The AIPAC Showdown: Obama vs. Bibi, Peres
The most recent rift between Israel and Washington was sparked by the comments by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said in a CNN interview aired Sunday that the U.S. was trying to persuade Israel to not strike Iran, and branded Tehran a "rational actor."
Peres has been especially vocal about Israel's lack of tolerance for Iran lately, suggesting a unified front from the Israeli leaders coming into Washington. "Nuclear weapons mustn't be allowed to fall into the hands of Iran's Ayatollah regime," Peres said at the Herzliya Conference on Jan. 31. "It is the duty of the international community to prevent evil and nuclear [weapons] from coming together. That is the obligations of most of the leaders of the free world, one which they must meet."
To heap suspense upon the tension that should be evident in the key AIPAC addresses, this could very well be the last conference -- and last Oval Office meeting -- before Israel launches spring strikes.
Adding to the opposition Obama will face is a new addition this week to the speakers' list: Former House Speaker and GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.
Representing congressional leadership on the AIPAC speakers' roster this year will be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). This carries on a tradition of rotating the leadership in each year's speaking slots: Last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) addressed the conference.
Other lawmakers on the list of plenary speakers are Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
More than a dozen members of the House are also slated to participate in breakout-session panels, including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.). Other notables include pro-Israel House stalwarts Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Israel missile defense Appropriations advocate Steve Rothman (D-N.J.).
They'll converge upon a center that will be teeming with American supporters of Israel, surrounded by Occupy AIPAC demonstrators ready to defend Iran, and permeated by the reality that this could be three days that go down in history.
As the sand in the nuclear hourglass runs out, what will the final message be from Netanyahu and Peres -- and, when faced with the bipartisan voices of support for the Jewish state, where will the White House stand?
PJM will be covering the AIPAC conference live March 4-6.