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Jewish ex-lawmakers to Congress: Back the Iran nuclear deal

Obama’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran scored a small victory as 11 Jewish, ex-lawmakers said they backed the agreement and urged others to do the same.

With time running out to cement a historic nuclear agreement between Iran and six global powers, 11 Jewish, former members of Congress came out in support of the deal and urged sitting lawmakers to stand with President Obama.

In a full-page ad in The New York Times, the pro-Israel, ex-lawmakers signed a letter saying “We championed the U.S.-Israel alliance as members of the House and Senate and we all strongly support this agreement because it will enhance the security of the U.S., the State of Israel and the entire world.”

Those who signed the letter, spearheaded by the non-profit No Nukes for Iran Project, included former Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and former Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Mel Levine of California and Robert Wexler of Florida.

Related: State Dept. 'working hard' to educate skeptics of Iran deal

The support comes as President Obama tries to drum up congressional support ahead of a vote on the deal in September. Under the accord, which the U.S. and other world powers hammered out with Iran, the Islamic Republic would curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from economic sanctions.

Most Republicans and a handful of Democrats are against the plan. But with some Democrats -- several whom are Jewish -- still undecided, the big question is if there will be enough votes to override a presidential veto. There would have to be at least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 Democrats in the House willing to side with Republicans, assuming all of them vote against the deal.

Meanwhile, critics are making moves to sink the deal. A group of nearly 200 retired generals and admirals sent their own letter to Congress on Wednesday to encourage members of Congress to reject the agreement, arguing it’s a threat to national security. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is also expected to come out hard against the deal with a Sep. 8 speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Cheney has previously skewered the accord. 

"They've had covert programs in the past, and I wouldn't be at all surprised that they have things under way now that we don't know about," Cheney said on Fox News in July.

As things stand, Congress is unlikely to override a presidential veto, according to a recent Washington Post analysis. Only a dozen House Democrats have said they are against the accord, while two Democratic senators—Charles Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey—have said they will oppose the deal.

Related: Poll: Voters in three key swing states oppose nuclear deal

Critics argue the agreement doesn’t do enough to force Iran to halt its nuclear program, that sanctions relief would allow the regime to increase its funding of anti-Israel terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and they question whether International Atomic Energy Agency inspections would be effective.

Similar to what Obama has argued, the signatories of the letter said, “military options remain on the table should Iran violate the agreement, while rejecting this deal would weaken the deterrent value of America’s military option.” It also quoted Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who said the suggestion that a “better” deal can obtained “is a dangerous fantasy.”

Other signatories of the letter included former Reps. Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, Anthony C. Beilenson of California, Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, Abner J. Mikva of Illinois, Paul Hodes of New Hampshire and Steven R. Rothman of New Jersey. 

Separately, Obama’s deal with Iran received an important boost last week from Democratic Rep. Jerrod Nadler of New York, who announced he would back the agreement. The endorsement makes Nadler the only sitting Jewish New Yorker in Congress to approve the deal, which is being seen as a win for Obama even as other Democratic lawmakers in the Empire State -- including Schumer and Reps. Eliot L. Engel and Steve Israel – have refused to back the accord.