Don’t Cry for Me, Israel

When the Shah of Iran was toppled in 1979, the silence from Israel was deafening. The very ally that had supplied oil during the Yum Kippur war to Israel at a time when there was a global boycott of oil sales to Israel, the very ally that had purchased over a $1 Billion dollars of arms for a number of years from Israel at a time when Israel’s economy and exports were ‘constrained’, the very ally that had developed deep political and intelligence relations – was toppled without a word or even a squeal from Israel. With over 2/3rds of US private wealth concentrated in the hands of Israeli-Americans; with over 2/3rds of all senior executives or partners in major law firms, major medical groups, major media companies, major banks … with over 100 Billionaires in the U.S. with dual Israeli-American citizenships …NOTHING, absolutely nothing was done to prevent the toppling of the Shah and the rise of the Khomeini regime! With so much influence, one has to conclude that America’s foreign policy has been ‘dictated’ by Israel. And so, it has to be said that the Shah must have been toppled by Israel.

In fact, in the summer of 1980 when Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser made a quiet trip to Amman, Jordan to meet with Iraq’s senior military officers to plan Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran. And it did not take long for Israel to become a ‘co-conspirator with many other “western nations”’ in supplying arms to Iran. Israel lost no time supplying the new Khomeini regime with small quantities of arms, even after the seizure of the U.S. embassy. The first sales included spare parts for U.S.-made F-4 Phantom jets; a later deal in October 1980 included parts for U.S.-made tanks. Israel informed Washington, only “after the fact, when they were far down the line and right into the middle of the thing,” according to a former State Department official.

Israel did its best to disguise these shipments by using layers of foreign brokers to cloak their source. Notes Ha’aretz correspondent Yo’avKarny “The cloak of secrecy that surrounds Israeli arms exports is so tight that one can compare it to the technique for smuggling hard drugs.” . On 24 July 1981, Israeli arms dealer Ya’acovNimrodi-later to play a vital role in the arms-for-hostages negotiations-apparently signed a deal with Iran’s Ministry of National Defense to sell $135,842,000 worth of arms, including Lance missiles, Copperhead shells and Hawk missiles. A sale of such magnitude must have had Israeli government acquiescence. Nimrodi’s close personal friend Ariel Sharon, a wartime comrade from the 1948 struggle, likely kept tabs on, if he did not direct, the private dealer’s sales with Iran.

As an Iranian, I am grateful for Israel’s support of Iran at a time when clearly the whole Arab world was financing Saddam to break Iran to bits. But, never-the-less, the point remains: The Shah was toppled and Israel was happy about it; and took concrete steps to support the new Khomeini regime.

Israel’s leaders had concluded at the time that lasting geo-political interests would eventually triumph over religious ideology and produce an accommodation between Tel Aviv/Jerusalem and Tehran. The onset of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 gave Israeli leaders a special incentive to keep their door open to Khomeini in Iran. As they put it at the time, two non-Arab countries now shared a common Arab enemy i.e. Iraq. As Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the Washington Post in May 1982, justifying Israeli arms sales to Tehran, “Iraq is Israel’s enemy and we hope that diplomatic relations between us and Iran will be renewed as in the past.” Four months later he told a Paris press conference, “Israel has a vital interest in the continuing of the war in the Persian Gulf, and in Iran’s victory.” Such views were not Sharon’s alone; Prime Ministers Itzhak Shamir (Likud) and Shimon Peres (Labor) shared them too.

 

To this day, prominent Israelis still argue that strategic calculus unashamedly. Retired Gen. AharonYariv, former head of military intelligence, told a conference at Tel Aviv University in late 1986 that “it would be good if the Iran-Iraq war ended in a tie, but it would be even better if it continued.” Otherwise, Iraq might open an “eastern front” against Israel. The carnage of human life didn’t figure in the equation at all. Uri Lubrani, Israel’s chief representative in Iran under the Shah and Nimrodi’s superior in Mossad, has justified continued arms sales because “Khomeinism will disappear and Israel and the United States will again have influence in Iran.”

And here we are some 30 years later, and all this seems to have been an incredible strategic mistake. I cannot for the life of me, still figure out why Israel wanted the Shah toppled.

