It is said, referring to the Bohemian lifestyle surrounding Washington Square, that whenever a virgin passes by the statue of Garibaldi in Washington Square Park, he salutes. Something similar can be said about what happens when someone tells the truth from the podium of the UN General Assembly. The September 29 2014 speech delivered there by Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu was outstanding even by the standards of mendacity set over the decades from that disgraced podium. What follows is an analysis of the speech as it pertains to the Iran crisis.
Netanyahu’s words are in plain text. My comments are in bold.
[O]ur hopes and the world’s hope for peace are in danger. Because everywhere we look, militant Islam is on the march.
It’s not militants. It’s not Islam. It’s militant Islam. Typically, its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one. Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Kurds – no creed, no faith, no ethnic group is beyond its sights. And it’s rapidly spreading in every part of the world. You know the famous American saying: “All politics is local”? For the militant Islamists, “All politics is global.” Because their ultimate goal is to dominate the world.
Netanyahu will now proceed to mix Islamic world domination with a caliphate with Islamism at large. Thus, Boko Haram recently declared a caliphate, but has no designs for world domination. And most Islamist groups don’t have a caliphate as part of their political program.
Now, that threat might seem exaggerated to some, since it starts out small, like a cancer that attacks a particular part of the body. But left unchecked, the cancer grows, metastasizing over wider and wider areas. To protect the peace and security of the world, we must remove this cancer before it’s too late. Last week, many of the countries represented here rightly applauded President Obama for leading the effort to confront ISIS. And yet weeks before, some of these same countries, the same countries that now support confronting ISIS, opposed Israel for confronting Hamas.
Which countries? Obviously the countries which feel threatened by ISIS but not Hamas would be grateful for Obama for confronting the former but not the latter. The Western powers had no quarrel with Israel “confronting” Hamas. Obama and many other Western leaders only urged Israel not to exceed a certain level of violence in its assault on Gaza, but none of this had anything to do with opposing Israel for confronting Hamas. In any case, this “paradox” assumes that the Israeli war with Hamas was equivalent to the war with ISIS. And so Netanyahu continues…
They evidently don’t understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.
Now this is true in the sense that they’re both Islamist parties. But so, for instance, is the ruling party in Turkey. So, for that matter, were the Afghan mujaheds financed by the Americans and their allies. So were the Taleban, with which the Western powers were prepared to do business.1
ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control.
These words don’t sit well in the mouth of the prime minister of a country which has relentlessly imposed its own will on territories well outside its internationally-recognized boundaries.
Listen to ISIS’s self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. This is what he said two months ago: A day will soon come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master… The Muslims will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism… and destroy the idol of democracy. Now listen to Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas. He proclaims a similar vision of the future: We say this to the West… By Allah you will be defeated. Tomorrow our nation will sit on the throne of the world.
Even on the terms Netanyahu presents them, if the two quotes are read with any attention, it is clear that they have little in common. Mashaal does not say that the Muslims will be the master everywhere they go; to “sit on the throne of the world” is equivalent to “sit on top of the world” in English and is not to be taken literally, as can be seen in the context, as we will now see. Nor does he say the movement he leads will destroy democracy (although, of course, it is entirely anti-democratic). Nor does he threaten the world with terrorism.
Netanyahu’s rendering of Meshaal’s speech makes it look like Hamas is promoting Muslim world rule. But if you look at the translation by MEMRI, which serves to publish speeches which embarrass Israel’s enemies, but includes material Netanyahu omitted from the text, it is clear that it says nothing of the sort.
We say to this West, which does not act reasonably, and does not learn its lessons: By Allah, you will be defeated. You will be defeated in Palestine, and your defeat there has already begun. True, it is Israel that is being defeated there, but when Israel is defeated, its path is defeated, those who call to support it are defeated, and the cowards who hide behind it and support it are defeated. Israel will be defeated, and so will whoever supported or supports it.
America will be defeated in Iraq. Wherever the [Islamic] nation is targeted, its enemies will be defeated, Allah willing.
Now clearly, Meshaal is referring not to the world at large, and, indeed, not even the Muslim world as a whole (Afghanistan, for instance, is not mentioned in the speech reproduced in MEMRI), but the Arab world.
