Saturday, August 04, 2012

Iranian Chief of Staff "Reiterates Iran's Commitment to Full Annihilation of Israel" (Fars News Agency)

Ever since Khomeini, the Iranian regime has been formally committed to the position that Israel's existence is illegitimate and unacceptable—not Israel's policies or Israel's occupation of territories captured in 1967, but Israel's existence—and that Israel must be eliminated.  This is simply a fact, and anyone who tries to pretend otherwise is either misinformed or disingenuous.  Often, this refusal to accept the legitimacy of Israel's existence goes along with a refusal, which used to be de rigueur in Arab discourse, to even utter the word "Israel." For example, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has repeatedly described "the Zionist regime" as a "cancerous tumor" in the region that "should be cut off" and "definitely will be cut off."

Let's mention two caveats, neither of which really affects that basic fact.  First, it's true that during different periods prominent figures in the regime have been more or less noisy about publicly emphasizing this position.  As I noted back in October 2005:
In fact, this has been the official policy of the Iranian Islamic Republic since it was established after the 1979 revolution. But in recent years, during the period when the elective part of the Iranian government was formally (though impotently) controlled by reformers led by President Khatami, this position had not been declared in such straightforward and aggressive terms in forums where it would be picked up by the international press. Of course, it continued to be emphasized, for internal Iranian consumption, by the non-elective part of the government, headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, which controls all the actual levers of power. Now that the Khatami phase of moderate Islamic reformism has been definitively shut down by the hard-liners, both parts of the Iranian government are speaking with the same voice. This has come as a shock to some in the outside world.
As we all know, the most prominent loudmouth in this respect has been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran since 2005, who has notoriously declared (partly quoting a formulation of Khomeini's) that Israel must be "wiped off the map."  Ahmadinejad's most attention-getting statement along these lines came in a speech he delivered in October 2005 to a conference on the theme of "The World Without Zionism"—which means a world without Israel. As Al Jazeera (which is not usually regarded as a Zionist/neocon propaganda outlet) noted in its report, "His comments were the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official has called for Israel's eradication, even though such slogans are still regularly used at government rallies."

There have been efforts by various people, some of them well-meaning, to sanitize, whitewash, or obfuscate Ahmadinejad's unambiguous call for the elimination of Israel.  Some of these efforts try to muddy the waters by pointing out that "wiped off the map" is a figurative rather than literal translation of the original Farsi phrase (which no one denies) and then arguing that "wiped off the map" is an ignorant or tendentious mistranslation that distorts the substantive meaning of Ahmadinejad's statement.  He wasn't really calling for Israel's destruction, just musing aloud in some vague and "almost metaphysical" way; and whatever he meant was certainly harmless and inoffensive.

But all this sophistry is just rubbish, especially since Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made the same point using somewhat different formulations.  (If you'd like some elaboration and justification of those assessments, see here & here & here & here.)  No, I don't know Farsi myself, but plenty of scholars and other analysts who are fluent in Farsi familiar with Iranian politics have reached the same conclusion.  And anyone who wants to claim that Ahmadinejad's intent is being distorted has to cope with the embarrassing fact that "wiped off the map" was the English-language phrase used by official Iranian translations from the Foreign Ministry, the President's office, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcast news service (IRIB News).  The official Iranian translators don't know Farsi either?

The second caveat is that figures in the Iranian regime who have insisted on the need to eliminate Israel have not always said explicitly that Iran itself will carry out this necessary and valuable task. Ahmadinejad, for example, did not do so in his most widely quoted "wiped off the map" speech in October 2005. This element of ambiguity ought to be acknowledged, though it's not clear how reassuring we should find these coy formulations. (Michael Axworthy, a British diplomat and historian of Iran who strongly favors diplomatic engagement with the current regime, has nevertheless observed that "When the slogan appeared draped over missiles in military parades, [the] meaning was pretty clear,” and attempts to pretend otherwise are often "rather bogus.")

