Netanyahu Lobbying US for Iran Disinvestment

A substantial proportion of Iran's citizens are already hungry for food, opposition leader tells AIPAC conference.

Gil Ronen ,

Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is coming back to Israel after working overtime in the USA, in a drive to convince the administration and Congress to adopt a policy of disinvestment towards Iran. Netanyahu believes hitting Iran in its pocket has great potential for success.

"There need to be financial sanctions that will hurt Iran," the opposition leader told Israeli journalists Monday night. "What we are doing against the Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority needs to be done to Iranian president Ahmadinejad."

"In any case, a substantial proportion of Iran's citizens are already hungry for food," he said.

Speaking later Monday night at the annual conference of pro-Israel Washington lobby AIPAC, Netanyahu called upon Israel to focus its efforts on preventing Iran's nuclear armament, and stressed that Ahmadinejad was preparing the ground for a second genocide of the Jewish people.

"The key is genocide," he said. "Do we want to mobilize the world against Iran? The answer is yes, just as we should have mobilized the world against Hitler in the previous century."

"We don't need global action," Netanyahu explained to his audience. "It is enough that American money be pulled out of companies doing business with Iran for these companies to start folding their operations. The sanctions could be successful in the short term. Iran needs new investment desperately. Drilling of oil wells there is on a downward curve. American disinvestment from companies active in Iran could bring down Ahmadinejad, who is hated by large parts of his people."
'Do we want to mobilize the world against Iran? The answer is yes, just as we should have mobilized the world against Hitler in the previous century.'

Top U.S. Treasury official Stuart Levey is reportedly involved in convincing banks and credit companies to freeze their ties with Iran, by showing them information on the types of activities supported by the Iranian financial transactions.

The keynote speeches at the AIPAC conference, before delegates ascend to the Capitol to lobby for tough sanctions against Iran, were to be delivered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio.)

Earlier in the AIPAC conference, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr told delegates that lobbying would begin this week for new legislation, the Iran Counterproliferation Act of 2007, proposed by Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The bill would expand existing sanctions against third parties that deal with Iran and restrict the president's ability to waive the sanctions by citing national security considerations. Kohr also outlined plans to get state employee pension funds in 10 states to divest from companies that deal with Iran.

This bill, and another one up for debate in the House of Representatives, call for barring American financial institutions – including pension funds, investment banks, private equity companies and private investors – from investing money in firms doing business with Iran. The list of blocked companies would include multinational or European concerns such as Shell or Total, which are involved with development of Iranian oil fields.

Netanyahu met Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama Monday night, in Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., before boarding a return flight to Israel. Earlier in his visit, he met with the top three Republican presidential contenders – Rudy Giuliani, Jon McCain and Mitt Romney. In a previous visit, Netanyahu spoke with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, and called for a policy of disinvestment. California’s public employees’ retirement system has $228 billion invested in companies with Iranian ties.

In Ohio, a bill put forth last week would require the state to withdraw its investments from any company doing business with Iran. Similar bills are being prepared in many other state legislatures. Missouri legislators last month called on public pension funds not to invest in companies with links to nations the State Department regarded as sponsors of terrorism.

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney has already sent letters to financial institutions urging disinvestment: "With your new responsibilities overseeing one of America's largest pension funds, you have a unique opportunity to lead an effort to isolate Iran as it pursues nuclear armament," the letter opens. "I request that you immediately launch a policy of strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime. New investments should be scrutinized as long as Iran's regime continues its current, dangerous course."