Fully ten minutes later, he provides the rest of the speech which Netanyahu links with ellipses. (Ellipses in the following quote are from MEMRI.)
Tomorrow, our nation will sit on the throne of the world. This is not a figment of the imagination, but a fact. Tomorrow we will lead the world, Allah willing. Apologize today, before remorse will do you no good. Our nation is moving forwards, and it is in your interest to respect a victorious nation.
Our nation will be victorious. When it reaches the leadership of the world, and controls its own decisions, then it will prevent this overt interference [in our affairs], and its pillaging of natural resources, and will prevent these recurring offenses against our land, against our nation, and against our holy places – then you will regret it.
Again, if Meshaal was promoting Muslim world rule, as Netanyahu expects his listeners to believe, there would be no point in talking about foreign interference in the affairs of the Muslim world, or protecting its wealth from being pillaged.
But even al-Baghdidi’s speech does not clearly refer, as Netanyahu would have it, to world domination. A reading of the translation provided by MEMRI indicates that it speaks, instead, to a revival of Muslim power and a restoration of Muslim dignity. Since the subject at hand is not ISIS per se, I won’t go into details. My readers can read for themselves.
As Hamas’s charter makes clear, Hamas’s immediate goal is to destroy Israel. But Hamas has a broader objective. They also want a caliphate.
Pretty much any pious Muslim, if asked, will reply that he or she “wants” a caliphate. But there is no indication that a caliphate is part of Hamas’ program. In any case, there is no evidence that Hamas has a caliphate as part of its program.
Hamas shares the global ambitions of its fellow militant Islamists.
Militant Islamist groups have different global goals, some including a caliphate, some with more parochial concerns. The Taliban, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, have not raised the banner of a caliphate. Boco Haram raised this slogan only recently and in no way is this one of its “global ambitions.” Indeed, Islamists that have are a distinct minority.
That’s why its supporters wildly cheered in the streets of Gaza as thousands of Americans were murdered on 9/11.
The sad truth is, according to a poll taken by the Norwegian FAFO, a group with friendly ties with the Palestine Authority and the peace camp in general several years after the fact, al-Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers was very popular in the Palestinian territories. Bitterness towards the West, which supported the State of Israel regardless of its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, might go a long way to explaining this phenomenon. (Electronic Intifada presents an article which, after some pointless special pleading. explains this nicely.) Interestingly, at the time, the rightist pro-Israel blogosphere was full of articles about how this proved that Hamas’ rival, the Palestine Authority, was the problem, and that it showed that the West should stop supporting these “bastards”. See, for instance, this and this article. But see also this analysis by the Arabist Abu Aardvark.) In any case, the demonstrations in the Palestinian territories did not occur in Gaza, but in Nablus and in two Palestinian camps in Lebanon. In the event, the Palestine Authority clearly and unequivocally condemned the attacks.
And that’s why its leaders condemned the United States for killing Osama Bin Laden, whom they praised as a holy warrior.
We haven’t located the full statement. An article in The Guardian writes:
The author of the article reports that in the statement referred to, Hamas Gaza president Ismail Haniyeh noted doctrinal differences between Bin Laden’s al-Qaida and Hamas which sees itself as primarily a nationalist movement rather than an international movement (pace Netanyahu). Haniyeh added: “We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”
So when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.
As we have seen, Netanyahu has proven nothing of the sort. For an interesting article on the origin of this slogan, see Allison Deger’s post on Mondoweiss.
And what they share in common, all militant Islamists share in common: • Boko Haram in Nigeria; • Ash-Shabab in Somalia; • Hezbollah in Lebanon; • An-Nusrah in Syria; • The Mahdi Army in Iraq; • And the Al-Qaeda branches in Yemen, Libya, the Philippines, India and elsewhere.
Some are radical Sunnis, some are radical Shi’ites. Some want to restore a pre-medieval caliphate from the 7th century. Others want to trigger the apocalyptic return of an imam from the 9th century. They operate in different lands, they target different victims and they even kill each other in their quest for supremacy. But they all share a fanatic ideology. They all seek to create ever expanding enclaves of militant Islam where there is no freedom and no tolerance – Where women are treated as chattel, Christians are decimated, and minorities are subjugated, sometimes given the stark choice: convert or die. For them, anyone can be an infidel, including fellow Muslims.