However, we shouldn't get too carried away by this second caveat.  It's also true that major figures in the Iranian regime often do say explicitly that Iran should take a direct role in helping to achieve the destruction of Israel (for some examples, see here).  And public declarations of this sort by prominent members of the ruling elite seem to be multiplying in 2012. In a May 20 speech, for example, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, announced that "the Iranian nation" remains committed to "the full annihilation of Israel." In case you're wondering about the accuracy of that Farsi-to-English translation, it comes from a report by the semi-official Fars News Agency (below), a media outlet for the Revolutionary Guards. But read the whole thing, which also includes other informative tidbits..

Admittedly, one might want to argue that when prominent figures in the Iranian regime and various organs of the regime's propaganda apparatus call repeatedly and unambiguously for the destruction of Israel, they don't really mean it, or they're just bluffing, or for some other reason we shouldn't take what they say seriously. I'm a bit skeptical of such interpretations, which usually strike me as glib and unserious, but there are honest ways to formulate them. However, the fact that they do say it, and say it repeatedly and consistently, is undeniable; and when people try to deny or evade this inconvenient reality, it's hard to take the rest of their arguments entirely seriously.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. To avoid any possible misunderstanding, and to pre-empt a tactic commonly used to change the subject and evade the issues addressed above, let me specify what this discussion has and has not been about. The current Iranian regime—I'm not referring to most ordinary Iranians, but to the lunatics who are actually running the country—has been and remains formally committed to the position that Israel's existence is illegitimate and unacceptable and that Israel must be eliminated. And prominent figures in the regime, including the President and the Supreme Leader, have explicitly, repeatedly, and unambiguously called for Israel's destruction. Some people may find these facts distressing or inconvenient, but they happen to be facts. It is not useful or constructive to waste time and effort trying to deny the undeniable.

It is possible, however, to have serious disagreements about the implications of those facts. For example, nothing in this discussion necessarily implies that if and when the Iranian regime gets nuclear weapons, they would use them to launch a nuclear war to destroy Israel. Nor do these facts necessarily lead to the conclusion that the US and/or Israel should launch a pre-emptive military attack against Iran's nuclear program. (For what it's worth, own my feeling is that a military attack of this sort would almost certainly have disastrous consequences, both direct and indirect. But on the other hand, I'm also convinced that letting the current Iranian regime achieve nuclear weapons capacity would almost certainly have disastrous consequences. So I perceive a tragic dilemma here, and I hope some way can be found to avoid both of those alternatives.) All those are separate issues, which I am deliberately not addressing right now. But any serious, honest, and constructive discussion of those issues has to include facing up to the realities of the situation, however unpleasant or inconvenient.

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Fars News Agency
May 20, 2012
Top Commander Reiterates Iran's Commitment to Full Annihilation of Israel

TEHRAN (FNA)-. Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said threats and pressures cannot deter Iran from its revolutionary causes and ideals, and stressed that the Iranian nation will remain committed to the full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end.

Addressing a defense gathering here in Tehran on Sunday, General Firouzabadi said that nations should realize the threats and dangers posed by the Zionist regime of Israel.

He reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader's emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, "The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel."

The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.

Earlier this year, Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei stressed in explicit remarks Iran's direct involvement in the Palestinian and Lebanese confrontation with Israel, including the Lebanese Summer 2006 33-day resistance against the Zionist regime.

"Wherever Iran interferes, it announces it in a very straightforward manner. For instance, we interfered in confrontations against Israel, which resulted in the (Lebanese) victory in the 33-day war and (Palestinians' victory in) the 22-day (Gaza) war," Ayatollah Khamenei said, addressing millions of Friday Prayers worshippers on Tehran University Campus in February.

"In future too, we will support and help everyone who opposes the Zionist regime," the Leader underscored.

"The Zionist regime is a real cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut, God Willing," Ayatollah Khamenei underscored.

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