It was in 1987, 25 years ago, that Yitzhak Rabin, the late PM of Israel said, “Iran is Israel’s best friend and we do not intend to change our position in relation to Tehran, because Khomeini’s regime will not last forever.”
Things have changed quite a bit since then.
A year ago, in a classroom, I was giving a talk about Iran when a young woman asked me a question.
She was a Jewish Iranian-American who had never set foot in Iran. Yet she had very strong views, as if she had spent quite some time there. She thought Iranians deserved Ahmadinejad and that Iran was the number-one threat to Israel.
I respectfully disagreed with her and brought up the example of the thousands who turned up during the aftermath of the rigged elections of 2009. I argued that Iranians deserved better and had proved it through their sacrifices during that period. She was so upset with me that she did not even bother to look at the books I had brought to class.
Was she brainwashed? Yes. Are many Iranians brainwashed inside Iran about the West and Israel? Yes.
In a different classroom — on journalism, covering the Middle East — which I took, mostly out of curiosity – Iran dominated some 80 percent of the course. The Middle East began and ended with Iran. Surely, the Iran hysteria has overtaken all rationale even in simple classrooms. Who is channeling this hysteria?
After hearing that as a result of Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest fear-mongering, many Israelis were buying masks to protect themselves from a possible confrontation with Iran, I decided to go on the website of AIPAC, America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby. It was astounding to see that every other article on their website mentions Iran. It actually begins with a photo of Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Foreign Minister in one of Iran’s nuclear power plants. The titles were: “IAEA to press Iran,” “Iran struggles to reflag oil tankers,” “Iranian universities shut female students,” “Prevent a nuclear capable Iran,” and “Congress approves new Iran sanctions.”
The war with Iran did not begin after Ahmadinejad’s various infamous and irresponsible statements about Israel, the Jews and the Holocaust. It began the day the Islamic Republic following the Revolution closed down the Embassy of Israel in Tehran and handed the key to the late Yasser Arafat.
At the same time, relations between the two countries have seesawed between secret collaboration to public vilification, often simultaneously.
In the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, the Israelis sold arms to Iranians who were fighting Saddam’s army. The Islamic regime’s nature was no different then but selling missiles to your enemy to fight another enemy was alright in their eyes. One hundred TOW missiles were sold to Iran. In his book, Treacherous Alliances, Trita Parsi writes, “Kimche [a British born Israeli diplomat and a Mossad deputy director] inquired whether the United States would replenish Israeli missile arsenals if Israel were to go ahead and make a deal with the Iranians.” Reagan happily agreed.
That was then.
Today, Israel blames Iran’s unsavory activities abroad and has continuously pointed the finger at the IRI for supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. It has blamed Iran for the bombings in Argentina and lately the Jewish tourist bus in Bulgaria. Iran, on the other hand, blames Israel for the assassination of its nuclear scientists and for supporting and funding some separatist groups.
Iran never used WMDs in its war with Iraq; but Saddam, with tacit approval of the U.S. and its allies used mustard gas and deadly weapons against the Kurds and the Iranian army. Joost Hiltermann, a researcher on the subject of the Iran-Iraq war wrote some years ago, “Today the world faces the prospect a nuclear-armed Iran, which never again will allow itself to be caught so dangerously exposed to superior arms, illegal methods of warfare, and the world’s tolerance of such.”
According to some Israeli and American nuclear scientists and the IAEA, Iran is far from having the capability of building the bomb. On the other hand, Israel has close to 300 nuclear warheads. As of 2012 and contrary to a barrage of misinformation, Iran has NONE.
What prompted America to go to war in Iraq was an endless stream of misguided advice by neo-cons working for Washington think tanks who on false premises pushed the Bush administration into war. Quite a few names come to mind: Ledeen, Perle, Wolfowitz, Abrams. Even the famous Princeton scholar, Bernard Lewis, became a regular guest at the Bush White House. The mantra was that the Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators. History proved them wrong. Once we have invaded Iraq, then Iranians would beseech us, “Come this way,” Lewis proclaimed.
William Kristol added, “We are already in a death struggle with Iran […] and must also take the fight to Iran, with measures ranging from public diplomacy to covert operations.”
Recently, the “internationally acclaimed scholar,” Ledeen, wrote in one of his “brilliant” articles:
What do Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have in common? Mayhem, much of which flows from the terror masters in Tehran […] WE, not the Israelis, are the prime targets of the terror masters and those two thousand Americans killed in Afghanistan were sent to their graves without the need for nukes. Just like the nearly three thousand massacred in America on 9/11, in which the Iranians were similarly deeply involved.
Since 2003, Iraq has seen very little sign of democratic progress, its society is in total disarray, corruption is rampant, its infrastructure has been destroyed, millions have been turned into refugees, hundreds of thousands have been killed and daily suicide bombings occur in cities across Iraq. The damage is not just in Iraq. Thousands of American soldiers have lost their lives and in July of this year alone, 38 U.S. military personnel committed suicide.
War is tragic on all fronts.
There are few countries in the Middle East which are not battered by car bombs, assassinations, kidnapping, murder, and more bloodshed.
Iran is still functioning and yet it is not. Sanctions have crippled the economy and the nuclear issue is like a looming scarecrow. For every Iranian who is only trying to bring bread to the table while fighting surging inflation, life has become ever more depressing. Even for those of us who live in the West, the fear of an attack on Iran is never far from our minds.
In Israel itself, the discussion is heated. While Barak and Netanyahu are adamant that their rhetoric become real —
‘We will do it even if the world says no,’ Peres and other moderates such as Shaul Mofaz say, ‘Wait a minute, not so fast.’ Peres recently admitted that he cannot sleep at night over a possible war with Iran. Nor can we, Mr. Peres.
On what grounds does Israel with its 300 nukes which at any minute can annihilate the entire Middle East, have the right to attack a sovereign country and wipe it really off the map? Which international body gives it permission to do so?
Has the Israeli government’s arrogance blinded the eyes of its citizens? We hope not. By and large, most Israelis are against a major confrontation with Iran. As recently as a few days ago, Israel’s former Supreme Judge, charged Netanyahu and Barak with “endangering the country both physically and economically,” reproaching Barak for saying that only 500 Israeli citizens will die in case of war.
Iran is not an exemplary country by any measure, and it is far from having a representative government. It has a dismal human rights record but it is preposterous to claim that it is the biggest threat not just to Israel and the United States but to the world.
At the end of the day, Iranians will have to find a way to overcome their many problems and make the ultimate changes. The problem will not go away if Iran is shattered to pieces. The outcome is multidimensional and far worse.
Just imagine that tomorrow, the beautiful and historic city of Isfahan, home to many Jewish-Iranians and several old synagogues, may vanish, with just one bomb, from the many Israel possesses.
The Natanz nuclear power plant is not too far away.
First published in HuffingtonPost.com.