Again, this is not true. Women are oppressed in Iran, but are hardly treated as chattel, the way women are treated in territory controlled by Boko Haram and ISIS. Nor are Christians being decimated in Iran or, for that matter, by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Militant Islam’s ambition to dominate the world seems mad. But so too did the global ambitions of another fanatic ideology that swept to power eight decades ago.
The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith. They just disagree about who among them will be the master… of the master faith. That’s what they truly disagree about. Therefore, the question before us is whether militant Islam will have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.
There is one place where that could soon happen: The Islamic State of Iran. For 35 years, Iran has relentlessly pursued the global mission which was set forth by its founding ruler, Ayatollah Khomeini, in these words: We will export our revolution to the entire world. Until the cry “There is no God but Allah” will echo throughout the world over… And ever since, the regime’s brutal enforcers, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, have done exactly that.
If Iran has relentlessly pursued its global mission for 35 years, it has little enough to show for it. Its influence is limited to the Shia world, and the bulk of its success in this regard was handed to it by the Bush administration in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and the Taleban. Otherwise, this is purely aspirational and not operational.
Listen to its current commander, General Muhammad Ali Ja’afari. And he clearly stated this goal. He said: Our Imam did not limit the Islamic Revolution to this country… Our duty is to prepare the way for an Islamic world government…
It’s not impossible that he said such a thing, although the only sources I’ve found in English for this quote are all from pro-Israel sources. (It seems to have originated with Amir Taheri, a notoriously unreliable source. See his 2008 article (where, inter alia, he manages to utterly mangle the American expression Crazy Eddie). It appears at greater length in his book Persian Night, published a year later.2 Although he never provided a source for this quote, it is cited in The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West by former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dore Gold.3 In these sources, the-president Ahmadinejad is the targeted via Jaafari, despite the complicated relationship between the two. [Robert Mackey, Ahmadinejad Was Slapped by General, Leaked Cable Says (The New York Times, January 3, 2011; http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1078520.html http://iranpulse.al-monitor.com/index.php/tag/mohammad-ali-jafari/] Using Jaafari as a club to beat the current Rouhani government with is even more absurd. Finally, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary Guards of Iran going for world conquest after having been defeated by a country with a third of its population but well supported by its rivals in a punishing war.
Iran’s President Rouhani stood here last week, and shed crocodile tears over what he called “the globalization of terrorism.” Maybe he should spare us those phony tears and have a word instead with the commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. He could ask them to call off Iran’s global terror campaign, which has included attacks in two dozen countries on five continents since 2011 alone.
Of course, this claim is not documented. If we look at all the countries the Islamic Republic of Iran is accused of carrying out terroristic acts in, according to Wikipedia, even assuming all the accusations of are true, it is hard to see how they add up to two dozen.
To say that Iran doesn’t practice terrorism is like saying Derek Jeter never played shortstop for the New York Yankees.
This bemoaning of the Iranian president of the spread of terrorism has got to be one of history’s greatest displays of doubletalk.
Three points here.
First, the State of Israel has carried out many assassinations, including (apparently) murders of Iranian scientists, many of whom had not relationship to any conceivable nuclear weapons program. While many of the targets were understandable (Nazi war criminals, terrorists who targeted civilians), many of them were purely political. And then there is the matter of Israel’s use of massive violence, often against civilian targets, to force its neighbors to, for instance, crack down on Palestinian fedayeen activity.
Second, the IRI is desperately afraid of ISIS and what it represents. This is a legitimate concern which Iran shares with the rest of the world. IRI is simply doing what most other countries do–turn a blind eye to its own acts of terrorism and focus on acts of terrorism which target it and its own interests.
Finally, comparing, for example, an amateurish attack allegedly backed by the IRI on an Israeli target in Bulgaria with ISIS atrocities is ridiculous.
Now, some still argue that Iran’s global terror campaign, its subversion of countries throughout the Middle East and well beyond the Middle East, some argue that this is the work of the extremists. They say things are changing. They point to last year’s elections in Iran.