Yes, there were moments in the 70’s when the Shah openly suggested the American media was dominated by Israeli-Americans! There was those famous statements to Mike Wallace in a CBS sponsored interview. But so what, it was the truth, and said without disdain. He wasn’t putting Israel down, simply making an observation.

Then there was a strategic calculus in Israel and the West that the Soviet Union was vulnerable, and that religion could be engaged as a means to break it up. But, now looking back, how did a shift in Iran accelerate that? The Shah could have supplied the Taliban in the same way that for example Pakistan’s military did. No?

Perhaps it was cold greed that inspired Israel. Though not frequently mentioned, but according to Gary Sick, an expert on Iran who served on the NSC under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, “Israel acknowledged that arms sales were good business. One out of 10 Israeli workers is employed in arms-related production; military items constitute more than a quarter of Israel’s industrial exports.” The distinguished Israeli defense correspondent Ze’ev Schiff states that Israel’s pro-lran(i.e. pro-Khomeini) policy had been “guided by a ravenous hunger for profit rather than by strategic considerations…” Nimrodi, the Mossad-agent-turned-arms-dealer, recalled that when he reported to the Israeli government on the millions of dollars to be had from arms sales to Khomeini’s Iran, “people’s eyes lit up here. They have been laying people off in the defense industry, and this meant jobs.” But this too is strange, since for sure, the Shah had been purchasing billions of dollars of arms from Israel …and he had not stopped his purchases when he was toppled.

Bottom line, with friends like Israel, who needs enemies? Israel was clearly a player in the toppling of the Shah and the rise of Khomeini.

It did not take Khomeini too long to figure out that if they could turn their back on one ‘servant’ – the Shah – then they could do the same to him and his regime. And he was absolutely right. How could anyone trust the “West”; and faithfully serve the “West” without feeling any sense of insecurity?

In the same way that both U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Israel turned their backs on their ‘closest’ ally in the Middle East, here are 30 years later and the Islamic regime in Iran (their illegitimate child) has turned its back on them. How incredibly ironic?

Khomeini and his cohorts, set out to create a ‘power’ system that guaranteed their survival. The ‘regular’ military was held in check with not one – but two – other ‘defense’ forces. Iran, in effect has three armies, three navies, and three air forces! The regular military, the Islamic Guards (IRGC) and the volunteer militias (The Basij). No one force could perpetrate a coup and take over government. And to top it off, Iran has invested in key strategic capabilities with domestic capability to build missiles, enrich uranium, you name it …just enough deterrence to ward of another military invasion from across its borders.

And this triangular defense strategy has served Iran very well. And allowed the regime to push forward with greater independence. While virtually every Iranian neighboring country has seen war and instability, Iran has been an oasis of stability. Iran’s economy has continued to grow, despite sanctions. The West has in effect become impotent inside Iran.

The one single, greatest lesson of the Iran-Iraq war for the Islamic regime, was that in fact you could not trust western masters. Despite many Western influenced ‘players’ (Rafsanjani, Rouhani etc.) inside the Islamic regime, Khomeini and his successor Khamenei, have learnt the ‘art’ of managing western influence. The regime has turned the tables on the West. The Islamic regime (the Khomeinists) have been plotting a more confident and independent track. Iran has cozied up to China, Russia and India.

Knowing that this degree of independence (along with Western impotence) is deeply frustrating for the West; and that regime change is the ultimate goal (for the West) in Iran; the Islamic regime has rightfully concluded that the best path to National Security is to move the ‘battle’ outside Iran. It has very cleverly mobilized Shiite allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The Mullahs have discovered how incredibly powerful these alliances can be; and have not only defended the ‘homeland’ but developed substantial regional hegemony.

Every strategic step the West takes in the region, seems to backfire and empower the Mullahs in Iran. Every effort at destabilizing Iran, seems to only lead to greater power, greater influence and greater hegemony for Iran. The truth is, that every step the U.S. has taken in the region was led (if not dictated) by Israel. Israel was the architect.

And this brings me to Netenyahu’s speech to Congress on Monday.

John Kerry rightfully stated this week that it was in fact BibiNetenyahu that ‘pushed’ the U.S. to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.“The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision,” Kerry said. The top US diplomat was referring to testimony on the Middle East that Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002. During his speech, Netanyahu expressed strong support for Washington to oust former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Six months later, the US military bombarded the country. “I think the choice of Iraq is a good choice, it’s the right choice,” Netanyahu said in 2002. “If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.”

