Senate backs Israel in event of strike on Iran nuclear weapon program

Vote urging support should Israel be forced to act passes Senate unanimously; ‘resolution makes clear nuclear Iran not an option’ co-sponsor says

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)

NEW YORK — In a show of force, the United States Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution urging an uncompromising US stance against Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, calling for Washington’s support should Israel strike the program.

“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,” the resolution reads.

It also calls for the US to take “such action as may be necessary” to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.

While senators are careful in their calls for US military intervention, the resolution, which passed 99-0, is seen as the most direct expression yet heard from Washington reflecting support for a potential Israeli strike.

“I cannot emphasize enough my strong concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and the extraordinary threat it poses to the United States, to Israel and to the entire international community,” Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a speech on the Senate floor before Wednesday’s vote.

Diplomatic efforts “have failed to achieve their central objective — getting Iran to make concessions on the nuclear program,” Menendez said. “It is clear to me that we cannot allow the Iranians to continue to drag their feet by talking while all the while they grow their nuclear program.”

Menendez cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report released earlier Wednesday which said Iran was speeding up its enrichment work at Natanz.

“We cannot allow Iran to buy more time talking — even as the centrifuges keep spinning. There is no doubt, there has never been a doubt – not in my mind – that a nuclear-armed Iran is not an option,” he said.

The resolution, he said, “makes clear that a nuclear Iran is not an option, and that the Unites States has Israel’s back… Iran’s leaders must understand, that unless they change course their situation will only get worse and economic struggles and international isolation will only grow. They must understand that at the end of the day their pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability will make them less, not more secure.”

It also contained a message for Israel, Menendez continued.

“The bottom line: Israel should always understand that the United States has its back, that we will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability, and, if we are forced to, we will take whatever means necessary to prevent this outcome,” he said.

The resolution itself “declares that the United States has a vital national interest in, and unbreakable commitment to, ensuring the existence, survival, and security of the State of Israel, and reaffirms United States support for Israel’s right to self-defense.”

The resolution was introduced by Menendez and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and had 92 cosponsors (out of 100 senators) by the time it reached the Senate floor for a vote. It passed unanimously.

Reactions to the resolution included enthusiastic support by pro-Israel groups and criticism by groups opposed to further sanctions or military measures against Iran’s nuclear program.

The “Senate action…comes at a critical moment as Iran stands on the verge of attaining nuclear weapons capability following repeated defiance of the international community,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said on Wednesday.

“The passage of this resolution is an extremely significant and timely statement of solidarity with Israel and a restatement of America’s determination to thwart Iran’s nuclear quest – which endangers American, Israeli, and international security,” AIPAC said.

Meanwhile, the National Iranian American Council said the resolution amounted to “saber rattling.”

“Apparently the Senate thinks the standoff between the US and Iran suffers from a lack of brinksmanship,” the group’s policy director Jamal Abdi said. “Washington and Tehran are stuck in vicious cycle of mutual escalation that can only be broken through the give and take of serious negotiations, not through further saber rattling.”

He called on Congress to “abstain from any more reckless threats or sanctions that push us closer to the brink of war with Iran. Instead, Congress should ensure diplomacy can succeed by making it absolutely clear and credible that, in exchange for verifiable concessions that prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, sanctions will be lifted.”

The resolution urges US support in the case of an Israeli strike, but includes a few key caveats. It only supports an attack conducted “in legitimate self-defense” and directed “against Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” both phrases added to the resolution as it went through committee.

The resolution also states outright that “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.”

“No one wants another conflict anywhere in the world militarily, but we also don’t want a nuclear-capable Iran,” the resolution’s Republican sponsor, Lindsey Graham, told reporters at a February press conference.

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