A Left-Zionist’s Very Bad Day (Iran)

This is the second of two posts.  Click here for the first.  

Late in the afternoon, I received a second shock which pulled me in the other direction, to feel protective of Israel.  I often participate in a “meetup” to discuss history, current events and political philosophies.  A session that I attended that day discussed recent and ongoing events in Sudan, India, Hong Kong and Iran.  

During the Iran segment, one participant, apparently an immigrant from the Middle East, triggered my ire by claiming that Israel is the author of the current crisis between Iran and the West.  I exploded, loudly protesting that I found this “offensive,” but was too overtaken by emotion to say much else.  Another participant calmly chastised him for engaging in a “conspiracy theory,” but with middling impact.  

I wish I could have contained my anger to say more.  People with Arab origins have legitimate reasons to view Israel unfavorably, and I don’t have a problem with anti-Netanyahu statements, especially if they are not phrased categorically against Israel.  His furtherance of settlements and his obsessive opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement (which is actually in Israel’s interest), explain why the group’s discussion shifted away from Iran’s genocidal threats and other wrongdoings, toward Israel as the troublemaker.  

It was argued that Israel’s efforts to remain the region’s sole nuclear power is the real reason for the latest confrontation with Iran, involving the seizure of ships in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.  This would imply that Trump has acted as Netanyahu’s puppet in withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and reimposing sanctions, rather than having his own ego-driven and political reasons for reversing a controversial Obama-era policy.

This argument also ignores the real possibility that Iran and its allies pose an existential threat toward Israel.  There should be a moral onus on Iran to change its rhetoric and policies, so that Israelis no longer fear that their existence is threatened; this would go a long way toward negating any need for nuclear weapons as a deterrent against another Holocaust. 

Iran in area and population, from Wikipedia.

Yet there was pushback in the group when I contended that Iran is a “bad actor” in the region, and not simply a victim of Trump and Netanyahu.  I’m moved to explain here in writing what I could not gather my wits to say at that meeting:  Aside from Iran’s reprehensible role in heavily supporting Assad’s murderous regime in Syria, it threatens Israel (among others) in numerous ways, from its “Death to Israel” chants at official rallies to the massive arsenal of missiles and other weaponry supplied to Hezbollah, and its alliance with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists.  

Israel’s area and population, as per Wikipedia.

Israel’s security concerns regarding Iran are well-founded.  Iran’s anti-Israel fixation is largely theological and almost unfathomable from a practical point of view.  Iran’s population is nearly ten times that of Israel, and it is almost 75 times larger in area.  Considering the extent to which Iran repeatedly threatens the “Zionist regime” with elimination, it must be especially chilling to a people for whom the Holocaust is still a living memory.  

On “Qods [Jerusalem] Day,” Iranians rally annually for the “liberation of Jerusalem.” On this occasion in Dec. 2001, the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of the Islamic Republic and then a longtime power broker as chair of the Assembly of Experts (which chooses the Supreme Leader), declared in a national radio broadcast that since “the Islamic World” is so much larger than Israel, it could destroy the Jewish state in a nuclear war and survive: 

If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, . . . the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.

A few months later, he voiced tepid support for the Saudi Peace Initiative of March 2002, curtly suggesting that Iran would support anything the Palestinians agree to.  

To be fair, the Islamic Republic’s hostility toward Israel began over its pre-revolutionary ties with the Shah’s regime, but there is no sense of proportion in it.  Israel and Iran have never fought each other in a war, and Iran doesn’t even border on a country that borders with Israel.  Legally, Israel is neither more nor less entitled to nuclear weapons than Iran, but Israel lives with a more realistic fear of annihilation.  

This episode reminded me of how much I care about (even love) Israel, despite my constant disappointments and frustrations with it.  I urge readers to appreciate the complexity of these issues and to retain a sense of perspective on both the moral challenges and practical realities impacting the world’s only country with a Jewish majority.