Israel gears up to battle Iran deal in Congress

Israel gears up to battle Iran deal in Congress

Many in Jerusalem think efforts to block accord are a lost cause as world powers prepare to resume substantial economic dealings with Tehran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 3, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 3, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel is preparing for the next phase of its fierce opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, by lobbying US Congressmen and women to block the emerging comprehensive agreement once it is finalized and goes to lawmakers for approval. But some in Jerusalem fear it is a lost cause given the belief that the potential economic benefits from resuming business with Iran could significantly outweigh political considerations.

The US-led P5+1 world powers and Tehran are currently in the midst of negotiations to hammer out a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and remove crippling sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that the powers and Iran had drawn up a draft document on the pace and timing of sanctions relief, advancing on one of the most contentious issues at their negotiations.

Israel reacted furiously to the development, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning on Sunday that the six world powers were dangerously caving to the Islamic Republic’s every demand.

“It seems that the nuclear talks in Iran have yielded a collapse, not a breakthrough,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “The major powers’ concessions are growing.”

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that while “genuine progress” had been made and the sides “have never been closer, at this point, this negotiation could go either way. If the hard choices get made in the next couple of days, and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week.”

Speaking from talks in Vienna, Kerry added: “But if they are not made, we will not.”

Assuming the final accord is submitted to Congress by July 9, US lawmakers will have a 30-day review period for any agreement during which sanctions on Iran cannot be waived. Should the deal fail to pass, President Barack Obama will have the right to veto, a power he has vowed to use. To overcome the veto, the deal will need to be rejected in a second round of voting by two thirds of Congress and the Senate.

Israel, according to a report in Ynet late Sunday, intends to use diplomatic pressure to have the deal quashed in the first round in Congress but is also gearing up to double down should that effort fail and Obama uses his presidential veto, to have the deal blocked in the next round.

Sources in Jerusalem assess that the deal will likely be approved in the initial stage, with Congress fearing that any delay could harm US industry, as the other world powers rush to resume business with Iran, the Ynet report said. Others believe not all is lost and the deal can be defeated, with the right diplomatic work on Israel’s part.

France has already been gearing up for the resumption of its substantial economic dealings with Iran, under the assumption that a nuclear agreement with Tehran is likely in the near future.

Around 100 French companies are reportedly planning to participate in a delegation to Tehran in September to review business opportunities in the Islamic republic.

Other countries are likely to follow, assuming a deal is reached.

AFP contributed to this report.

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