States is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth, if the new government implements the necessary reforms.
An IMF program should be the centerpiece of the international assistance package, and the United States is prepared to supplement IMF support in order to make successful reform implementation more likely and to cushion the impact of needed reforms on vulnerable Ukrainians.
Now the reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable. And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism—you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in. This is not just your right as Americans. It is your responsibility. It is the essence of our democratic system.
And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel. This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.
In fact, in 1948, it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize the Jewish state of Israel. And from then on, the American-Israel relationship has not been a Democratic cause or a Republican cause, it has been an American cause.
President Obama has remained true to this proud legacy since the first day he took office, and he has made it clear that for him and for this Administration, America’s commitment to Israel is ironclad. As he said as President-elect, before he even took office: “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.” And he has never wavered from that position.
Like the President, Israel’s security is not only a public policy conviction for me, it is a personal one. As many of you know, no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for the state of Israel than I did. And I have no doubt that a strong and secure Israel is vital to America’s strength and America’s security.
As we meet, America’s support for Israel’s security has never been stronger. And over the next three days, you’re going to hear about all the things that the Administration is doing to advance Israel’s security—from promoting a lasting peace with the Palestinians to preserving Israel’s military edge so it can protect itself against any threat.
Today, I will discuss one of the most pressing national security concerns for Israel and the United States—and that is Iran’s nuclear program.
Let us not forget that when President Obama took office, Iran was strengthening its position throughout the region and the international community was unable to provide a unified response. But because of President Obama’s leadership, Congressional actions, American diplomacy, which AIPAC has supported, we put in place a historic sanctions regime and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.
Initially, many claimed sanctions on Iran would never work, but we have proven exactly the opposite. From the beginning, this sanctions program has had one purpose: Persuade Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. There can be no alternative.
To be clear, we never imposed sanctions just for the sake of imposing sanctions. We did it to isolate Iran and sharpen the choice for the regime in Tehran. And we did it by bringing the community of nations together. We are talking about China, Russia, India, Japan, Europe, Canada, South Korea, and the list goes on.
Having the international community united in opposition to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon made an enormous difference.
We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history. And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program. Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January.
Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back.
The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program. Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is—and will remain—exclusively peaceful.
This deal will only be acceptable if we are certain that Iran could not threaten Israel or any other nation with a nuclear weapon.
Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place. Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate. And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with. Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.
Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed. I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation. And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.
This is as much a strategic obligation as it is a moral one. You see, maintaining the sanctions regime that has crippled Iran’s economy requires international cooperation. No amount of U.S. sanctions would have the same crippling power as this international effort. For other nations to continue to remain steadfast with us, they need to know that we have given negotiations every chance to succeed. And if the moment comes when we have to use force, the whole world needs to understand that we did everything possible to achieve change through diplomacy.
To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation. We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective. But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.
Now, in the next two days or so, you may hear some say that the very narrow relief in the interim agreement has unraveled the sanctions regime or eased the choke-hold on Iran’s economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I want to take a few moments to go through a few basic facts.
The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully. And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited—totaling an estimated $7 billion. To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.
Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program. The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports. It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks. The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks. The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.
I want to underscore that Iran’s access to this limited relief is neither immediate nor instantaneous. It will be provided in separate installments on a rolling basis over the six-month period of the Joint Plan, and it will only flow if Iran demonstrates week by week that it continues to comply with its agreement to freeze and rollback its enrichment program.
Other measures amount to less than $2 billion — the limited suspension of sanctions on the export of plastics, the import of parts for Iran’s automotive sector, and tuition assistance for students studying abroad. And the core architecture that makes the program work, oil and financial sanctions, remains in effect fully.
If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place. And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.
The bottom-line is: Promises are not enough—Iran must meet its obligations. This is not a case of trust and verify. This is a case of verify everything.
No matter what, Iran’s economy will continue to feel severe economic pressure from our ongoing sanctions regime. For example, our oil sanctions that remain in place have forced Iran’s oil exports to drop by more than 60 percent over the last two years. And we will continue to enforce them.
All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world.
The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.
Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong. After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators. This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize.
But the slight improvements in these indicators only mean that a badly wounded economy is not getting worse. It does not mean the economy is getting better. And it certainly does not mean that the Joint Plan has led to a recovery.
Further, if Iran fails to reach a deal with us, business and consumer confidence will quickly erode as will many of the gains the economy has seen over the last few months.
Iran’s economy suffered a serious blow from sanctions, and the impact of sanctions is not being reversed. Iran’s economy remains in the same state of distress that brought the government to the table in the first place. Imagine how any economy would feel, if, by a recovery, it meant leveling off at the bottom of a recession. That is what is happening in Iran today.
There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery. It is a drop in the bucket. In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales.
What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations. This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community. Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.
Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action. For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism. As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will—and I quote—“come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
I have personally delivered that message to hundreds of business and banking executives in America and around the world, and we are in regular contact with our international partners—including Israel—to sustain the pressure on Iran’s government.
On top of that, our enforcement officials at the Treasury Department who have been responsible for crafting and implementing this historic sanctions regime have been traveling around the world and putting their expertise and unremitting effort to bear to keep Iran isolated.
Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force. Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.
In closing, let me say, this is a time of great uncertainty. But during difficult times like these, the bonds between the United States and Israel do not grow weaker, they grow stronger.
The U.S.-Israel relationship, which is rooted in our shared story of people yearning to be masters of their own destiny, is as vibrant as ever. And that vibrancy is very much on display here. As I look out across this room, I am reminded of how every year hundreds of young people come to this conference from every corner of the United States. They travel to our nation’s capital because of their boundless hope, their sense of duty, and their unshakeable belief that the future can be brighter, better, more prosperous and more secure. And I am confident that by all of us working together, we can make that happen.
The US Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, has told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that all options against Iran “remain on the table.”
Lew, who is the highest ranking Jewish member of the administration of President Barack Obama, made the remarks on the opening day of AIPAC’s annual meeting which began on Sunday in Washington, D.C., and will end on Tuesday.
He also assured the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the US that “the vast majority of” Washington’s sanctions against Iran “remain in place,” adding “all options remain on the table.”
“You may hear some say that the very narrow relief in the interim agreement has unraveled the sanctions regime or eased the choke-hold on Iran’s economy,” Lew said at AIPAC’s 2014 Policy Conference. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
In an interview with HuffPost Live earlier this year, Noam Chomsky said Washington’s threats of war against Iran are a violation of the United Nations Charter and there is no justification for the US sanctions against Iran as the US intelligence reports do not prove Iran is pursuing non-civilian purposes in its nuclear energy program.
