Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on Tuesday morning and took a dramatically different stance than that which Secretary of State John Kerry outlined on Monday. He pushed for new sanctions that would take effect the six-month interim nuclear deal failed: “We may not have time,” he said, to pass new sanctions afterward.
Menendez also outlined a starkly different goal than Kerry had described. Whereas Kerry said that the Obama administration would ensure that Iran did not achieve a nuclear “weapon” or “bomb,” Menendez declared that the goal of current diplomacy ought to be “making sure they [Iran] never have the ability to create one nuclear bomb,” and ensuring that Iran would “dismantle” its program, not merely stopping short of weaponization.
He went on to explain the context for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “The fact is, Iran’s nuclear aspirations did not materialize overnight,” he said, adding that the Iranian regime saw the achievement of nuclear weapons as “fundamental to its existence.” Iran, he noted, was engaged in support for terror across the region, and backing the Syrian dictatorship. “This is not an opportunity to re-engage with Iran,” Menendez said, but confronting it.
Menendez closed by defending Israel’s right to exist based on the Biblical connection of Jews to the Land of Israel. The audience of thousands of pro-Israel activist was greatly cheered by his address, the most warmly-received of the conference thus far. What he made clear was that the divide on Israel policy today is not between Democrats and Republicans, but within the Democratic Party itself–and that the gap is a significant one.