Israel is engaging in a major lobbying push to try to kill the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and other top Israeli leaders have made no secret of their opposition to the deal, which critics claim will only empower Iran and threaten Israel's existence.
That pressure is only going to increase over the next two months, as congressional Democrats struggle with whether to provide opponents with the votes needed to kill the deal.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re busy over the next few weeks, like the rest of us,” said Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats say they're committed to reducing emissions in Biden plan GOP lawmakers introduce measure in support of Columbus Day Overnight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US MORE (D-N.M.), who appeared ready to support the plan.
The Israeli lobbying push is up against more aggressive overtures from the White House.
In just the first few days after a deal was announced, Vice President Biden made two separate trips to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional Democrats. President Obama himself “has been having a number of conversations” with lawmakers, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
The rival efforts are putting every Democrat on Capitol Hill in a tough spot. On one side is the leader of their party; on the other America's most important Middle Eastern ally.
Lawmakers have until September to review the terms of the deal and vote to approve or disapprove. Republicans seem nearly united in wanting to kill the agreement.
Ultimately, Congress has only a limited hand to play. Obama can veto an effort to kill the deal, and opponents seem unlikely to marshal the two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress to overcome the presidential pen.
But having to veto legislation endorsed by most Democrats would be a symbolic defeat for Obama, and one he has appeared eager to avoid.
Israeli political leaders of all stripes appear ready to pounce.
“I think the government of Israel will continue and even ramp up its efforts to kill the agreement,” said Dylan Williams, the vice president of government affairs at J Street, a left-leaning Israel advocacy group that supports the deal.
Netanyahu has given interviews with a number of American news outlets, repeatedly warning that the terms of the Iran deal imperil not just Israeli but also American security.
Israel’s center-left opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, has also announced that he will visit Washington in the coming days to express his concern about the agreement and press for "a series of steps to allow Israel to maintain its advantage in the region due to the new reality coming out of the deal.”
In an interview with The Atlantic, Herzog said that he would not be directly lobbying members of Congress but was going to “explain the weak points and have them understand our concern.”
Israel also has a team of lobbyists that it spent more than $2.5 million on last year, according to federal records, which will surely be used to press its case.
Israeli politicians will have a fine line to walk, however.
Netanyahu is already seen as a partisan figure in Washington, an image that was reinforced by a March speech before a joint session of Congress, which dozens of Democrats skipped. A harsh tone may only further alienate him — and the Israeli government — from many Democrats.
“I think he only stands to reopen some of those scars if he brings that type of rhetoric to the United States in the coming weeks,” Williams warned.
Republicans, meanwhile, appear eager for the extra support from Israel, which an overwhelming number of Americans support.
“There’s a lot of people [who] are pro-Israel, and it’s our best ally in the Middle East,” No. 2 Senate Republican John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (Texas) told The Hill. “I think we ought to listen to our friends.”
The White House seems eager to tie Republicans and Netanyahu together in an apparent bid to sideline Israel’s protests.
“For all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu — or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken — none of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative,” Obama said this week.
Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThe Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats Democrats struggle to sell Biden plan amid feuding Expats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Israel’s pleas would not impact his thinking.
But others acknowledged that the influence — both from Israel as well as the White House and other corners — would have impact.
“It’s a factor,” said Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCharity game lets users bet on elections Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals MORE (Md.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat and a key voice in the Iran debate.
“I expect overt lobbying from all sorts of individuals — when I go to the supermarket I expect to be lobbied,” he added.
“But bottom line is whether this agreement is the type of agreement that will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state,” Cardin said.
“It’s not how any third party or how any constituent or any political party or any president feels about it.”