AIPAC is currently pressing the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Iran. Prior to its annual meeting, the lobby group distributed a position paper to congressional offices that demanded the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear energy program in order for a final agreement to be reached between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US – plus Germany.
AIPAC also released a letter from a bipartisan group of senators to Obama, which said US Congress needed “to rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions” against Iran.
This comes as a new study published by The Iran Project shows that new sanctions against Iran sought by hawkish senators on Capitol Hill would undermine the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear energy program and “would increase the probability of war.”
Iran and the P5+1 group signed an interim nuclear agreement in Geneva, Switzerland, last November. The deal is aimed at setting the stage for the full resolution of the West’s decade-old standoff with Tehran over its nuclear energy program.
In exchange for Iran’s confidence-building bid to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities, the six world powers agreed to lift some of the existing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The two sides continued their talks in the Austrian capital Vienna last month in order to reach a final agreement. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, the talks concluded on February 20 with “an agreement on the framework and plan of action for the comprehensive nuclear talks.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already stated that Iran’s nuclear energy program “will remain intact” while the country is willing to address international concerns about its nuclear activities.
Israel is often viewed by Washington politicians as the most ‘stable’ ally in the Middle East. But stability from the American perspective can mean many things. Lead amongst them is that the ‘ally’ must be unconditionally loyal to the diktats of the US administration. This rule has proven to be true since the United States claimed a position of ascendency, if not complete hegemony over many regions of the world since World War II. Israel, however, remained an exception.
The rules by which US-Israeli relations are governed are perhaps the most bewildering of all foreign policies of any two countries.
An illustration of this would be to consider these comments by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon quoted in the Israeli news portal Ynetnews. “The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said, referring to efforts underway since July by American Secretary of State John Kerry, “who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor.” Kerry “cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians,” said Ya’alon.
So far, Kerry has made ten trips to the Middle East with the intention of hammering out an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Based on media reports, it seems that the potential agreement is composed in such a way that it mostly accommodates Israel’s ‘security’ whims and obsessions, including a proposal to keep eastern West Bank regions and the Jordan Valley under Israeli military control. In fact, there is growing interest in the idea of ‘land swaps” which was floated by Israel’s notorious Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ten years ago.
“When Mr. Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians’ West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand,” wrote the Economist on Jan. 18. “Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible ‘transfer’ plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state.”
Those days are long gone, as Israeli society drifted rightward. “Even some dovish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable.” Back then, the Americans themselves were irked, even if just publically, whenever such ideas of ‘population transfers’ and ethnic cleansing were presented by Israel’s ultra-right politicians. Now, the Americans find them malleable and a departure point for discussion. And it’s Kerry himself who is leading the American efforts to accommodate Israel’s endless list of demands – of security and racial exclusiveness even if at the expense of Palestinians. So why is Ya’alon unhappy?
The Defense Minister, who sat immediately next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Kerry, was unapologetic about his reasoning: “Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the River Jordan will endure.” It means unrelenting Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu is hardly an innocent bystander in all of this, although for diplomatic reasons he often entrusts his government minions to deliver such messages. The Prime Minister is busy issuing more orders to populate the occupied West Bank with Jewish settlements, and berating every government that rejects such insidious behavior as being anti-Israel, ‘pro-Palestinian’ or worse, anti-Semitic. This was the case again in recent days following another announcement of settlement expansion.
On Jan. 17, Netanyahu called on Europe to stop its “hypocrisy”. On the same day, Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy and Spain, “accusing their countries of pro-Palestinian bias,” reported the BBC online. According to the ministry, the “perpetual one-sided stance” of these countries is unacceptable.
Yet, considering that Europe has supported Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories for decades, economically sustained the ‘Jewish state’ and its over 100 illegal Jewish settlements, and continue with its often unconditional military support of Israel, the accusations may appear strange and equally bewildering to that of Ya’alon against John Kerry.
How could a country the size of Israel have so much sway over the world’s greatest powers, where it gets what it wants and more, hurls regular insults against its sustainers, and still asks for more?
European countries found themselves in Israel’s firing line because a day earlier, the four EU countries took the rare step of summoning Israeli ambassadors to object to the Netanyahu government’s latest announcement of illegal settlement expansion (that of an additional 1,400 new homes). EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton even went to the extent of calling the settlements “an obstacle to peace”, although hardly an advanced position considering that Israel’s colonial project in Palestine has been in motion for 46 years.
But even that is too much from the Israeli point of view. “The EU calls our ambassadors in because of the construction of a few houses?” Netanyahu asked as if baffled by a seemingly foreboding act, in a Jan 16 press conference. He even had the audacity to say this: “This imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace,” and also this, “I think it pushes peace further away because it tells the Palestinians: ‘Basically you can do anything you want, say anything you want and you won’t be held accountable.”
There is no sense in arguing with Netanyahu’s strange logic, but the question regarding Israel’s stronghold over the US and EU remains more pressing than ever, especially when one considers the ruckus in US Congress. No, the congress is not revolting because of the unmitigated power of the Zionist lobby, but for something far more interesting.
There seems to be a level of confusion in US Congress because members of the Senate are yet to feel serious pressure by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over a bill that proposes more sanctions on Iran.
“The powerful pro-Israel lobby has not engaged in a shoe-leather lobbying campaign to woo wayward senators and push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule a vote on the bill. While the group supports the bill — authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — it is not yet putting its political muscle behind a push for an immediate vote,” reported Politico, citing key senators and their aides.
To say the least, it is disturbing that the US Senate is completely bewildered that AIPAC, which lobbies for the interest of a foreign power, is yet to provide its guidelines regarding the behavior of America’s supposedly most respected political representatives.
“I don’t know where AIPAC is. I haven’t talked to anybody,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
This alone should shed some light on the seemingly bewildering question of the ‘strong bond’ and ‘stable’ alliance of Israel and the US – and to a lesser degree EU countries. This is not to suggest that Israel has complete dominance over US foreign policy in the Middle East, but to ignore Israel’s indispensable role in shaping the outlook of US foreign policy is dishonest and inconsistent with the facts, to put it mildly.
– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).
The American people should know that pending right now in Congress is a bipartisan bill that would virtually commit the United States to go to war against Iran if Israel attacks the Islamic Republic. “The bill outsources any decision about resort to military action to the government of Israel,” Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick wrote to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in protest, one of the bill’s principal sponsors.
The mind boggles at the thought that Congress would let a foreign government decide when America goes to war, so here is the language (PDF):
If the government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people and existence.