The issue of Iran’s relations with its Sunni Arab neighbors requires more discussion than we have space for here. There is no doubt that these relations have been tense, even after the Iran-Iraq war ended. But with the new government in office, Ayatollah Rafsanjani’s agenda of an entente with the conservative Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf is slowly but surely being advanced.
They claim that Iran’s smooth talking President and Foreign Minister, they’ve changed not only the tone of Iran’s foreign policy but also its substance. They believe Rouhani and Zarif genuinely want to reconcile with the West, that they’ve abandoned the global mission of the Islamic Revolution.
Really? So let’s look at what Foreign Minister Zarif wrote in his book just a few years ago: We have a fundamental problem with the West, and especially with America. This is because we are heirs to a global mission, which is tied to our raison d’etre… A global mission which is tied to our very reason of being.
And then Zarif asks a question, I think an interesting one. He says: How come Malaysia [he’s referring to an overwhelmingly Muslim country–Netanyahu] – how come Malaysia doesn’t have similar problems? And he answers: Because Malaysia is not trying to change the international order.
And now I’m going into a digression about Mr. Zarif’s book, Aqaye Safir (Mr. Ambassador). A translation of his book is scheduled to appear in a few months, and readers of this article can refer to it and make up their own minds. First, what follows is the passage from which Netanyahu quotes:
We have a fundamental problem with the West, particularly with America, because we lay claim to a perspective which has an international dimension. This has nothing to do with how strong we are and refers to the source of our perspective. Why doesn’t Malaysia have these problems? Because Malaysia is not interested in a change in the international order. Perhaps it wants to be independent, promote its own policies, and be powerful, but it describes this power as being the promotion of, say, national welfare. We, too, want national welfare, but we have laid out an international mission, both in the Constitution and in the goals of the Islamic Revolution. Even if we had not laid it out explicitly, such a mission is in our revolution’s essence. This is not necessarily dangerous; indeed, it is a source of strength, just as one of America’s most important sources of strength is its discourse, which was hidden during the Bush administration but which Obama is in the process of restoring.
This international mission gives us strength to be become a regional power. Of course, this does not belong to the current government. In fact, it is the heritage of the efforts of all the post-revolutionary governments. This reality has created serious enemies and rivals for us. The informed know that we are not interested in a nuclear bomb. But it raises the question for a researcher as to how a country is prepared to allow itself to be boycotted to acquire a source of energy. A country which has oil is prepared to put this energy source in danger to acquire another energy source, one which might produce only a tenth of the energy oil does. And so this researcher figures that Iran has a security goal and wants to make a bomb. In fact, this general misunderstand which has arisen has resulted in each pursuing the matter according to his own view.
I believe that not only are nuclear weapons dangerous for the region, but for Iran itself. Having nuclear weapons will neither make Iran secure nor serve as a deterrent. On the contrary. the greatest danger is to enter nuclear negotiations in military form and wreck the strategic balance in the world and the region. I think that the country’s higher offices agree with this view. But their [presumably the West’s] behavior, bargaining, and making excuses and some of our bumbling have led to this view. I personally believe that the roots of this problem can be this same misunderstanding, and not that Iran is actually pursuing nuclear weapons.4
Elsewhere, he writes of his strategy:
Mr. Kissinger believes that when we were determined to begin relations, the two parties first had to know their respective partner’s views on the further of their relations. In other words, for instance, the Americans had to know that China was not pursuing the elimination of America and the Chinese, for their part, had the same expectations of the Americans. When this stage concluded, only then could ping pong diplomacy help in confidence building. If course, we had conjunctural collaboration with America, but the two parties were never able to say, “Our perspective of our future relations is that we will, say,l always have differences with you, but do not pursue your overthrow or make military threats against you. This example which I just gave never took form in Iranian-American relations. Moreover, all the cooperation between the two countries, even though they had vastly positive results for them (the overthrow of the Taleban and Saddam, etc.) did not conclude in the improvement of bilateral relations. For example, in the Afghan War, Pakistan’s intelligence services fed the Americans 100% false information and drew the Northern Alliance forces positions on a map as Taleban positions and showed it to them. It might be unbelievable that these same all-mighty Americans, with all their intelligence, were deceived by Pakistan’s weak intelligence and wanted to attack these Northern Alliance positions. Our timely intervention, along with the field intelligence of the relevant officer stopped them… Or during the Second Iraq War, which led to Saddam’s overthrow, the Israel Lobby and the Arab Lobby wanted to direct the lust for power of Mr. Bush and the Neoconservatives towards Iran instead of Iraq. Of course, thanks to God’s grace, our political activity prevented this from happening. Moreover, one cannot claim that positive and confidence-building measures did not lead to any desired results. But for the aforementioned reasons, they did not conclude with any improvement in bilateral relations.5
From here, we see that our ambassador has an eager desire not to destroy the West or even to cow it, but to come to an accomodation with it. Indeed, glancing through the book has convinced me that its author is almost pathetically keen on coming to a mutually-advantageous arrangement with the West in general and the United States in particular, despite being repeatedly rebuffed. Anyone looking for a plan for world domination will come away disappointed. All he wants is a Nixon goes to China type deal.
