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March 22, 2013

Graham's Green Light to Israel's Red Line on Iran
Posted by Homa Hassan


As the dust settles from President Obama’s highly anticipated visit to Israel, one message stands out in particular.  In Jerusalem, Obama reaffirmed the strong bonds of the U.S. and Israel to Israeli students, with an added note that “it is important to be open and honest, especially with your friends,” even in disagreement.  A significant point in light of the two countries’ differing stances on dealing with Iran’s nuclear program that could incite chaos and confusion in the region unless streamlined.  And a message that Congress can be served better to remember as a controversial resolution winds its way through the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

  • Undermining Diplomacy:  Mainstream Pentagon and U.S. national security officials overwhelmingly agree with the executive’s approach that any attack on Iran would not only strengthen Iran’s resolve to pursue weapons capabilities, but also lead to regional chaos and weaken Iran’s internal democracy movement.  However, even as diplomatic and technical talks between Western powers and Iranian officials have been underway in Almaty, Kazakhstan earlier this month, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), introduced a bellicose and poorly timed resolution. S.Res65 potentially jeopardizes the already delicate, U.S.-Iranian negotiations through counterproductive messaging for the U.S. to join Israel in hard-lining with Iran.  While talks are already faltering, Graham’s resolution not only threatens to fracture the incremental gains from these talks, but also risks the derailment future negotiations.
  • Fractured bargaining chips:  As the executive branch expresses the necessity of Iran’s cooperation, it has offered the possibility of lifting some of the sanctions in exchange.  To attribute credibility to this bargaining chip, U.S. officials need their Iranian counterparts to legitimately be convinced that sanctions can be removed with compliance.  However, these sanctions are largely enacted by Congress and therefore need Congressional action to be repealed.  Graham’s legislation, therefore, undermines the credibility of proposed U.S. incentives in exchange for Iranian cooperation to scale back its nuclear program.  In effect, Graham and his colleagues ought to find ways to signal their assertiveness, while also allowing the executive to administer credible proposals.  
  • Redefined Redline:  Because opponents of the Graham resolution seek a diplomatic resolution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they have sounded an important alarm regarding the uneasy movement of the marker towards a military option that Graham’s green light for Israeli action permits. Graham adopts the Israeli definition of a redline being a “nuclear weapons capability,” in contrast to the Obama Administration’s assurance that the U.S. will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.  The ambiguity of a bold U.S. redline not only impedes the United States and Israel’s objectives, but also hinders Iran’s prospects to give up its nuclear program peacefully.
  • Unprecedented Alliances:  Even amongst alliances, Graham’s justification for unconditional support of an Israeli strike on Iran is irregular.  The traditional establishment of alliances like NATO created an agreement that an attack from the Soviet Union on any country in the coalition would be seen as an attack on every country in the coalition, thus creating a base of support for a response.  It did not, however, propose unconditional obligations of offensive measures.  In other words, the traditional nature of alliances lays out a framework for mutual defense, not offense, as Graham’s resolution proposes.

The objective of halting Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons, all sides agree, has its greatest chance for success in a coordinated international effort that needs solidarity among not just Israel and the U.S., but other regional actors, Europe, and even Russia and China.  During this particularly delicate time, Senator Graham, and indeed all Members of Congress ought to ask themselves whether this proposed resolution helps or hinders that common goal.


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