This section is legally nonbinding, but given the clout of the bill’s chief supporter outside of Congress — the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC [PDF]), leader of the pro-Israel lobby — that is a mere formality.
Since AIPAC wants this bill passed, it follows that so does the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes American negotiations with Iran and has repeatedly threatened to attack the Islamic Republic. Against all evidence, Netanyahu insists the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is to build a weapon with which to attack Israel. Iran says its facilities, which are routinely inspected, are for peaceful civilian purposes: the generation of electricity and the production of medical isotopes.
The bill, whose other principal sponsors are Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), has a total of 26 Senate cosponsors. If it passes when the Senate reconvenes in January, it could provoke a historic conflict between Congress and President Obama, whose administration is engaged in negotiations with Iran at this time. Aside from declaring that the U.S. government should assist Israel if it attacks Iran, the bill would also impose new economic sanctions on the Iranian people. Obama has asked the Senate not to impose additional sanctions while his administration and five other governments are negotiating with Iran on a permanent settlement of the nuclear issue.
A six-month interim agreement is now in force, one provision of which prohibits new sanctions on Iran. “The [Menendez-Schumer-Kirk] bill allows Obama to waive the new sanctions during the current talks by certifying every 30 days that Iran is complying with the Geneva deal and negotiating in good faith on a final agreement,” Ali Gharib writes at Foreign Policy magazine. That would effectively give Congress the power to undermine negotiations. As Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, told Time magazine, if Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they are delayed for six months, “The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress.”
Clearly, the bill is designed to destroy the talks with Iran, which is bending over backward to demonstrate that its nuclear program has no military aims.
Netanyahu and Israel’s American supporters in and out of Congress loathe the prospect of an American-Iranian rapprochement after 34 years of U.S.-Israeli covert and proxy war against Iran, whose 1979 Islamic revolution followed a quarter-century of brutality at the hands of a U.S.-backed monarch. The Israeli government, AIPAC, and the Republicans and Democrats who do their bidding in Congress are on record opposing any agreement that would leave intact Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, even at low levels for peaceful civilian purposes. But insisting that Iran cease all enrichment of uranium is equivalent to obliterating any chance of a peaceful settlement with Iran and making war more likely. That’s what this bill is all about.
Americans should refuse to let Congress give Israel the power to drag the United States into war. American and Israeli intelligence agencies say repeatedly that Iran has no nuclear-weapons program. Though Iran champions the Palestinians, who live under Israeli occupation, it has not threatened Israel, which, remember, is itself a nuclear power.
But even if Iran were a threat to Israel, that would not warrant letting any foreign government dictate when we go to war.
Dual-citizen nominee’s lifetime benefit to Israel comes at a heavy cost to America
The rushed campaign to insert Stanley Fischer straight from his position leading Israel’s central bank into the number two spot at the Federal Reserve has allowed little time for research into the appointee’s career or for informed public debate about his record. Like the failed recent Obama administration-Israel lobby pincer move to ram approval for U.S. military strikes on Syria through Congress, avoiding such due diligence through velocity may actually be the only means for successful Senate confirmation.
Some of Fischer’s accomplishments – from co-authoring a seminal textbook on macroeconomics to handling economic crisis at the IMF have – not surprisingly – been recalled by his many supporters. Other doings that shed light on Fischer’s controversial attributes – such as overhauling how U.S. aid and trade packages are delivered to Israel – have been mostly ignored. Appointing an openly dual Israeli-American citizen into the most important central bank in the world could be a watershed moment. While the doors of federal government have long swung open for Israel-lobby appointees focusing most – if not all – their energies on advancing the interests of a foreign state, any who were actually Israeli dual citizens have traditionally kept that a closely-guarded secret. Fischer’s long-term boosters, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), likely want to accustom Americans to openly dual citizens circulating between top roles in the U.S. and Israeli governments. A closer examination of Fischer reveals that average Americans have good reason to oppose his appointment, because his lifelong achievements for Israel have imposed high costs and few benefits to the United States while making peace more difficult to achieve.
Stanley Fischer was born in Northern Rhodesia in 1943. He studied at London School of Economics and received a PhD in economics from MIT. He taught and chaired the MIT economics department and co-authored a leading macroeconomics textbook with Rudiger Dornbusch. Fischer joined the World Bank in 1988 and became the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1994. He oversaw emergency bailout lending and austerity programs over Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil and Argentina. High flying Citigroup – under the helm of Sanford “Sandy” Weill – recruited Fischer in 2002. There he rose to become vice president with a seven-figure pay package.
Fischer has not only been an ardent supporter of Israel, his professional efforts began when he took sabbatical leave to Israel in 1972 and 1976-1977. He was a visiting scholar at the Bank of Israel in 1980. More importantly for Israel, Stanley Fischer won an appointment to the Reagan administration’s U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Discussion Group that dealt with Israel’s 1984-1985 economic crisis. In October of 1984, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres arrived in Washington asking an initially reluctant Reagan Administration for an additional $1.5 billion in U.S. emergency funding – over and above the already-promised aid $5.6 billion aid package.1 The help amounted to U.S. taxpayers funding each Israeli citizen $1,650. Another key component of the plan called for a largely unilateral lowering of U.S. tariffs and trade barriers to Israel, a program initially called “Duty Free Treatment for U.S. Imports from Israel” but later repackaged and sold as America’s first “free trade” agreement. Over time the FTA reversed a previously balanced U.S.-Israel trading relationship for one that has produced a cumulative deficit to the U.S. that passed $100 billion in 2013. Seventy American industry groups opposed to the give-away in 1984 were disenfranchised when Israeli Economics Minister Dan Halpern and AIPAC illegally obtained a classified compendium of their industry, market and trade secrets to use against them in lobbying and public relations. An FBI espionage and theft of government property investigation was quashed before it could narrow in on those inside the U.S. government who delivered the secrets to Halpern.
The U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Discussion Group fundamentally transformed U.S. aid to Israel forever. Before the Reagan administration, most U.S. aid to Israel took the form of loans that had to be repaid with interest. After the input of Fischer’s team, subsequent U.S. aid was delivered in the form of outright grants paid directly from the U.S. Treasury – never to be repaid or conditioned when Israel took actions the U.S. opposed.
