Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- The February 2019 statement by Spanish Foreign Minister and nominee for the post of EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell cynically trivialized Iranian threats to destroy the State of Israel. The message that this transmits to the Iranian leadership is very worrisome. It follows a spate of similarly irresponsible and undiplomatic comments by Minister Borrell against other states and peoples.
- Iranian threats to annihilate Israel as well as its policy of Holocaust denial have been consistently and publicly voiced by Iran’s senior leadership and military commanders since 2005. Such threats are blatantly inconsistent with the UN Charter and are contrary to central instruments of international law and international human rights.
- While elements in the international community have expressed disgust at such statements by Iran, no action has been taken against Iran and its leadership, and the lackadaisical attitude by the European leadership to such statements should be of concern to all.
- This attitude would appear to echo a prevalent view that exists within the EU and within the wider international community, intent on appeasing and coddling the Iranian regime – evidently for economic and wider security reasons.
- In light of Minister Borrell’s irresponsible statement, his candidacy to head the EU’s foreign affairs department should be reconsidered.
When asked in a February 2019 media interview regarding the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s involvement in terror attacks in Europe, and repeated calls by Iran’s leaders for Israel’s destruction, Spanish Foreign Minister and nominee for the post of EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Josep Borrell, replied, inter alia:
We are not children following what they [the United States] say. We have our own prospects, interests, and strategy, and we will continue working with Iran. It would be very bad for us if it goes on to develop a nuclear weapon….Iran wants to wipe out Israel? There’s nothing new here. We have to live with it.1
This astounding statement by Minister Josep Borrell is a sad reflection on the lack of credibility of the European Union, which intends to appoint him as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs in November 2019.
It indicates a serious lack of diplomacy and good sense and clearly does not augur well for the senior European foreign minister touted to become the EU’s number one diplomat.
In fact, Borrell seems to have perfected the art of expressing shocking, irrational, and irresponsible statements over the past years, trivializing and downplaying, in an excessively colloquial manner, some of the most serious, drastic, and threatening situations facing the international community.
Borrell’s irresponsible and ill-advised attitudes succeeded in raising the ire of the entire Native American community in November 2018 when he minimized the historic suffering and extermination of indigenous people in the United States, saying, “The United States was born to independence with practically no history; the only thing they had done was to kill four Indians.”2 Borrell later expressed regret at “having referred in an excessively colloquial manner to the near annihilation of Native Americans in the current United States by the settlers.”3
In September 2018, he blatantly accused Hungary of xenophobia, adding that “there is no separation of powers and no freedom of the press,” and termed Hungary and other countries of the region “pseudo-democracies.” In response, the Hungarian state secretary asserted, “There may be differences of opinion between the two countries, and in this turbulent European political situation criticisms may also arise in the minds of certain countries, but the tone of these criticisms cannot overstep the framework of fairness and correct cooperation, particularly if the Hungarian party has no tangible way of responding.”4
Similarly, in an interview in June 2019 with El Periodico, Borell, as Spain’s top diplomat, responding to a question about geopolitical challenges facing the EU, called Russia an “old enemy,” adding that Russia “is turning into a threat.” President Putin responded angrily at a meeting with the heads of news agencies asserting, “This is just another kind of nonsense – some kind of threat Russia poses to Spain, which is on the other side of the European continent. Let your foreign minister address it, think about how to build relations for the benefit of our countries and nations.”5
The Spanish ambassador to Moscow was summoned to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and was told that Borrell’s words “are detrimental to the relations between Russia and Spain, contradict the mutual perception of bilateral relations as friendly, partner-like and mutually beneficial, which is fixed in all official documents signed between the two countries.”6
Earlier, in 2006, in a debate regarding the location of the seat of the European parliament in Strasbourg, Borrell, then president of the European Parliament, angered Nordic MEPs by suggesting that “some Nordic country did not suffer enough during World War II to understand the true meaning of the parliament’s Strasbourg seat.”7 The president of the European Parliament’s demonstration of ignorance of the European continent’s history was condemned by Nordic diplomats.
