WASHINGTON (JTA) – A nuclear deal between Iran and the major world powers is due to be finalized by Tuesday. Until now, critics of the emerging deal have argued that it’s bad, getting worse, but it could be improved. Once negotiators on both sides come up with a final deal, the skeptics will have to decide whether and how to oppose it.
Here are six figures to watch once the deal is done:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“This agreement is going from a bad agreement to a worse agreement, and is becoming worse by the day,” the Israeli prime minister said Sunday when he met with his Cabinet just two days before the original deal deadline, June 30.
So once it’s signed, sealed and delivered, he’s going to do his best to foil it, right?
He might want to, but his options are limited. It wouldn’t be unprecedented for Israel to take military action without consulting the United States. In 1981, Israel struck the Osirak nuclear site in Iraq without warning the United States. Then, as now, the Israeli prime minister and the American president did not get along. But Iran’s nuclear program is more diverse, spread across the country and better reinforced than was Saddam Hussein’s program (partly to defend against an Osirak-like Israeli attack). A strike could be counterproductive.
Israel’s military establishment is known to have resisted a preemptive strike in the past, when Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, then the defense minister, advanced the prospect between 2009 and 2011. While Netanyahu may then have argued in favor of a strike, he also has a reputation for caution when it comes to waging war. In 2012 and last year, he resisted pressure from his Cabinet to strike back against rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip until he believed there were no other options.
There is still at least one other option for Netanyahu: Persuade Congress to nix the deal, which it is entitled to do under legislation passed earlier this year. Such a turn of events would not be unthinkable, but it would place a foreign leader in direct conflict with a sitting U.S. president in a domestic political arena. Like that’s never happened.
Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director
Kohr will likely be gathered with his aides and poring over the agreement as soon as it hits the Internet, and maybe before.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been circulating a five-point sheet outlining what it would consider a good deal.
The emerging deal appears to satisfy the first three of AIPAC’s criteria: access for inspectors, access to past information on Iran’s nuclear weapons development, and sanctions relief tied to Iranian compliance.
Harder to abide by will be AIPAC’s condition No. 4, rejecting the 10-15 year time limit for deal compliance, and No. 5, the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Kohr could decide to rally opposition to the president; he has taken on presidents before. He famously engineered the passage in 1995 of a U.S. law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to the ire of then President Bill Clinton as well as then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
What might prove more vexing is losing Democrats in Congress. President Obama, in his final stretch, is entering into hallowed territory with the party’s base, with his soaring speeches about race, efforts to increase wages, and Supreme Court victories preserving his signature health care law and expanding marriage equality to all 50 states. It will be hard under these circumstances for Democrats to nix a deal that majorities in the party already believe is good enough.
Making the process more fraught is the possibility that the deal will face two votes: First a vote on the deal, which Republican majorities in both chambers could very well reject, and another to override Obama’s promised veto of that vote. Getting to the two-thirds threshold to override a presidential veto is much less likely than winning simple majorities. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the can’t-be-defied Democratic leader in the House, already has aligned herself with the deal’s backers.
AIPAC’s byword since its inception has been bipartisanship, and the lobby in recent years has fiercely resisted efforts by some major Jewish persons of influence (Hello, Sheldon Adelson) to agree to back initiatives that would align AIPAC almost wholly with Republicans, even in the Iran arena.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
Once upon a time the go-to Democrat for Iran skepticism was Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), but his legal difficulties have gutted his influence, for now, within the party’s Senate caucus.
Iran deal hyper-skeptics like the Emergency Committee for Israel think the guy to convince now is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had a fondness for noting that his name means “shomer, guardian of Israel.” Yes, he is the highest-ranking Jewish senator.
But here’s the thing. I’ve attended briefings with Menendez and Schumer. They tend to shout. Cardin tends to speak loud enough to be heard, but he also considers all options carefully before making a decision.
That’s one of the reasons he is now the senior Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, and one of the reasons fellow Democrats — especially his fellow nine Jews in the caucus — are likely look to him to decide how to vote.
Cardin’s voice was key in shepherding the law that mandated a congressional up-or-down vote on the deal, but he also made his support conditional on stripping out of the bill any conditions that would preemptively shape the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran.
That keeps him from being tied down to any narrow conception of what a deal should look like.
Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi
It’s familiar cry: If Iran achieves nuclear capability, everyone’s going to want nuclear capability. Egypt sought it in the distant past, and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival for leadership of the Muslim world, will want in as well.
Both Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s leaders are relatively untested. Salman ascended to the throne in January and Sisi has been in office barely a year (as a chief of Egypt’s military, Sisi ousted Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a year earlier).
Both Sisi and Salman are skeptics of a U.S-Iran deal. Salman blew off an Obama invite for May meant to formulate a post-deal strategy with America’s Arab allies. Sisi was said to be behind an Arab League call in March to set up a combined Arab moderate force to counter Iran and the Islamic State. He is wary of Iran spreading its hegemony in the Persian Gulf. “The security of the Gulf is for Egypt a red line,” he told Fox News in March.
They are also on edge: Saudi Arabia is taking on the Iran-backed Houthis in neighboring Yemen and facing down ISIS terrorist attacks at home. Sisi’s own ISIS problem horrifically intensified on Wednesday with coordinated attacks by groups in the Sinai that killed dozens of Egyptian police.
Yet the instability may pull the Saudis and the Egyptians from disrupting the Iran deal, for now, especially given to the degree that each country relies on U.S. backing.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iran’s Supreme Leader could be the deal’s supreme spoiler. All he has to do is just say no. Unlike in the United States, adherence to the deal in Iran may be decided by a single man.
Will the mullah abide? On the one hand, the red lines he set down last week depart radically from the interim agreement produced in April and make AIPAC’s memo look like the sheet music to Kumbaya.
On the other hand, Khamenei has, virtually in the same breath, made clear he trusts the moderates who are leading the negotiations more than he does the extremists.