Like many of Fischer’s later IMF austerity programs, the Joint Discussion Group initially announced that strings attached to the aid would make it temporary. Secretary of State George Shultz insisted during a 1985 address to AIPAC that “Israel must pull itself out of its present economic trauma …. No one can do it for them … our help will be of little avail if Israel does not take the necessary steps to cut government spending, improve productivity, open up its economy and strengthen the mechanisms of economic policy. Israel and its government must make the hard decisions.”manifesto for Israeli regional hegemony. They remain among the few unimplemented tasks in a plan that called for military action against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.Shultz wanted to make the huge American cash transfer conditional on major Israeli economic reforms, but intense AIPAC lobbying in Congress threatened to make the State Department influence irrelevant. In the end, Congress delivered aid without Israeli sacrifices, such as selling off bloated state-owned industries and spending belt-tightening. The proposed privatization of $5 billion in state enterprises threatened too much bureaucratic “turf” and too many jobs, so Israel put them on hold. Fischer apologetically characterized the Likud years as a “wasted opportunity by a government that should have known better.” Not until 1996 were Fischer’s proscribed economic remedies adopted by American neoconservative consultants to Benjamin Netanyahu as minor points in the “Clean Break”
Despite the absence of any real economic reforms that would take Israel off the American taxpayer dole, Fischer co-wrote a blustering 1986 article for the Wall Street Journal called “Israel Has Made Aid Work” that AIPAC circulated widely as an official memorandum of its achievements. “Israel is the largest single recipient of economic aid from the U.S. This is partly because the economic stability of Israel is uncertain and is important to U.S. national interests. Therefore a report on the progress of the Israeli economy is relevant to policy decisions to be made here.” Fischer never bothered to substantiate his premise, that U.S. national interests were somehow served by the bailout or that any aid given to Israel produced tangible benefits. Instead Fischer delivered a fusillade of dry and all but unreadable statistics about Israel’s temporary economic performance. Issues of long-term importance to most Americans, such as returning U.S. aid to the traditional format of loans to be repaid and the likely impact of the FTA on U.S. jobs went unaddressed by Fischer. Fischer’s core achievement – that the transformation of aid from loans to outright taxpayer give-aways – has been unchanged since 1986. The premises behind this ever-increasing entitlement and one-sided FTA performance are likewise never reexamined by Congress – despite the fact that a majority of polled Americans have come to oppose aid increases to Israel. Fischer’s rare admonitions that Israel be held to account, unlike like the economies he transformed through biting IMF austerity programs, have remained nothing more than lip service.
At the end of 2004 Israel’s U.N. ambassador recruited Fischer to become the head of Israel’s central bank, asking, “Why not be our governor?”3 Fischer accepted and initially provided endless amusement to reporters by insisting on speaking Hebrew during press conferences and refusing to speak English. Initial concerns that Fischer’s global stature and experience would overshadow and chafe the relevant players in Israel proved unfounded as Fischer moved energetically into his new role. AIPAC continued to trumpet Fischer’s accomplishments steering Israel through the global financial crisis, though beneath the surface he was performing far more serious tasks for Israel and its global lobby.
As Bank of Israel governor, Stanley Fischer played a central role in coordinating the implementation of AIPAC-generated sanctions against Iran – ostensibly over its nuclear program. Stuart Levey, the head of the U.S. Treasury Department’s division for “Terrorism and Financial Intelligence,” an office created after heavy AIPAC lobbying, met often with Fischer in Israel alongside the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and chiefs of both the Mossad and Shin Bet to explore how to “supplement” UN sanctions and end-run Russian and Chinese opposition. The Levey-Fischer strategy was “to work outside the context of the Security Council to engage the private sector and let it know about the risks of doing business with Tehran” particularly against European banks that had only partially drawn back their business dealings with Iran. In 2010, Israel dispatched Fischer to meet with Chinese and Russian “counterparts” in order to financially isolate Iran.
Fischer’s final official duties for the Israeli government included drilling for “big crisis” scenarios – specifically, Fischer told an Israeli television station – the unavoidable financial fallout of a military attack on Iran.“We do plans, we do scenarios, we do exercises about how the central [bank] will work in various situations.” After years targeting Iran, Fischer became convinced in his final months in Israel that sanctions alone were not enough to collapse its economy. Fischer reluctantly concluded that even as Iranian economic prospects “continue to go down” the country would likely “find a way to continue to keep economic life going.”
Fischer suddenly resigned and left the Bank of Israel on June 30, before completing his second five-year term.
Israelis into the Fed and then where?
The last time Fischer’s name was floated to lead a major organization was during a rushed Bush administration attempt at damage control. In 2007, the controversial architect of the Iraq invasion and later World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was engulfed in an ethics scandal over his pay and promotion package for Shaha Ali Riza. In two short years leading the institution, Wolfowitz catalyzed the alienation of most divisions within the bank and the distrust of economics ministries around the world. Fischer, along with Robert Zoellick and Robert Kimmitt and a handful of others, was considered as an emergency replacement while the administration and stakeholders strategized on how to ease Wolfowitz out with a minimum of scandal.In the end, Fischer stayed put in Israel.
It came as a surprise to many when the Wall Street Journal and Israel’s Channel 2 news simultaneously reported in early December 2013 that the White House was “close to nominating” Fischer to be appointee Janet Yellen’s second-in-command at the U.S. central bank.Audit the Fed” is also put up for a vote.Media reports initially indicated that Fischer’s candidacy-to-Senate-confirmation would proceed on greased skids – with no Senate debate – taking only a week so that the pair could quickly take over the Fed in January. However, the Senate concluded its 2013 business without taking up the matter. The earliest date the measure could be put up for a vote is January 6, 2014. Even that date might slip since Senator Rand Paul and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell plan to delay the vote unless a long-languishing measure to “
This rushed approach has meant relatively little reporting on the deeper implications of having an openly dual Israeli-American citizen a heartbeat away from Fed chairmanship. That is unfortunate, since Israel and its U.S. supporters have many hidden reasons for wanting stronger influence at the Fed that they would likely prefer not to discuss.
That the Fed is a key player in Iran sanctions implementation is certainly no secret. The Fed has been an equal partner in levying hundreds of millions in fines against foreign banks such as R.B.S, Barclays, Standard and Chartered and H.S.B.C. which were charged with violating the Iran sanctions regime. Although AIPAC never mentions it, American exporters have been seriously hurt by sanctions on Iran and the punitive secondary boycott. A coalition representing the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, Coalition for American Trade, the National Foreign Trade Council and others urged Congress not to enact sanctions provisions they estimated would cost $25 billion and 210,000 American jobs. (pdf) Keeping such a costly regime in place despite thawing relations and any hard evidence of an Iranian nuclear weaponization program has therefore required immense ongoing efforts by Israel lobbying groups.
