By Linda Gradstein/The Media Line
Syrian officials are rushing to accept a Russian proposal for international oversight of Syria’s chemical weapons that would forestall a possible US strike on Syria. At the same time, pro-Israel lobbyists are fanning out in Congressional offices to convince Congress to back an attack against Syria after its apparent use of chemical weapons.
On its website, AIPAC prominently urges supporters to “contact Congress about Syria” and offers a text that members can send their Congressmen.
“AIPAC urges Congress to grant the President the authority he has requested to protect America’s national security interests and dissuade the Syrian regime’s further use of unconventional weapons,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman told The Media Line. “The civilised world cannot tolerate the use of these barbaric weapons, particularly against an innocent civilian population including hundreds of children. Simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass.’
President Obama said he would seek Congressional approval for a US strike following Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons last month that left hundreds dead. In a new report, Human Rights Watch said the evidence “strongly suggests” that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad used a nerve agent in the attack.
Polls show that both the American people and the Congress oppose any US involvement in Syria. A New York Times poll found that 61% of Americans oppose launching military strikes against Syria, while only 30% are in favour. When it comes to the Congress, about half of the Senate is undecided, with the rest evenly split between those who support action and those who oppose it. In the House, there is overwhelming opposition to any attack.
AIPAC’s decision to pursue the lobbying effort has sparked criticism from conservatives and liberals in both the US and in Israel.
“It’s going to be horrific for Israel,” Mark Langfan, the chairman of the right of centre US group Americans for a Safe Israel told The Media Line. “It paints all of these lobbyists as running to Congress because they think Israel is endangered. They haven’t taken a poll of American Jews. They have designated themselves as American Jewish leaders.”
At the other end of the spectrum, the liberal Ha’aretz newspaper reported that President Obama had asked AIPAC to help him get out the Congressional vote. Ha’aretz warned that AIPAC could get burned.
“After years of cool relations with the White House, AIPAC has now cast its lot with the Obama administration. As a result, a congressional veto or, alternatively, a poor outcome from a strike on Syria, will undermine not only Obama but also AIPAC,” Ha’aretz wrote in an editorial.
Some Israeli analysts said AIPAC had boxed itself into a corner.
“If diplomacy fails there will be a need to conduct a military operation,” Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “If it succeeds it’s the President’s success, but if it fails, the failure will be attributed to lobby groups like AIPAC.”
Many Israelis see the situation in Syria as a test case for how the US will act if Syria’s ally Iran crosses different “red lines” in its quest to become a nuclear power. Israel has been pushing the US for a guarantee that if sanctions and diplomacy fail, the US will use military force to stop Iran.
“America’s allies and adversaries are closely watching the outcome of this momentous vote,” AIPAC spokesman Wittman said. “This critical decision comes at a time when Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear capability. Failure to approve this resolution would weaken our country’s credibility to prevent the use and proliferation of unconventional weapons and thereby greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies.”
Both Syria and Hezbollah have threatened to attack Israel if the US strikes them. For now, Israeli officials say the probability of an attack is low.
This post was originally published on Media Line.