For a long time there has been an ongoing and uneasy debate about the power of Jewish/Israeli lobbyists in Washington DC. It’s uneasy because taking the position that groups like AIPAC have too much influence can quickly lead to charges of anti-Semitism. It’s ongoing because the extent of their influence is a legitimately contentious question. If there is a limit to their power, we may soon discover where it lies.

The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC is planning to launch a major lobbying campaign to push wayward lawmakers to back the resolution authorizing U.S. strikes against Syria, sources said Thursday.

Officials say that some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. They are expected to lobby virtually every member of Congress, arguing that “barbarism” by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated, and that failing to act would “send a message” to Tehran that the U.S. won’t stand up to hostile countries’ efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to a source with the group.

The thing about sending a message to Iran is that a lot depends on how the Iranians perceive the message. And, while we can influence how the message is received, we can’t really control that. Iran could easily misconstrue the message.

Plus, how Iran reacts to the Syria vote is not the end of the story. They might, on the one hand, believe there is less likelihood that America will take preemptive action, and on the other hand feel like America is freer to take on a new intervention because they aren’t bogged down with the Syrian morass. They might think America’s refusal to act in Syria has spooked the Israelis and made them much more likely to strike unilaterally.

I think you can make a case that America taking the decision not to intervene in Syria makes it more likely that Iran will face some kind of attack. Will Iran see it that way?

I don’t know.

As for AIPAC and other like-minded entities, doing a full-court press for this authorization and losing will do a lot of damage to their mystique. At least militarily, Israel has always put a lot of emphasis on maintaining a reputation for competence and capability that exceeds the reality. Making people think that you are more powerful than you really are makes them less willing to take you on. The same idea is behind a lot of the National Rifle Association’s strategy.

When your strength is tested and you lose, you lose some of that mystique and it makes the next lobbying effort more difficult.