However, by now trivializing the oft-repeated Iranian declared intention to “wipe Israel off the map,” and, as such, by giving license to a blatant call for genocide and destruction of a sovereign, member state of the international community, Borrell would appear to have crossed all accepted lines of diplomacy, logic, good sense, and basic decency.
While such Iranian calls may have been universally condemned, Borrell’s trivialization is tantamount to institutionalizing such calls and transmitting a message to Iran that the EU is prepared to live with such threats.
The Iranian Calls for the Destruction of Israel
- In 2005, with his assumption of the Presidency of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appearing at the UN, called Israel a “tumor” and echoed the words of the former Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by saying that Israel should be wiped off the map:
The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was, and humanity will achieve freedom, [and] elections should be held among Jews, Christians, and Muslims so the population of Palestine can select their government and destiny for themselves in a democratic manner.8
- On October 2006, Ahmadinejad stated in a speech on “The World without Zionism”:
Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine….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. 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.9
- In a July 2012 address to a group of ambassadors from Islamic countries, Ahmadinejad determined:
Annihilation of the Zionist regime is the key for solving the world problems….Any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for the establishment of justice and freedom in the world….The ultimate objective of world forces must be the annihilation of the Zionist regime.10
- On August 18, 2012, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the Aero-Space Forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, stated:
If the Zionist hooligans embark on practicing their verbal threats, they will provide the best opportunity for the destruction of Israel because then the forged regime will be wiped out of the map and thrown into the trash bin of history forever.11
In September 2012, speaking once again to an audience of about 4,000 students at a program called “The World Without Zionism,” in preparation for an annual anti-Israel demonstration on the last Friday of Ramadan, Ahmadinejad quoted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution: “As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map.”12
In August 2013, newly appointed President Hassan Rouhani, curiously considered to be moderate as compared to his predecessor Ahmadinejad, stated: “The Zionist regime is a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed.”13
On September 9, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Israel as a “fake” regime, and said there would be no Israel 25 years from now: “We tell them that basically, you will not see the next 25 years, and with Allah’s grace, nothing under the name of the Zionist regime will exist in the region by then.”14
In June 2018, Supreme Leader Khamenei stated in a Twitter tirade attacking Israel: “The Zionist Regime will not last. All historical experiences imply that with absolute certainty. Undoubtedly the Zionist regime will perish in the not-so-far future.”15
In November 2018, addressing an annual Islamic Unity Conference, President Rouhani said: “One of the negative results of World War II was the formation of a cancerous tumor in the region.”16
- Rouhani’s statement was widely condemned by the EU in an official statement:
President Rouhani’s remarks bringing into question Israel’s legitimacy are totally unacceptable….They are also incompatible with the need to address international disputes through dialogue and international law.17
- On January 31, 2019, Hossein Salami, Deputy Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), stated following Israeli Air Force attacks against IRGC and pro-Iranian militias in Syria:
We warn the Zionist Regime (Israel) not to play with fire… this will only lead to their disappearance, and they will be destroyed before America hears their cry for help, and they will not have the opportunity to dig enough graves to bury their corpses….If a war starts…the Zionist regime is doomed.18
- On February 2, 2019, the same Hossein Salami stated: “Our strategy is to erase Israel from the global political map. And, it seems that considering the evil that Israel is doing, it is bringing itself closer to that.”19
- More recently, in May 2019 as confirmed on his official website, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed to the youth in Iran that they will “soon witness the demise of Israel and American civilization.”20
- On July 2, 2019, in an interview with a Tehran-based Arabic language network, Mojtaba Zolnour, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, stated: “If the U.S. attacks us, only half an hour will remain of Israel’s lifespan.”21
International Condemnation of Iranian Threats
Despite the current lackadaisical attitude displayed by European leaders to the Iranian threats, there were nevertheless some statements of condemnation by elements within Europe following the shock-wave of the initial spate of Iranian threats by Iranian president Ahmadinejad in 2005.
