Urgent: Iran

Over the next three days, journalist Simona Fuma will be guest blogging from the AIPAC Policy Conference.

So the big issue at this year’s policy is Iran: specifically the threat that Iran could have a nuclear weapons capability as early as next year. All attendees received a glossy pullout with the word “URGENT†splayed above a photo of Iranian president Ahmadinejad in a white lab coat inspecting his nuclear facilities.

AIPAC is pushing for legislation that would impose economic sanctions on companies that provide refined petroleum to Iran—this would be crippling to the country’s economy, since Iran produces a lot of oil but it doesn’t have the refining ability to make its cars go. Despite the talk of sanctions, there were rumblings that Israel may need to go further. “There is nothing to do militarily and we are not capable of it,†a grave Ephraim Sneh, told about 200 well-dressed conference attendees in one of this afternoon’s breakout sessions. Nevertheless, he told the rapt crowd: “I consider [a preemptive strike] as a last resort.â€

The former deputy defense minister and Labor Party Knesset member said that if necessary, Israeli could develop the capability to strike Iran in a short period of time. During the 1976 Entebbe hostage crisis, he said by analogy, “Someone asked me, ‘those hostages, can we bring them back?’ Seventy-two hours later I was with them in the airplane flying back home.â€

And what about living with a nuclear Iran, practicing deterrence? Sneh outlined six reasons why this would spell disaster for Israel: He said immigration to Israel would come to a halt under the shadow of a nuclear Iran; Israelis with skills and education would leave the country; there would be a sharp reduction in business investment; terrorist regimes would walk taller while moderates in the region would be cowed; and, finally, Israel would not be able to act, say by taking military action in Gaza, due to the fear of an Iranian nuclear reprisal.

During this morning’s plenary session, Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the assembled multitudes that “If we [the United States] and Israel are not totally on the same page, next year, if not handled properly, there could be a serious face-to-face argument between Israel and the US.†His remark was greeted with silence, but his message was clear: While pushing for sanctions, Israel activists in the US need also prepare for the fallout should a military strike occur.

Coming up next: Why are there so many Angelenos at the AIPAC conference?

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