An equally important target for Fischer and Israel may be – somewhat ironically given their pro-boycott programs – anti-boycott activities. In the 1970-80s the Federal Reserve played an active “moral suasion” role chastising and corralling U.S. banks away from any activity that Israel construed as compliant with the Arab League economic boycott. An expert with deep experience enforcing the international boycott of Iran, Fischer is likely aware of the many active American grass-roots campaigns aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinians through targeted boycotts. These boycotts range from efforts to get retailers to stop carrying manufactured goods produced in the occupied West Bank (Ahava and Soda Stream), to overturning contracts with firms providing services in occupied territories (Veolia), to academic boycotts and even efforts to get labor union pensions to divest from Israel bonds. Working more closely with Israel and AIPAC, the Fed could become a vital node for reinterpreting and enforcing old or new laws aimed at outlawing and punishing groups organizing such grass-roots activities by targeting U.S. bank accounts and freezing their financial flows.
Fischer may also want to launch “exercises” to prepare the U.S. financial system for the fallout of Israeli military attacks on Iran. New bills in Congress drafted by AIPAC call not only for additional sanctions aimed at thwarting a fledgling deal on Iran’s nuclear program (favored 2-to-1 by Americans). AIPAC’s bill forces the U.S. to “have Israel’s back” in the event of a unilateral Israeli strike. If Israel has already decided to attack Iran, it would benefit immensely from having Fischer inside the Fed, protecting the financial flows Israel now regards as all but a birthright from its primary global underwriter. Less well-known is the Fed’s authority to authorize foreign bank acquisitions. Any future Israeli campaign to further entwine its banks into the U.S. financial system through acquisitions would likely find a much more welcoming regulator in Fischer.
Whatever the real motivation for Fischer’s sudden, inexplicably rushed insertion into the Federal Reserve, it is also worthwhile to note longstanding Fed policies have correctly considered U.S. citizenship to be preferable for at least one key position, “because of the special nature of the supervisory function, the need to ensure confidentiality of information, and the delegated nature of the function.” Unfortunately, that policy preference covers only Fed bank examiners rather than top leadership – the Federal Reserve Act is silent on the wisdom of installing a revolving door for returning U.S. citizens who took on dual citizenship as a condition of serving a foreign government.
AIPAC, Fischer’s co-author of harmful U.S. economic policies on behalf of Israel, likely sees the Fischer appointment as an important test case to assess American tolerance for openly dual Israeli-American citizens running key U.S. federal agencies. In 2009 former AIPAC research director Martin Indyk, who was at the center of AIPAC’s research division during the FTA push, said that “the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement served as a wedge that opened up the Congress to free trade agreements across the world, including the NAFTA agreement.” Likewise, if Fischer can be “wedged” into the Fed, it begs the question of why former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and historian Michael Oren could not someday lead the Near East division of the State Department. From AIPAC’s perspective, having qualified Israelis directly run key divisions of the U.S. Treasury such as Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, rather than indirectly through AIPAC-vetted appointees such as Stuart Levey and his hand-picked successor David Cohen, could probably boost the volume of taxpayer give-aways while improving coordination with Israel. Given AIPAC and Israel’s overly large influence on U.S. military initiatives in the region, the lobby may now feel the moment is right for appointing Israeli generals into the Joint Chiefs at the Department of Defense. This, AIPAC may well reason, would be much more convenient than constantly arranging visiting Israeli military and intelligence delegations that increasingly serve as sole briefers (rather than DoD or the American intelligence community) of members of the US Congress.
Soon after word of his Fed nomination spread, Fischer again made uncharacteristically harsh statements about Israel at an NYU Law School forum. As reported in The Jewish Week, Fischer told the audience that Israel is not seeking peace “to the extent that it should” and that it is “divided between those who want to settle the West Bank and those who seek peace.” Fischer – who had every chance to pull U.S. and Israeli financial levers that could have forced Israel out of occupied territories or forced compliance with International law – never did. Adding to suspicion that the statement was simply more empty “lip service” aimed at building popular support among Americans tired of war, was the reporter of the quote – former AIPAC lobbyist Douglas Bloomfield. In 1986 Bloomfield was grilled as a key suspect (pdf) in the 1985 FBI investigation of AIPAC for espionage during the FTA negations
If Americans were ever polled on it – and they never are – the majority who now object to increasing aid to Israel would also likely object to quasi-governmental and governmental positions being staffed by people who – by citizenship or sheer strength of identity politics – are primarily occupied with advancing Israeli interests rather than those of the United States. It is obvious that the real reason AIPAC and its economic luminaries such as Fischer never substantiate any of the advertised benefits the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” delivers to America in return for all of the costs is simple – there simply aren’t any. As greater numbers of Americans become aware that the entire “special relationship” framework is sustained by nothing more than Israel lobby campaign-finance and propaganda networks, the harder the lobby will have to work to forcibly wedge operatives like Fischer into positions where they can thwart growing public opposition – whether it takes the form of boycotts or grassroots opposition to the U.S. fighting more wars for Israel. In the very short term, Americans can only fight such undue Israel lobby influence by again – like during the drive to attack Syria – staging a mass action to demand their senators reject Stanley Fischer’s nomination.
- Oberdorfer, Don “Will U.S. Dollars Fix Israel’s Economy?” Washington Post, June 9 1985.
- Passell, Peter “Need Zionism Equal Socialism?” New York Times, July 2, 1992.
- Maital, Shlomo “Stanley Fischer: the man and the plan,” Jerusalem Report, February 7, 2005.
- BBC Monitoring Middle East, March 5, 2007.
- Keinon, Herb “Russia won’t back crippling sanctions.” Comment comes day before high-level US-Israel meeting on Iran. Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2010.
- Williams, Dan “Iran Stepping Up Its Atomic Efforts,” The Gazette, August 13, 2012.
- “Bank of Israel governor: Sanctions won’t collapse Iran economy.” Islamic Republic will likely find way to ‘keep economic life going,’ says Fischer in interview with CNBC, Jerusalem Post, October 24, 2012.
- Weisman, Steven R. “Wolfowitz Said to Push for Deal to Let Him Quit,” New York Times, May 17, 2007.
- “Fischer set to be tapped as vice chair of US Federal Reserve,” Times of Israel, December 11, 2013.
Grant F. Smith is the author of America’s Defense Line: The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government.
Copies of the bill that Sens. Kirk, Menendez, and Schumer hope to introduce in the Senate this week — presumably to be pressed for passage after the Christmas/New Year recess — are circulating today around Washington, and, as predicted, it is clearly designed to sabotage last month’s first-phase deal (the Joint Plan of Action) on Tehran’s nuclear program, as well as prospects for a final agreement. The bill is called the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, although I would prefer to call it the Wag the Dog Act of 2014, given the implicit discretion it gives to Bibi Netanyahu to commit the U.S. to war with Iran. Its key provisions, as described by the sponsors, are laid out at the end of this post.
