M.J. Rosenberg: Senate Tells Israel War with Iran Is OK

It is customary for Congress to pass resolutions commending Israel on the anniversary of its founding in 1948. Once these resolutions were innocuous with references to “making the desert bloom” and “ingathering” Jewish refugees. Standard “pro-Israel” boilerplate. No more.

In recent years Congress, with the Israel lobby’s eager assistance, has coupled salutations and congratulations with increasingly strident language about terrorism, Palestinians, and now, Iran. (For an excellent analysis on how the concept of being “pro-Israel” has degenerated in recent years, see this smart piece by Michael Koplow, program director of the Israel Institute at Georgetown University.)

“The Senate gave Israel assurance that if it gets into trouble, the United States will step in and finish the job.

One such anniversary resolution now being considered in the Senate and, with 79 cosponsors, certain to pass is Senate Resolution 65, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), two lobby stalwarts. It cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday.

The resolution begins with five clauses of standard rhetoric, noting that “since its establishment nearly 65 years ago, the modern State of Israel has … forged a new and dynamic democratic society including “freedom of speech, association, and religion; a vigorously free press; free, fair, and open elections; the rule of law; a fully independent judiciary; and other democratic principles and practices ….” The usual fare.

Then, with no transition, it segues into 14 clauses condemning Iran with citations of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ugly language about Israel, his repeated Holocaust denials, the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations and then the threat ostensibly posed by its nuclear program.

That is followed by 13 clauses citing President Obama’s repeated promises not to permit Iran to attain a nuclear weapon, along with Congress’ own, which are even more aggressive.

These 32 clauses are just the windup for the pitch that says that if Israel goes to war with Iran, the United States should join the fight. The resolution states:

that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law 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.

On the surface, this doesn’t sound that terrible. After all, it specifically limits our commitment to a situation in which “Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense …” Only then would the United States have to provide military support.

But the “self-defense” limitation is no limitation at all.

The United States has deemed all major Israeli military actions as “self-defense” (most recently two Gaza wars) with the oft-repeated statement that the United States is “fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.” Couple that with President Obama’s language ruling out containment of a nuclear Iran and it’s pretty clear that any attack by Israel on Iran will be deemed self-defense by the United States.

In short, the Graham-Menendez resolution is telling Israel that if it goes to war, we will have their back.

The problem here is not that Congress is saying that the United States would support Israel if there was any chance that it might be defeated in a war with Iran or anyone else. That is obvious and has been since 1973 when the United States military was placed on its highest alert following the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Israel.

No, the point of this resolution is to tell Israel that it can go to war with Iran, with the assurance that if it gets into trouble, the United States will step in and finish the job. Israeli hawks need that assurance because it is generally understood that Israel cannot take out Iran’s nuclear facilities alone. It can only try if it knows that the United States is right there just in case.

The intent of this resolution is to eliminate any Israeli hesitancy about getting into a war it cannot win. Israelis won’t do that. Menendez, Graham and company are telling them not to worry. Just do it, and we are in too.

M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC’s newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg and @WashSpec.