Silvan Shalom has acknowledged the extent of the challenge facing those hoping to see Congress thwart the Iran nuclear deal, as millions of dollars were ploughed into campaigns by supporters and detractors of the agreement.
The vice-prime minister’s forthright comments came in a wide-ranging interview with the Jewish News during his visit to London last week, during which he also suggested the threat posed by IS to the Jewish state was dwarfed by Tehran.
He reiterated Jerusalem’s strong opposition to the deal between Tehran and the international community, ahead of an expected showdown in the US legislature. But recognising it would require a “huge” number of democrats to vote against Barack Obama in the Senate and House of Representatives, Shalom said “it’s very very difficult” and “looks too complex but who knows”.
So far three congressional democrats have said they will vote against but, even if every republican opposes the deal struck by the P5+1, it would still require 13 senators and 44 in the House to side with them to overturn a potential presidential veto.
But he said: “Israel is not involved by sending ministers or members of Knesset to go to talk to them to convince them to vote against. Everyone who arrives in Israel, if they have meetings with the Israeli leadership, will get the message Israel is totally against. If the Israeli ambassador is asked he says it.”
Despite British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s stark comments that Israel would have opposed any deal and the government’s strong defence of it, the UK was “one of the best” in the negotiations with Iran, Shalom claimed.
The vice-prime minister – who was in the capital to open the London Stock Exchange – added: “What we found is that we cannot achieve a deal that will put an end completely to the Iranians effort to achieve nuclear power so we should remain with the sanctions. I believe it would’ve been much better than to lift all the sanctions and to enable them to continue with the programme and financing terrorism.” Fears were also voiced over accusations the deal contains unpublished clauses – “we heard some from our friends but we don’t yet know all of them”.
He also spoke about the threat posed by Islamic State to Israel, but said: “Iran is undermining the existence of Israel, Daesh is not.”
Politicians in America have begun declaring their positions, as pressure builds from single-issue lobby group ‘Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran,’ which is backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and which has raised $20 million for TV adverts criticising the agreement.
That sum dwarfs the $4 million raised by liberal Jewish advocacy organisation J-Street, which supports Obama on the deal.
Last week over 600 AIPAC members journeyed to the capital to hear from White House Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonough, chief negotiator Wendy Sherman and Treasury director Adam Szubin.
Elsewhere, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Ashton Carter led public and private briefings, as Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz met top Jewish leaders and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a series of congressional meetings.
Obama has also conducted one-on-one sessions with undecided Democrats, and held telephone briefings with grassroots activists, where he warned that “the lobbying on the other side is fierce, well-financed and relentless”.
On the outskirts of Capitol Hill, ambassadors were also charged with influencing decision-makers, with Israeli envoy Ron Dermer, a deal critic, battling for attention with diplomatic proponents from the UK, France and Germany.
British Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott admitted this week that speaking to members of Congress “has taken up quite a big part of my time recently”.