A couple of very quick observations about the bill first:
1) Despite its prospective application, it is definitely a sanctions bill and thus violates at least the spirit — if not the letter — of the Joint Plan of Action.
2) It requires that any final agreement include the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities — a condition, which Iran has made clear repeatedly, is a non-starter.
3) As noted below, it expresses a “Sense of Congress” that “America will have Israel’s back if Israel acts in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” (Mind you, not against an actual or imminent attack, but against “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” which, so far as Israel and the co-sponsors are concerned, Iran already has.) More specifically, the bill states:
…if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…
At least, Congress will have to approve an authorization to use military force (AUMF) before it can actually be employed.
4) As I’ve noted in past posts, the two main co-sponsors of this legislation are also two of the biggest recipients of campaign funding from “pro-Israel” political action committees (PACs) associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the U.S. Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website. By a wide margin, Kirk was the biggest recipient of pro-Israel PAC money in Congress since 2002; in his most recent campaign (2012), Menendez received more than $340,000 from pro-Israel Pacs, beating out all other Senate candidates. Schumer, a major rainmaker for other Democratic candidates (which poses a very serious challenge to the Obama administration in keeping his party in line on any vote on this bill) ranked fifth in his 2010 race at more than $260,000, far behind Kirk, the year’s winner at nearly $640,000. Let there be no doubt about it: this bill was approved by AIPAC and is thus as close to the position of the Israeli government as its followers here believe will be politically palatable. (Saudi Arabia will also be pleased.)
There will likely be much more meticulous analyses of the Wag the Dog Act of 2014 that will no doubt point up other highly problematic elements, but here’s the summary of the bill that’s circulating on Capitol Hill today:
Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013
I. Findings and Sense of Congress. The bill expresses the following key principles:
1) The Government of Iran must not be allowed to develop or maintain nuclear weapon capabilities, and all instruments of power and influence of the United States should remain on the table to prevent the Government of Iran from developing nuclear weapon capabilities;
2) The Government of Iran does not have an absolute or inherent right to enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and technologies under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
3) A violation by Iran of any interim or final agreement with respect to the nuclear program of Iran should result in the immediate imposition of economic sanctions;
4) The United States should continue to enforce sanctions on the Government of Iran and its terrorist proxies for their continuing sponsorship of terrorism, ongoing abuses of human rights, and actions in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria; and
5) America will have Israel’s back if Israel acts in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
II. New Contingency-Based Sanctions to Protect Against Iranian Deception
The bill does not violate the Joint Plan of Action. New sanctions would only be imposed if Iran violates the interim agreement or does not reach a final agreement regarding its nuclear program. Such deceptive Iranian behavior would be met with the following new sanctions:
A) Sanctions on Condensates, Fuel Oil and other Unfinished Oils from Iran. Requires a significant reduction in the import of all petroleum products extracted, produced or refined in Iran, including lease condensates, fuel oils and other unfinished oils on top of crude oil.
B) Reductions in purchases of Iranian petroleum to de minimis levels. To avoid sanctions, countries must at a minimum reduce their purchases of Iranian-based petroleum products by 30% within one year and further reduce purchases to de minimis levels within two years.
C) Strategic Sector Sanctions on Iran’s Engineering, Mining, and Construction Sectors. Expands business and financial sanctions targeting Iran’s strategic economic sectors to include Iran’s engineering, manufacturing, and mining sectors.
D) Sanctions on Foreign Exchange Transaction by Designated Iranian Actors. Imposes sanctions with respect to transactions in foreign currencies with or for the Central Bank of Iran, a designated financial institution, or a person that is part of a strategic sector of Iran.
E) Sanctions on Countries Illicitly Diverting Goods to Iran. Authorizes sanctions against countries permitting diversion of goods and services to Iran that may be used to make a material contribution to Iran’s development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons; ballistic missile or advanced conventional weapons capabilities; support for terrorism; or a strategic sector of Iran.
F) Sanctions on Human Rights Abusers, Sanctions Evaders & Other Illicit Actors. Requires visa denial and asset blocking of those enabling Iran to evade sanctions, as well as senior officials of the Office of the Supreme Leader, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the Council of Ministers, Ministries of Defenses and Justice, and others.
III. Suspension of Sanctions – Explaining the Contingencies
A) During the first 180 days of negotiations, the President can suspend the sanctions contained in this bill so long as he certifies to Congress every 30 days that—
- Iran is complying with and transparently, fully, and verifiably implementing the provisions of the Joint Plan of Action and Iran has not breached the terms of or any commitment made pursuant to the Plan;
- any suspension or relief of sanctions provided to Iran pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action are temporary, reversible, and proportionate to the specific and verifiable steps taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program and related weaponization activities;
- Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. persons or property;
- Iran has not conducted a ballistic missile test with a range exceeding 500 km; and
- the suspension of sanctions is vital to the national security of the United States.
B) After these 180 days are up, 2 additional 30 day periods –
- If the President certifies the above and certifies that a final agreement is imminent (and that such agreement will fully and verifiably dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology), sanctions can be delayed for another 30 days;
- Then, if the President certifies the above AND certifies that such a final agreement with Iran is still imminent, sanctions can be delayed for another 30-day period.
C) If after this total period of 240 days there still is no final agreement with Iran as described above, sanctions are re-imposed, but President can waive sanctions for 120 more days. The bill provides the President with four 30-day national security waivers to delay the sanctions – ending at the 1-year mark from the start date of this bill. Sanctions must be re-imposed thereafter.
D) If at any time the President cannot certify the criteria listed above (that is, Iran violates the interim agreement or no final agreement is imminent after 180 days) –
- sanctions waived or suspended under the interim agreement are re-imposed; and
- the new sanctions in this bill must be implemented.
E) If a final agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is reached –
- Subject to a Joint Resolution of Congressional Disapproval, the President may suspend new sanctions for one-year if he certifies to the Congress that a final and verifiable agreement has been reached with Iran that will
- i. dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology, such that Iran is precluded from a nuclear breakout capability and prevented from pursuing both uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon;
- ii. bring Iran into compliance with all United Nations Security Council resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program, including Resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), and 1929 (2010), with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the Security Council’s consideration of matters relating to Iran’s nuclear program;
- iii. resolve all issues of past and present concern with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program;
- iv. permit continuous, around the clock, on-site inspection, verification, and monitoring of all suspect facilities in Iran, including installation and use of any compliance verification equipment requested by the IAEA, so that any effort by Iran to produce a nuclear weapon would be quickly detected; and
- v. require Iran’s full implementation of and compliance with its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, including modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements to the Agreement, ratification and implementation of the Protocol Additional to the Agreement Between Iran and the IAEA for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, done at Vienna December 18, 2003 (commonly referred to as the ‘‘Additional Protocol’’), and Iran’s implementation of steps in addition to the Additional Protocol that include IAEA verification of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities, including raw materials and components, and Iran’s uranium mines and mills.