Unfortunately, Israel’s strategic calculus has been wrong. It’s been wrong for 30 years.

Bringing up yet one more generation of Palestinians in destitute is a strategic mistake. Not suing for peace, is a strategic mistake. Isolating Iran and Iranians is a strategic mistake. Destabilizing Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is a strategic mistake. No good can come out of bloodshed, and pervasive war. Millions of refugees brought up in makeshift camps cannot be good for the region, and therefore cannot be good for Israel.  This sort of destabilization may appear to enable Israel to control more land and make its neighbors weak, but in fact in the long-run will result in long-term destabilization of Israel itself.

Israel’s strategic vision is myopic and only focuses on its underlying goal of controlling Judea and Samaria and placing pipelines across Lebanon and Syria to Turkey! But it doesn’t understand how interconnected this world is, and how a ‘butterfly’ flapping its wings in China can cause a tornado in the U.S.! The internet, increased volumes of global aviation, huge increases in global trade – have all made the world a much interconnected place. No one in the world can close their eyes to tragedy and bloodshed anywhere. The health and welfare of Syrians in a concentration camp in Turkey or Jordan matters just as much as the health and welfare of a Child in Alabama or Haifa.

Israel sees its interests in narrow, highly provincial terms rather than as co-inhabitants of the small planet we live on. They see trees, not forests. They deeply selfish. Deeply self-interested. Their perspective is badly wrong. And this makes their strategic calculus wrong. The U.S. would do well NOT to follow Netenyahu’s lead (and advice). They have been wrong about the Middle East for over 35 years. It’s patently true.

There was a time to invade Iran and topple the Islamic regime. I, for one, was a proponent of that strategy a decade or so ago. Invading Iran should have trumped invading Iraq. There was a time to sanction Iran and force regime change. But that time has long gone. The situation has changed.

Unfortunately, the Europeans very quietly – very cleverly undermined sanctions and held the U.S. off from an attack. Europeans (Brits) only wanted ‘containment’ while they took over Iran’s oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf (war would have undermined their operations). The Brits had their eyes on Iraq’s oil and used the U.S. invasion to grab it. Sanctions always had European exceptions like for example gasoline sales; and ‘certain’ financial transactions. And the Europeans have their eye on Iranian gas supplies and want to play in Iran.Bottom-line, with European help the Mullahs have survived.

Every American and Israeli step against the regime has simply reinforced it. It’s time for a new approach. The U.S. needs to see its interests in broader terms than Israel itself.

And Israel needs to see its interests in broader terms than new housing in Judea and Samaria or even pipelines to Turkey! Israelis did not seem to care about the carnage in the Iran-Iraq war, and don’t seem to see the tragedy unfolding in Syria and Iraq or even on their own soul today. Israelis are blind. People matter. Everyone matters. And putting the people ahead of the regimes has to be the panacea to creating a better world for our children. In time a prosperous, educated and well fed nation will actually best ‘change’ the regimes – not a scared, ignorant and poor public.

The prosperity of Cubans and Iranians is the best ally America needs to protect its long-term interests. Bibi doesn’t get it. He never will. His vision is myopic.Israelis don’t understand that as long as Palestinians have nothing to lose, they will continue their war against Israel. Its only when they have something to lose that they will be motivated to make and enduring peace. Israel doesn’t understand that its alliance with Saudi Arabia and Qatar is actually very destabilizing and fundamentally bad for the people in those countries. Israel has to completely re-calibrate. Any deal with Iran is a good one at this point. With or without enrichment, we all know the nuclear issue has been a bogus one designed to confine and contain the regime in Iran. It’s all bullshit. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

Iranians should be ‘propelled’ to prosperity, and this will in time play most favorable for everyone (including Israel).  And in time Iran could actually become Israel’s huge new market for goods and services. This is an opportunity not a threat. The Shiite crescent and interconnectivity could actually lead to a secure and unimpeded roadway to Iran from Israel – carrying truckloads of goods. Netanyahu’s speech is polarizing and delays the time when Israel’s and Iran’s relationship can be recalibrated. This will cost Israel billions of dollars; and might even be destabilizing. If Netanyahu picks a fight with Iran, trust me, Israel will not win; and it will be an existential war for Israel. The strategy is completely wrong. He should be making peace – not war.

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