The White House and Israel are locked in an information war on Capitol Hill, and right now, Israel may be winning.
All week, the Obama administration has provided facts and figures to lawmakers on its sanctions relief proposal to build support for a deal on Iran's nuclear program. But some members in Congress don't trust the data U.S. officials are providing -- they trust conflicting data provided privately by senior Israeli officials.
According to multiple Congressional aides, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are storming Capitol Hill in an effort to discredit the Obama administration's interim nuclear deal with Iran. The effort coincides with a visit by Israel's Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, who is also speaking with lawmakers on the Hill. The campaign includes one-on-one briefings with lawmakers that provide data that strays from official U.S. assessments.
He is not alone in his belief that the Obama administration is misleading lawmakers and undervaluing its sanctions relief offer to the Iranians by at least $10 billion. The rival estimate is $20 billion -- a figure supported by the Israeli government and the think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which cites Israeli media reports in its analysis. During a House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing on Wednesday, a number of Republicans and Democrats nodded in agreement to the $20 billion figure during testimony by FDD's executive director Mark Dubowitz. "The sanctions relief package offered at Geneva, if ultimately approved, will rescue Iran's struggling economy," testified Dubowitz. "The dollar value of the proposed sanctions relief at Geneva could yield Iran a minimum of $20 billion or more."
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) pegged the sanctions relief even higher in his opening statement -- suggesting the figure could be as much as $50 billion.
Dubowitz told The Cable he was not surprised at the discrepancy between U.S. and Israeli assessments on sanctions. "I would say this is not unusual," he said. "I think there have been significant disagreements between the Israelis and the Americans on these sanctions questions. Significant differences on information on research and on the analysis and conclusions."