- If Congress enacts the Joint Resolution of Congressional Disapproval, any sanctions suspended under a final agreement would be re-imposed.
- Additional 1-Year Suspension PeriodsIf Congress does not disapprove, the President must still renew the suspension of sanctions every year by certifying that Iran is complying with the final agreement criteria described above.
IV. Expedited Processing of Religious Minorities Fleeing Iran: Re-authorizes the Lautenberg Amendment, which expired earlier this year, until September 30, 2014.
UPDATE: You can find a copy of the bill, as introduced Thursday, here.
Kirk Schumer Graham Cardin McCain Casey Rubio Coons Cornyn Blumenthal Ayotte Begich Corker Pryor Collins Landreiu Moran Gillibrand Roberts Warner Johanns Hagan Cruz Donnelly Blunt
The White House and all those who want to save the diplomatic track have their work cut out for them.
The Israel Lobby likes to say (and hear members of Congress saying it as well) that there isn’t an inch of daylight between Israel and U.S. political leaders. And that’s generally so. But I’ve just read a memo produced by Aipac which diverges from the Israeli government’s absolutist approach to Iranian nukes. Netanyahu’s position is that Iran must not have any enrichment capacity. Essentially, it must renounce its entire nuclear program.
This memo takes a different view:
Now that the P5+1 has inked an initial agreement with Iran, America must not only ensure full Iranian compliance but also insist that any final deal deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability.
…Congress has provided the leverage to spur Iran to seek talks; now it must press the administration to negotiate a verifiable agreement that will prevent Iran from ever building nuclear weapons.
Interestingly, this is precisely the Obama administration position. And the divergence between these two positions has caused no end of heartburn between Bibi and Barack. So why does Aipac take the president’s point of view on this and not Israel’s?
There are a number of reasons: first, because while Aipac may be many bad things, it isn’t stupid. It knows that polls show Americans support the Geneva agreement by a two to one margin. Though I haven’t heard of any polls of Jewish opinion, my strong suspicion is that American Jews support it in comparable numbers. So Aipac figures: why rock the boat?
They’ve just been stung by Congress and the president’s refusal to endorse military action against Syria. They don’t want to go down that road again. One thing that is very important to the Israel Lobby group is to be a winner. It hates to lose. It always wants to ensure that Israel’s “enemies” in Congress are the losers, but never Aipac itself.
Further, the group is trying to take a longer-term view. It has six months either to turn American opinion against the deal or to watch as it unravels. It must believe it’s better than even money that the signatories will find a fly in the ointment that will cause the agreement to collapse. Either the Iranians will be resistant or the French will develop a backbone and come to the rescue; or a terrorist attack will derail the process.
Of one thing you can be sure: Aipac is not in disagreement with the Israelis. Aipac wants precisely what Israel wants: not just an end to Iran’s nuclear program, but regime change. The difference between the two is that Israel doesn’t sugar-coat its position, while Aipac finely calibrates its agenda according to which way the political winds are blowing. As of now, they’re not blowing Israel’s way.
In fact, the DC Lobby organization wants to have it both ways. It wants to agree with the administration that the essential goal is stopping an Iranian bomb. But it also wants to keep in its back pocket the chance for advancing Israel’s demand for no nuclear enrichment:
The interim agreement does not require that Iran come into compliance with six mandatory U.N. Security Council resolutions, which demand Iran suspend all enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water activity…
Here, Aipac infers that the mere fact of Iran having any enrichment capability gives it a path toward a bomb:
Any final agreement must deny Iran both uranium and plutonium paths to develop nuclear weapons.
Any final deal will likely preclude Iran from developing nukes, but it will not shut down its uranium enrichment. No pragmatic observer of this process believes this will happen. So even the intimation that you support shutting down this aspect of Iran’s program means you really support Israel’s absolutist position–you’re just too slick or frightened to say it outright.
Aipac does contradict the administration position in one significant way: it endorses ever more draconian sanctions against Iran. Though it understands this brings it into conflict with the President, it couches its position as supporting his goals: to bring Iran to the table and make it more willing to give up its supposed goal of building nukes.
This memo doesn’t mention that if the Lobby wins and sanctions worsen, the current official U.S. policy of reaching a deal with Iran will be dead. That would leave Aipac as the last man standing in the debate. A diplomatic solution will be gone and the only thing remaining will be the military option–Israel and the Lobby’s preferred course.
There are several problematic passages in the memo. Here it outright distorts the agreement:
Iran will retain all of its nuclear material and will be able to continue the research and development aspects of its program….The agreement imposes no restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts…
This is actually not true. Iran has a large amount of 20% enriched uranium. Under the deal, a significant portion of it would be reprocessed so that it could not be used as part of any weapons-making process. This is extremely important since Iran’s 20% enriched material is what would be needed to make a bomb. Without that, it can’t proceed toward nuclearization.
The willful misunderstanding of the Geneva protocol continues here:
Iran thus far has denied inspectors access to key facilities, such as Parchin, where the IAEA suspects nuclear weapons-related experiments have been conducted.
The deal actually gives inspectors access to Iran’s most secret facility, Fordo, and also gives them access to the heavy water reactor at Arak. These are both facilities that have been largely or wholly off-limits to the IAEA.
The US and Israel are planning to conduct a joint military drill in an effort to threaten Iran towards the end of the six-month period when an interim deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany expires.
The drill is aimed at sending a threatening message to Iran while US President Barack Obama says “we cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict.”
Time magazine broke the story of the planned US-Israeli military exercise on Thursday, citing a top Israeli official who said, “The strategic decision is to continue to make noise.”
“In May there’s going to be a joint training exercise with the Americans,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s going to be big.”
The planned war game comes after the interim nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 intensely angered Israelis.
As part of the interim deal, which was announced on November 24, Iran has agreed to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities, and the United States and its allies have agreed to lift some of the economic sanctions and offer access to a portion of the revenue that Tehran has been denied through these sanctions. No additional sanctions will be imposed.