That’s your moderate. So don’t be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive. It’s designed for one purpose, and for one purpose only: To lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran’s path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces, and leave it with the capacity of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran’s place as a threshold military nuclear power. In the future, at a time of its choosing, Iran, the world’s most dangerous state in the world’s most dangerous region, would obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons.
Netanyahu omits the fact that the West has been leaning on IRI to drastically reduce the number of centrifuges it is allowed to have.6 The speaker then contradicts the claim that it is after weapons, saying that it is after what is conventionally called a “breakout capacity.”
Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all. It’s one thing to confront militant Islamists on pick-up trucks, armed with Kalashnikov rifles. It’s another thing to confront militant Islamists armed with weapons of mass destruction. I remember that last year, everyone here was rightly concerned about the chemical weapons in Syria, including the possibility that they would fall into the hands of terrorists. That didn’t happen. And President Obama deserves great credit for leading the diplomatic effort to dismantle virtually all of Syria’s chemical weapons capability. Imagine how much more dangerous the Islamic State, ISIS, would be if it possessed chemical weapons. Now imagine how much more dangerous the Islamic state of Iran would be if it possessed nuclear weapons. Ladies and Gentlemen, Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop intercontinental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn’t. Then you mustn’t let the Islamic State of Iran do those things either.
This alarmist view is not shared by leading lights of the Israeli security establishment. See, for example, this article about a rare public comment by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and other members of the Israel nuclear, defense, and intelligence establishment, as well as American intelligence agencies.
Because here’s what will happen: Once Iran produces atomic bombs, all the charm and all the smiles will suddenly disappear. They’ll just vanish. It’s then that the ayatollahs will show their true face and unleash their aggressive fanaticism on the entire world.
- But what would IRI do with nuclear weapons? Threatening to drop them on Israel is ludicrous. First, the State of Israel and its Western allies would simply flatten Iran. Second, it would kill more Arabs than all Israel’s wars against its neighbors.
- The real danger an IRI bomb would pose would be towards itself. Knowing that a greatly feared and distrusted IRI had a nuclear weapon would put the State of Israel on a hair trigger to retaliate. The first flock of birds flying West over the Jordan River could set off Iran’s nuclear annihilation. Compared to this scenario, the threat such weapons would pose to Israel is negligible.
There is only one responsible course of action to address this threat: Iran’s nuclear military capabilities must be fully dismantled. Make no mistake – ISIS must be defeated. But to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.
This is, of course, what the West’s negotiations with IRI are designed to do.
To defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.
A “threshold nuclear power” means a breakout capacity; this is not the same as Netanyahu’s previous claim, that Iran is out to manufacture actual bombs.
Fundamentally, there is no way of satisfying the likes of Netanyahu that Iran is not building a bomb without regime change or totally crippling Iran economically. The Western powers are going through the arduous and delicate task of finding common ground with the Islamic Republic of Iran where none yet exists.
1 See Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Yale University Press; 2 edition (April 2010)) and Dr. William Maley, The Foreign Policy of the Taliban (Council on Foreign Relations, February 2000), pp. 10, 18).
2 Encounter Books, NY 2009, p. 209.
3 Regnery, NY, 2009, p. 213.
4 Mohammad Javad Zarif, with Mohammad Mehdi Raji, Aqaye Safir (Ney Publishers, 1392), 236.
5 pp. 170-171.