The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is a focus of an FBI investigation about classified government information being given to Israel, has a mission of “stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism and achieving peace.”
But above all, the 65,000-member AIPAC, founded in the 1950s, seeks to ensure through an active and well-financed lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill and the White House that Israel is strong enough to meet those challenges.
AIPAC is believed to be the most important organization affecting the U.S. relationship with Israel, and has consistently ranked among America’s most powerful special interest groups — helping to pass more than 100 pro-Israel legislative initiatives last year and procuring nearly $3 billion in aid critical to Israel’s security.
In the FBI probe, several Pentagon and State Department officials, including Pentagon Undersecretary for Policy Douglas J. Feith, have been interviewed or briefed by agents trying to find out whether Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin passed classified materials on Iran.
The inquiry has focused on accusations that Mr. Franklin passed the information to AIPAC, which then forwarded it to Israeli officials. Two AIPAC employees reportedly have been interviewed by the FBI in the matter, including Steven Rosen, director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst.
No charges have been filed in the probe, and no arrests have been made.
AIPAC believes it is likely Iran will have nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them within a few years and wants Congress and the White House to “contain Iran and to expand U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation to build a defense against this threat.”
In May, President Bush spoke at an AIPAC policy conference, saying the group had “spoken out on the threat posed by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.” He called its continuing efforts “more vital than ever.”
An Israeli Embassy senior diplomat, Naor Gilon, head of the embassy’s political department, has acknowledged meeting with Mr. Franklin but denied any wrongdoing.
AIPAC, in a statement, said any suspicions of criminal misconduct by the organization or its employees was “false and baseless.”
“AIPAC is cooperating fully with the governmental authorities. It has provided documents and information to the government and has made staff available for interviews,” the statement said.
The statement also said the organization took its responsibilities as American citizens seriously and did not condone or tolerate any violation of U.S. law or interests.
“As American citizens concerned about the enduring strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship, AIPAC has and will continue to have discussions with policy-makers at all levels of government,” the statement said.
The statement continued: “We will not let any innuendo or false allegation against AIPAC distract us from our central mission — supporting America’s interests in the Middle East and advocating for a strong relationship.”
AIPAC has taken credit for isolating Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad by advocating that the Bush administration place the groups on a more restrictive terrorist list, allowing the United States to sanction foreign financial institutions if they fail to block the organizations’ assets.
Hamas financing was disrupted, they said, by AIPAC by urging the administration to freeze the assets of the U.S.-based Holy Land Foundation, accused of funneling money to the terrorist group.
AIPAC also said it urged the administration to cut off U.S. relations with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority if Mr. Arafat fails to fight terrorism.