Our dear Imam [the late Ayatollah Khomeini] said that Israel must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine.
The meaning of these words, arguably the most notorious Iran's erstwhile President ever uttered, is neither unclear nor complicated. But within days of being reported in the Western media, they had nonetheless become the subject of a fierce quarrel about the nature and intentions of the Iranian regime. Enemies and critics of Iran's theocracy insisted they were a testament to Tehran's pathological anti-Semitism and proof of its genocidal agenda, the furtherance of which is evidenced by their ongoing and unlawful pursuit of apocalyptic weaponry.Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 25 Oct. 2005
Enemies and critics of the West, on the other hand, protested that Ahmadinejad's words had been mistranslated, misunderstood and misused by neo-Imperialists agitating for a pre-emptive attack on the sovereign state of Iran. This was in spite of the fact that the contested English translation had been provided, not by a neo-Conservative think-tank, but by Iranian State media. So Ahmadinejad's quote was subjected to a word-for-word literal translation, which resulted in the following revised version:
Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (the page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).In spite of all the complaining, it ought to be obvious to anyone capable of a dispassionate assessment that both translations explicitly express the same unambiguous belief: that the world's only Jewish State must be destroyed and replaced by a 23rd Arab State. If anything, the revised translation is even more sinister, as it carries the implication that the entire Zionist project be consigned to some kind of ghastly Orwellian memory hole.
Nonetheless, the trivial differences between the two versions were enough to persuade Iran's defenders in the Western press that Ahmadinejad's words were completely harmless. As the ever-indulgent Jonathan Steele explained to his readership at The Guardian:
[Ahmadinejad] was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The "page of time" phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon. There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about.Steele concluded by recommending that Ahmadinejad's statement should not only be considered benign, but also appeased and rewarded with immediate, unconditional bilateral talks.
Juan Cole, meanwhile, in the midst of a bad-tempered complaint about (among other things) "the Orientalist Hitchens", offered that:
[T]he actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all . . . The phrase ["vanish from the page of time"] is almost metaphysical.One is entitled to wonder if the implications of "almost metaphysical" phrases change when they are draped across missiles capable of hitting Israeli targets, and proudly displayed during official Iranian military parades.
Or if they are delivered by the President of a nation pursuing an illegal nuclear programme at a conference in its capital city entitled "The World Without Zionism". And during a speech in which he also stated:
I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world . . . Anyone who recognises this regime because of the pressure of the World oppressor [the United States], or because of naiveté or selfishness, will be eternally disgraced and will burn in the fury of the Islamic nations. Those who are sitting in closed rooms cannot decide for the Islamic nation and cannot allow this historical enemy to exist in the heart of the Islamic world.This false philological quarrel erupted again over the weekend, when it was reported that, during an al Quds day rally, the new 'moderate' President-elect of Iran, Hassan Rouhani had said:
The Zionist regime is a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed.Once again, the English translation came from an Iranian source, not an American one. Once again, it was hotly contested. And, once again, the corrected version was scarcely less sinister than its predecessor:
There is an old wound on the body of the Islamic world, under the shadow of the occupation of the holy lands of Palestine and Quds [Jerusalem]. This day, is to remember that the Muslim population, will not forget its historic right and will resist tyranny and occupation.And yet, it was claimed by some that this exonerated the regime of genocidal intent. It is worth bearing in mind that when Rouhani - or any other Iranian official for that matter - speaks of "the occupation", he is not referring to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but to Israel too.
And thanks to the arms and funds Iran provides for its fascist Shi'ite proxy Hezbollah and its fascist Sunni clients Hamas and Islamic Jihad, we know what constitutes Iran's preferred method of "resistance". Hamas are committed by their loathsome charter to driving every last Jew from 'historic' Palestine. Not content with that, Hezbollah have committed themselves to the eradication of Jewry worldwide. As their Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in 2002:
Islamic prophecies and not only Jewish prophecies declare that this state [Israel] will come into being, and all the Jews of the world will gather from all corners of the world in occupied Palestine. But this will not be so their false messiah [al-Dajjal] can rule in the world, but so that God can save you the trouble of running them down all over the world. And then the battle will be decisive and crushing.The Iranian regime's material support for these genocidal groups was always an open secret but the nation's Supreme Leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, helpfully confirmed the policy in February 2012:
From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this . . . We have intervened in anti-Israel matters, and it brought victory in the 33-day war by Hezbollah against Israel in 2006, and in the 22-day war [against Hamas] . . . [Israel is a] cancerous tumour that should be cut out and will be cut out.Evidence of the Iranian regime's implacable hatred of Israel's continuing existence is available in abundance should anyone care to look for it. The statements of its Presidents past and present may be the words of men with no de jure power over foreign policy, but they are indistinguishable from those made by officials across the whole regime, up to and including Ayatollah Khamenei and his closest associates. In January 2010, a Senior Iranian official Mohammad Hassan Rahimian boasted that:
We have manufactured missiles that allow us, when necessary, to replace Israel in its entirety with a big holocaust.Later that same year, Khamenei chimed in with this:
Ayatollah Khamenei: Israel Is A Hideous Entity In the Middle East Which Will Undoubtedly Be Annihilated http://twitpic.com/2kkrj6
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) September 2, 2010
And still it is argued that Iran's nuclear ambitions are peaceable, and that efforts made by the West to thwart its progress are evidence of nothing more than the neo-Imperialist bullying of a pious Muslim nation.
