Senate resolution would greenlight Israeli attack on Iran

The non-binding resolution would not be policy, but is part of pushes to codify U.S. support for any Israeli strike

Published March 1, 2013 4:48PM (EST)

On Thursday, Ali Gharib at the Daily Beast drew attention to a resolution set to be introduced in the Senate, which declares U.S. support for an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear program. The resolution, to be introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has bipartisan support and the backing of AIPAC. Via Gharib:

With prominent liberal Democrats already signing on, AIPAC's lobbying heft will likely propel a bill that, in Congressional sentiment at least, commits the U.S. to active support of a potential Israeli attack that experts think could have consequences as grave as further destabilization in the region, adverse global economic consequences, and even a hardening of Iranian resolve to get a weapon.

Although the bill's supporters have stressed that it is does not advocate war or use of force, the non-binding resolution's language is strong. Gharib cites a passage that reads, "if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."
A CIA official dismissed the resolution's geopolitical importance. He told Gharib that "the discussions between the Obama administration and the Israelis about potential military action on Iran have nothing to do with these kinds of resolutions." However, Gharib, who has reported U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East for many years sees these non-binding resolutions, although not policy decisions, as among the many incremental pushes that create the conditions for conflict. He explained:

While non-binding Congressional resolutions don't directly make policy, the language therein often manifests itself both in later, binding legislative efforts and, more frequently, in the public discourse. In this case, the resolution builds steam for a hawkish push against Iran at a time when the Islamic Republic and world powers are amid a negotiating process over the former's nuclear program, which is widely believed to be aimed at producing weapons.

Indeed, with strong AIPAC support, these resolutions have in the past had profound impact on the public discourse on Israel and Iran, in turn impacting policy frameworks. Gharib highlights as exemplar the shift in the U.S. "red line" on Iran moving from Tehran acquiring a weapon to having the "capability" to do so:

Like a previous Graham effort, the new resolution misstates U.S. policy as "to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability" (my emphasis)—phrasing the Senate overwhelmingly approved in another AIPAC-backed measure last September. The "capability" language sets a lower threshold for war than Barack Obama's stated policy to "prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," fullstop—a distinction at the heart of Obama's flaplast autumn with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, America's top military chief, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has publicly distanced himself from the push to implicit the U.S. in an assault on Iran. "I don't want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it," said Dempsey. Yet, resolutions like Graham's and Menendez's are urging such U.S. complicity should Israel strike.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Aipac Iran Israel Lindsey Graham Middle East Nuclear Weapon Senate