The deal infuriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called it “a historic blunder.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful pro-advocacy group in the US, also called on US Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll has shown that the American people support the deal over Iran’s nuclear energy program by a 2-to-1 margin.
By Jeff Stein | CQ SpyTalk | July 2, 2009
A few years back Sheryl Crow recorded a haunting song called “Three Days in Rome,” about a lover’s treacherous retelling of their affair in a novel.
Likewise, anonymous sources have been talking for years about a secret meeting two Bush administration Pentagon officials had in Rome with a notorious Iranian arms dealer, in December 2001.
It’s been said that the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, along with former Reagan White House intelligence operative Michael Ledeen, were scheming to sabotage a deal that Bush administration “moderates” were trying to make with Iran.
Another version was that they were “rogue operators” plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Yet another tale about Rome has Italian intelligence officials passing along a fabricated document purporting to show that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whom the Bush White House was plotting to overthrow, was buying uranium from Niger for a bomb.
All such accounts were based on anonymous sources.
But this week, one of the participants, Franklin broke a yearslong public silence to discuss what happened in Rome.
Or at least his version of events. Unfortunately, it hardly clears up the affair.
Franklin’s silence was enforced by his arrest and conviction in connection with a long-running spy scandal involving two officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington.
The former Iran analyst, confronted by the FBI over leaking classified information to the two AIPAC operatives, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, cooperated with the government to avoid jail. Charges against Rosen and Weissman were dropped in May.
But Franklin was caught up in the Bush administration’s notorious skullduggery to bring “regime change” to Iran and Iraq from the beginning.
Only three months after the 9/11 attacks, Franklin and Rhode, another Pentagon official, traveled to Rome for a meeting with Manucher Ghorbanifar, whose trail of deceiving U.S. officials goes back two decades.
Ghorbanifar, the middleman in the so-called Iran-Contra/Arms-for-Hostages scandal in the Reagan administration, had fabricated so much bad intelligence and empty schemes that the CIA had put him on a no-contact list.
Nevertheless, when Michael Ledeen, a high profile Republican intelligence operative and longtime associate of Ghorbanifar, came calling during the panicky weeks after 9/11, Bush administration neoconservatives couldn’t resist.
The Iranian had a plan for regime change in Teheran — again.
Senior White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley and his deputy, Zalmay Khalilzad, “were enthusiastic,” Ledeen told me. Pentagon officials Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz , the deputy and undersecretary, respectively, of Defense, were also game, Franklin said.
His immediate boss, William Luti, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who headed Near East issues at Defense, put him on the team.
“He said, ‘We’d like you to go on this mission,’” Franklin recalled in an interview. “Feith, Wolfowitz, they’re in favor of it.”
Had anyone mentioned Ghorbanifar’s reputation as a con man extraordinaire? I asked Franklin. That the Iranian schemer was on the CIA’s burn list?
“Yeah, I was told all that,” Franklin said. “But that’s not a reason not to meet someone. It doesn’t mean that everything a person” says is untrue.
“I was advised not to go see Ghorbanifar by DIA,” (the Defense Intelligence Agency), he added. “I invited DIA to come, but they declined because there was a CIA no-contact order on Ghorbanifar.”
“If you don’t know anything,” Franklin said, “you’ll meet with everyone.”
And the Bush administration didn’t know anything about Iran, he said. Wolfowitz often called him directly at home to talk about it.
“The purpose of the meeting was to get . . . first-hand intelligence on Iran, because the CIA station there had been rolled up a couple of times,” Franklin said.
“Ghorbanifar had another item on his agenda,” he added.
And that was?
“Getting money from our government to implement a scheme which he thought would overthrow the government in Iran,” Franklin said.
Ghorbanifar’s plan was “to buy off a bunch of truck drivers who would shut down the main arteries in Teheran. They would block traffic for miles around.”
“At that point, he felt he could shake the regime from the inside. . . . He could get enough people up, a critical mass, to do the deed, to overthrow the regime.”
Ghorbanifar sketched out his scenario for Franklin during a 2 a.m. meeting in his hotel lobby, Franklin said.
He wanted $5 million. “Seed money.”
Franklin didn’t like it.
“I didn’t tell him, but I thought it was amateurish and would’ve gotten people killed and America embarrassed. And we would be out $5 million, while he would be $5 million richer.”
As loony as it was, Franklin says some of his neoconservative colleagues back in Washington liked the idea, among them, Cheney’s top national security aide, John Hannah.
“He was wondering why I didn’t support Ghorbanifar,” Franklin said.
Hannah would not discuss the affair for the record except to say he never met with Franklin to discuss it.
Apprised of that response, Franklin stuck to his guns.
“Oh, yes, he did,” Franklin said. “It was at the Cosi restaurant near the Old Executive Office Building. I remember it in spades.”
Other Voices, Other Rooms
As for plotting to undermine Bush administration moderates who wanted a dialogue with Iran, it never came up, Franklin insisted.
“No, not in Rome,” he said. “The idea was bandied about in the Pentagon. I don’t know where the idea came from. There was gossip, about whether anyone in Policy was pushing it. But it certainly wasn’t discussed in Rome.”
How about the phony Niger uranium documents? I asked. Did that come up?
“No it did not, not that I can remember.”
Then why did he meet with Italian intelligence officials, who were said to have a role in peddling the phony documents?
“They gave us safe houses, restaurants,” Franklin said. “They were our shield. Mike [Ledeen] had good relations with them.“
Did Ledeen clear the meeting with CIA station chief Jeff Castelli? I asked. He was reportedly furious about being kept out of the loop.
“Yes,” Franklin said. “Mike talked to him.”
Ledeen: “Who’s Castelli?”
Jeff Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman says Washington will take into consideration Israel’s security interests at the upcoming talks between Iran and the group of six major world powers.
According to a report published by the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post, Sherman said the US will not ignore Israel’s security interests at the forthcoming nuclear talks, which are slated to be held in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 7-8.
Sherman made the remarks in an interview with Channel 10, which is set to be broadcast later on Sunday.
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – plus Germany held two days of talks over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 15-16.
During the talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif presented Tehran’s proposal titled, “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis, Opening a New Horizon” to the six countries.
Sherman also rejected reports about Washington offering Iran relief from unilateral sanctions imposed over the country’s nuclear energy program.
“We have not offered any sanctions relief on Iran, and we have not removed any sanctions,” the US official added.
Under pressures by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the US Senate is ratcheting up pressure on the White House to tighten the sanctions against Iran in line with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand for more pressure against Tehran.
In a statement on Saturday, the AIPAC said there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts” to seek new sanctions on Iran.