Writers like Juan Cole and Jonathan Steele face two obstacles in assessing the threat posed by Iran. The first is that they are not actually all that interested in the intentions of the Iranian regime. They are interested in the intentions of America and Israel, for whom it is argued the use of pre-emptive military force is never legitimate, no matter how grave the risk of inaction. Should evidence emerge of a gathering Iranian threat that might justify military action, the tendency is to attack the source, to rationalise it, to demand attention to 'nuance', to deconstruct its language, or simply to dismiss it altogether as so much empty rhetoric.
The second problem is that they are not willing to accept that Iran's problem with Israel is not simply political; it is theological and therefore irrational by definition. Cole's description of Ahmadinejad's words as "metaphysical" was more pertinent than he acknowledged and does more damage to his case than he realises.
Twelfth Imamism, to which Iran's fanatical ruling clerics subscribe, holds that their eponymous messiah, also known as the Mahdi or the hidden Imam, will return with Jesus at a time of apocalyptic conflict, to slaughter the infidels and establish peace for the surviving believers under a global Islamic caliphate. It is noticeable that the longer Iran's centrifuges have spun unmolested, the more frequent and confident Iranian officials' predictions of Israel's imminent demise and the consequent return of the 12th Imam have become.
When asked whether the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, which rests on an assumption of rational self-preservation, could prevent a nuclear conflagration in the Middle East, the historian Bernard Lewis was dismissive:
In the Muslim perception, there is an endless struggle going on between the true believers and the misbelievers. And this struggle will go on until the Final Stage when the true believers will triumph and the misbelievers will be conquered and either converted or subjugated. There is widespread belief among Muslims at the present time that that time is present or immediately approaching. We live in the End of Times and this is the Final Stage, which means that Mutually Assured Destruction is not a deterrent; it's an inducement.Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens agreed that the Cold War precedent was a poor guide to the likely effects of Middle Eastern proliferation. He pointed out that, while Communism's appetite for mass-murder remains unsurpassed, as materialists they had never been much on mass-martyrdom:
That is not the case with Shi'ism, which has been decisively shaped by a cult of suffering and martyrdom dating to the murder of Imam Husayn—the Sayyed al-Shuhada, or Prince of Martyrs—in Karbala in the seventh century. The emphasis on martyrdom became all the more pronounced in Iran during its war with Iraq, when Tehran sent waves of child soldiers, some as young as 10, to clear out Iraqi minefields. As Hooman Majd writes in his book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, the boys were often led by a soldier mounted on a white horse in imitation of Husayn: “the hero who would lead them into their fateful battle before they met their God.” Tens of thousands of children died this way.Whether Iran's clerics volunteer themselves for martyrdom or make arrangements to sit out the apocalypse is an open question (I suspect the latter). But their willingness to sacrifice thousands of their citizens and co-religionists to eschatological destiny is considerably less doubtful. And if they think they can obliterate the Jewish State in the process, it becomes considerably more likely. Unlike Russia or the United States during the Cold War, Israel is a tiny country with only a handful of large cities, so far fewer warheads would be required to devastate its population.
Those Western commentators who see pre-emptive military action against any Muslim country as to be avoided at all costs should be made to defend the likely consequences of the inaction they recommend. To wit, a region-wide arms race in the most deeply sectarian and volatile part of the planet. With a poly-nuclear Middle East sitting on a hair-trigger, Israel's continuing existence would be untenable. Given the wealth of evidence demonstrating Iran's sincere and unequivocal wish to see the extirpation of the Jewish State, the insistence on rationalising and excusing the genocidal statements and actions of its leaders and theocrats is simply perverse.
Juan Cole insists that Western democracies must take the moral high ground. That the only kind of morally acceptable military action is that undertaken in reprisal or self-defence. But democratic governments also have a pressing moral duty to protect their citizens from harm. And part of doing that is identifying and intercepting a clear and present existential danger before it is too late. That Iran might be obliterated by the United States following a nuclear assault on Israel would be of little consolation to the population of Tel Aviv.
It would be wonderful if the Iranian regime could be persuaded to renounce their nuclear ambitions and to admit inspectors. But given that this is unlikely, we need to be honest about the nature of the threat a nuclear Iran would pose and the steps required to prevent it. As Jeffrey Goldberg said, during a debate on the subject earlier this year:
In 1998, I was in Afghanistan in Kandahar, when Osama Bin Laden issued the first big fatwa against crusaders and Jews. And I was with a bunch of Westerners and we heard about this and, frankly, we laughed about it because it seemed crazy; absolutely insane, the audacity of it. And three years later I learned that very often when someone says something that seems crazy and says it over and over again, its worth paying attention . . . in the post-9/11 age, I believe we have to take religious fundamentalists who say they want to kill us seriously.
For the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs' dossier entitled The Iranian Leadership’s Continuing Declarations of Intent to Destroy Israel, click here.