As Obama seals Iran deal, PM claims most Americans and lawmakers oppose it

‘Clear majority seems prepared to reject the deal,’ sources close to Netanyahu say, after 34th senator backs nuclear accord

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at the Knesset on September 2, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at the Knesset on September 2, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As US President Obama clinched the support of enough Senators to sustain his veto of a bill trying to kill the Iranian nuclear deal, a source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that a “clear majority” of lawmakers oppose the deal, and called on more legislators to join the no-deal camp.

“The prime minister said before addressing the Congress in March that it is his duty to present Israel’s grave concerns about the deal with Iran to the American people and their representatives,” a source told The Times of Israel.

“The American people get it. They understand the dangers to Israel. They understand the dangers to the United States. That’s why a clear majority believe the deal should be rejected, which is also reflected in Congress, where a clear majority seems prepared to reject the deal.”

The stronger the opposition in Congress to the deal, the stronger the message to Iran and to America’s allies in the region and the greater the likelihood that that message will be reflected in US policy moving forward, the source said.

Netanyahu has no doubt that US-Israel relations will remain strong despite Jerusalem’s bitter anti-deal campaign, the sources added.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, speaks during a news conference which was held to announce her retirement after her current term, in the Fells Point section of Baltimore, Monday, March 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

The comments came hours after Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski announced her support for the agreement on Wednesday, becoming the veto-sustaining 34th Democrat to back the deal and allowing the Obama administration to breathe a major sigh of relief.

The announcement by Mikulski confirms that lobbying from the GOP and Israeli allies failed to convince enough lawmakers to quash the deal.

Netanyahu has been at the forefront of pushing against the deal, even at the expense of straining ties with Washington over the issue.

Despite the tensions, Netanyahu may meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington in November, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday night. There was no independent confirmation of the tentative plans.

Obama and Netanyahu have not met face-to-face since October 2014, though Netanyahu traveled to the US in March and plans to return to the country later this month for the United Nations General Assembly.

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on on Wednesday slammed the prime minister for damaging ties with the US while failing to achieve his objective of averting the nuclear deal, accusing him of setting out on a battle which he was bound to lose in order to please his Republican supporters in the US.

“Maybe now Bibi will remember which country he does not lead and cease from trying to dig under the ground Obama stands on, an act which caused Israel only harm,” Gal-on said, referring to the prime minister by his nickname.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (photo credit: Courtesy JTA / J Street)
J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (photo credit: Courtesy JTA / J Street)

American Jewish lobbying group J Street, which supported Obama’s position on the deal from the start, issued a statement terming Mikulski’s support “a significant milestone and a victory for President Obama’s policy of using diplomacy to tackle even the toughest international disputes.”

“After a great national debate that has taken place over the past two months, rational argument, solid analysis and sober reflection have won over wild exaggeration, scaremongering and a flood of money,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami.

He boasted that opponents of the deal, including AIPAC, a much better funded and larger organization, “outspent” J Street and other supporters of the deal, “but almost every lawmaker who began this debate undecided and was willing to listen to both sides ended up supporting the deal.”

Ben-Ami said it was “sad” that Republicans took a position “of reflexively and thoughtlessly opposing the agreement.” The only “real debate” over the deal’s merits or flaws, he said, took place “almost exclusively among Democrats.”

He warned opponents of the deal may still try to “attach killer amendments to the resolution to disapprove of the agreement” or to introduce later legislation in Congress that would make the nuclear deal ineffective.

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