Spengler responds to M.K. Bhadakumar: Why is Iran obsessed with Israel in the first place?

Spengler responds to M.K. Bhadakumar: Why is Iran obsessed with Israel in the first place?

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With the intellectual boldness that we have come to expect from him, Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar reads into a statement by Iran’s foreign minister the possibility that Iran might accept the existence of the State of Israel. That seems counter-intuitive after the chants of “Death to Israel” at Saturday’s military day parade in Tehran, not to mention the April 1 declaration of a Revolutionary Guards general that “erasing Israel off the map is nonnegotiable.” Counter-intuitive, to be sure, is not the same as impossible, and Bhadrakumar’s reading deserves careful scrutiny.

In an April 20 op-ed in The New York Times, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered this formulation:

A regional role for the United Nations, already envisaged in the Security Council resolution that helped end the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, would help alleviate concerns and anxieties, particularly of smaller countries; provide the international community with assurances and mechanisms for safeguarding its legitimate interests; and link any regional dialogue with issues that inherently go beyond the boundaries of the region.

That may not be as innocent as it sounds.

Does the language regarding “concerns and anxieties, particularly of smaller countries” and “safeguarding [the] legitimate interests” of the international community refer to the State of Israel? The possibility is intriguing, to be sure, but it is appended to proposal to involve the United Nations in imitation of the UN role in monitoring the Iran-Iraq ceasefire of 1988. That involved the creation of a UN observer and inspection force to “verify, confirm and supervise the cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of all forces to the internationally recognized boundaries” prior to the outbreak of the war. There are no “internationally recognized boundaries” in the case of Israel, only Security Council Resolution 242, which leaves boundaries subject to future negotiation: Israel is required to withdraw “from territories” in the formula crafted by the US at the time, not “from all territories” conquered in the 1967 War. UN observers and peacekeepers on Israel’s borders abound, to be sure, some of whom fled to Israel from Syria after an attack by al-Qaeda-linked rebels last August.

If Zarif’s intention is encourage the UN to impose truncated borders on Israel through a regional UN mechanism, Jerusalem will quite understandably view the measure as amputation rather than acceptance. The head of Iran’s parliamentary Palestine Committee, Nasser al Sudani, declared Dec, 21 that the Islamic Republic stood ready to arm Hamas on the West Bank. A West Bank governed by Hamas and armed with Iranian missiles would be be in position to destroy Israel’s largest city and airport.

All this is mere conjecture, however. A more fundamental question to ask is: why has the Islamic Republic inveighed for Israel’s destruction since its founding in 1979? Israel had no history of enmity with Iran. On the contrary, relations between Iran under the Shah were cordial. Like Turkey, Iran recognized the State of Israel, and cooperation extended from energy to (reportedly) joint missile development. Nor did Israeli-Iranian cooperation cease entirely after Khomeini came to power: Israel reportedly provided arms and technical support to Iran during the first phase of the Iran-Iraq War with the encouragement of the Reagan Administration.

There is no evidence of any such cooperation since 2000, when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that must be removed from the region. What motivated the Iranian regime’s morbid obsession with the State of Israel? One searches in vain for a rational explanation. By contrast, Jew-hatred is known among Hindus and Chinese. The Jews’ self-conception as an eternal people called into existence by God, whose “descendants will be established” before him even after the world wears out, bothers Indians and Chinese not in the least. They consider themselves as old or older than the Jews and quite as eternal. Jew-hatred is the envy of the dying for the living, and Iran is a dying country. It suffered the fastest drop in fertility of any country in world history, plunging from premodern fertility (7 births per woman) in 1979 to post-industrial fertility (1.6 per woman) in 2012. It is beset by social pathologies–epidemic drug abuse, prostitution, and sexually-transmitted diseases–on a scale seen nowhere else in Western Asia.

Iran has no strategic grounds to fight the Jewish State; it had none under the Shah, and has none today except for the existential palsy that makes it shudder at the existence of a successful and prosperous Jewish State. Israel’s robust demography, economy and culture cast an appalling light on the Islamic Republic’s own fragility. Can today’s Iran step back from this obsession and view its strategic interests in a more calculating light? The question is up to Iran to answer. Hitler, after all, couldn’t have lost World War II if only he had had the Jews on his side. He wasted vast amounts of logistical capacity to kill Jews, at the expense of his own war effort.

Iran as a nation has looked into the abyss, that is, at the foreseeable, ineluctable prospect of demographic reduction to the point of national irrelevance. No-one knows what another man or another nation sees when it looks into the abyss. As a Jew with a passion for Israel’s well-being, I do not believe that the present Iranian regime can rid itself of its obsession with the Jews. But I salute M.K. Bhadrakumar for requiring me to consider another possibility.

David P. Goldman
David Paul Goldman (born September 27, 1951) is an American economist, music critic, and author, best known for his series of online essays in the Asia Times under the pseudonym Spengler. Goldman sits on the board of Asia Times Holdings.
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