Israeli Think Tank With GOP Ties at Center of Iran Deal Opposition

With the US Congress beginning hearings on the nuclear accord with Iran, Israeli opponents of the agreement are readying a full-court press to persuade that the deal has too many loopholes that would allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

“We will make our voice heard,” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told McClatchy. “We will not miss an opportunity to tell our side of the story because it is our moral duty.”

One Israeli think tank at the center of the campaign is the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, whose largest donor is US casino magnate and Republican benefactor Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave $465,000 to political candidates and parties in 2014 – all to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Recipients in recent years included Republican presidential candidates Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and both House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Built in a stately two-story stone home in west Jerusalem’s Greek Colony neighborhood, the JCPA was until June headed by former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold, who today is director-general of Israel’s foreign affairs ministry. Today, it’s the nerve center of an effort that will attack the Iran deal not just on the nuclear risk, but on its supposed enabling of Iran to expand support for militant Islamic proxies in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Yemen and that props up the government of Bashar al Assad in Syria.

“Iran considers Bahrain a 14th province,” said Michael Segall, a 25-year veteran of Israeli military intelligence and a senior analyst at the center, ticking off his list of negatives. “Iranians tried to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States . . . This nuclear deal, which preserves all Iranian nuclear capability, will make them more resolute to export their revolution to the Middle East.”

Segall said opponents against the deal also will emphasize Iran’s dismal human rights records, which he said is worse under current President Hasasan Rouhani than under the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“There are more journalists, bloggers, social network writers arrested in Iran and killed in Iran in Rouhani’s era than in Ahmadinejad’s,” he said. “You don’t hear anything about human rights in Iran.”

World powers including the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany signed the deal with Iran last week. The United Nations Security Council approved the accord Monday. Iran’s parliament also will consider the deal over the coming weeks.

Because of the multilateral nature of the agreement, should the United States back out, the other signatories could still lift their sanctions. President Barack Obama has vowed to veto any Congressional measure that would prevent the approval of the Iran deal, making a two-thirds majority necessary to annul it in Washington.

Meir Javedanfar, an Israel-based expert on Iran who supports the deal, said the push to cancel America’s participation was a fool’s errand.

“If by some miracle they get the right numbers together to shoot down the deal, then Iran will have the best of both worlds,” Javedanfar said. “It can continue with its nuclear program, and the sanctions against Iran will collapse, because the European countries and Russia and China are unlikely to continue them. So Iran gets back its economy and a nuclear program.”

Segall conceded that most likely “it’s a done deal,” but held out hope that the US dropping out would allow some economic sanctions to remain. He said other nations would not want to risk being blacklisted in Congress by trading with Tehran.

“It’s not a waste of time,” Segall said. “There is still room to maneuver.”

Disapproval of the Iran deal is widespread across the Israeli political spectrum, but the push to lobby Congress is not universal. Opposition leader and Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog, who denounced the deal as a threat to Israel’s security, told a party meeting Sunday that he would not press his view in Washington. “I have no intention of intervening in its politics and telling Congress members how to vote,” he said.

Segall said the agreement might have an upside for Israel by providing it with potential regional allies who also oppose a deal with Iran. Those include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Persian Gulf countries. He suggested Israel might see a lessening of pressure to come to terms with the Palestinians.

“The Palestinian issue is not an issue anymore, not for the Arab world anyhow,” Segall said. “The Iranian threat will overshadow everything in the Middle East.”

Israel has already reached out to nearby Muslim countries. In early June, during his last days as the center’s president, Gold publicly shook hands with former Saudi ambassador to the US Anwar Eshki.

On Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, the first US cabinet member to visit Israel since the Iran deal was signed. A planned joint press conference was not held, however. An official in Netnayhau’s office, who asked to remain anonymous because of the delicacy of the issue, said the American delegation had requested the cancellation.

WILLIAM DOUGLAS CONTRIBUTED FROM WASHINGTON.