The Dispute over Iranian Intentions

, March 9, 2012

Israel Hayom http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1516

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul went out of his way just last month again to defend the Iranians. In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan broadcast on Feb. 3, the Texas Congressman objected to Morgan’s referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for “wiping out Israel” in his famous speech of Oct. 26, 2005.

Paul said that Morgan was misquoting Ahamadinjad like “99 per cent of the media.” He tried to clarify the Iranian position by asserting that what Ahmadinjead called for was “removing the regime in charge of Jerusalem.” He argued that the Iranian leader “did not say that Israel should be wiped from the face of the Earth.” Removing a regime, according to Ron Paul, was like “getting rid of our administration.” Ron Paul made the same arguments on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox in December 2011.

Why should Israel care what Ron Paul says since he is not going to be the Republican nominee? He is not an expert in Farsi, the Iranian language. In any case, his position is not new, since he has been making this argument since 2007, when he raised it in the House of Representatives. Given that most public opinion polls indicate that the American people are overwhelmingly anti-Iranian, Paul’s ideas on Iran might be seen as off the wall by many. But as a presidential candidate, Ron Paul gets enormous television exposure to spread his ideas. Using the stage he has been given, he repeats his theories about Iran to millions of Americans.

Until now Paul’s ideas on Iran have been extremely unpopular. But, in a country like the U.S. where many felt deceived after Washington claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then found none, Paul’s statements on Iran might gain traction, depending on how the crisis with Tehran develops. A tendency could develop in some circles to say that the whole Iranian threat is being exaggerated, in order to get the West to pull back from dealing with it. This is where Paul’s theories might come in.

To add to his credibility, Paul has also been backed by a number of Western academics, like Professor Juan Cole of the prestigious University of Michigan, who has argued that there is no such expression like “wipe off the map” in the Persian language. The truth is that the original translation of Ahmadinejad’s 2005 remarks was made by Nazila Fathi, who was the Tehran bureau chief of the New York Times. She decided to use a colloquial translation and not a literal translation, which would have been, “The Jerusalem-occupying regime must be erased from the page of time.”

No one has yet made the argument that what Ahmadinejad says is insignificant since real military power in Iran is held by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In fact, in the parliamentary elections held at the beginning of March, Khamenei loyalists have just crushed those candidates associated with Ahmadinejad’s camp. But the destruction of Israel is not just the position of Ahmadinejad alone. Indeed, well before Ahmadinejad’s 2005 speech, Khamenei himself said in 2001: “The foundation of the Islamic regime is opposition to Israel and the perpetual subject of Iran is the elimination of Israel from the region.”

The next time Ron Paul and others like him start questioning the veracity of the translations of Iranian leaders about the destruction of Israel, they should look carefully at video clips of Iranian military parades. On Sep. 22, 2004, the Iranians showed off their new Shahab-3 missiles, which had become operational the previous year, during a parade in Tehran. With a 1,300 kilometer range, the Shahab-3 can strike Israel from Iranian territory. Along the side of the truck carrying the Shahab-3 missile in the 2004 parade, the Iranians draped a banner stating, “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Just so no one misunderstands the message, the Iranians also printed it in English. There is no reference to a “regime,” only to “Israel.”

In last year’s parade, the Iranians shortened the slogan they put on the trucks carrying the Shahab-3, writing instead, “Israel must be destroyed.” The Iranian message became even more compelling considering that the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last November that Iranian engineers were seeking to replace the conventional explosives in the Shahab-3 with a nuclear warhead. Michael Axworthy, who headed the Iran section of the British Foreign Office in the late 1990s, wrote in 2008 that considering what was written on the Iranian missiles, the arguments that were being raised disputing Iran’s exact intentions were baseless. The meaning of what they were saying, he warned, “was pretty clear.”

Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.