On November 16, 2005, the President of the European Parliament Jose Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese politician, condemned strongly the threats uttered by then Iranian president Ahmadinejad, stating: “Naturally, we must utterly condemn the totally unacceptable remarks about the State of Israel made by the Iranian Head of State, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”22
The European Council issued a similarly strong denunciation in 2005:
The European parliament in Strasbourg has adopted a tough resolution condemning the statements by Iran’s president that Israel should be “wiped off the face of the earth” and called on him to retract his bellicose comments in their entirety. The resolution calls on Tehran to recognize the state of Israel and its right to live in peace and safety.
Even the EU condemned Ahmadinejad’s statements fourteen years ago, saying that they had “no place in civilized political debate.”23
The leaders of France, Austria, the UK, and Germany similarly condemned Ahmadinejad’s threats. The foreign minister of Germany Walter Steinmeier criticized the Iranian leader’s remarks as: “shocking and unacceptable….I cannot hide the fact that this weighs on bilateral relations and on the chances for the negotiation process.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reacted to the Iranian President’s reported call for Israel to be wiped off the map, stressing In October 2005:
Israel is a long-standing UN Member with the same rights and obligations as every other Member, and that, under the Organization’s Charter, all Members have undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.24
Outside Europe, the Iranian leadership’s threats were also condemned by then-Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, who stated on December 14, 2005:
Canada vigorously condemns the recent statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his denial of the Holocaust. These statements are irresponsible, contrary to Canadian values, and have no place in the discourse of member states of the United Nations.…This threat to Israel’s existence, this call for genocide coupled with Iran’s obvious nuclear ambitions, is a matter that the world cannot ignore.
His revisionist position goes against the fundamental principles of human rights and is contrary to historical fact. It is also contrary to the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2005, which called for, among other things, the prevention of future acts of genocide by remembering the crimes of the past. This resolution, which was passed by consensus and which Canada co-sponsored, also established a Holocaust Memorial Day.25
International Obligations against Threatening Sovereign States
As stated by the UN Secretary-General and others, the threats by Iran to eradicate Israel from the map, constitute a distinct violation of several key international instruments, including:
The UN Charter 1945
Article 1 stresses the importance of “effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.”
Article 2 requires all member states to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”26
Article 39 requires the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”27
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 affirms in its third article that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,” and in its final provision (Article 30) affirms that “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”28
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 (to which Iran is party since 1955), determines:
- that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law (Article 1),
- genocide means acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such” (Article 2),
- crimes punishable as genocide include conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide and complicity in genocide (Article 3),
- persons committing any of these components of genocide “shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals” (Article 4).29
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (to which Iran is party since 1976) prohibits propaganda for war, as well as “hate speech that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence.”30
The UN Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations
New York, October 24, 1970 repeats the essential principles set out in the UN Charter and views such threats as a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. It also calls on states to refrain from organizing or encouraging the organization of irregular forces or armed bands including mercenaries, for incursion into the territory of another State.31
The UN Definition of Aggression, General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) adopted in 1974 acknowledges in its preamble that “aggression is the most serious and dangerous form of the illegal use of force, being fraught, in the conditions created by the existence of all types of weapons of mass destruction, with the possible threat of a world conflict and all its catastrophic consequences.”32
The 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) lists the Crime of Genocide as defined in the UN Genocide Convention (Article 6), Crimes against Humanity including acts of extermination (Article 7) and the Crime of Aggression (Article 8 bis) as “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
Thus, such crimes are punishable by the Court.
The Crime of Aggression, added to the ICC Statute in 2010 and based on the UN 1974 Definition of Aggression, includes “planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The Statute defines as an act of aggression “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”33
Questions for Borrell
Mr. Borrell seems quite content with letting Israel “live with” the Iranian threats of extermination and genocide.
But how does he expect Israel to “live with” the practical realization of those threats in the form of the thousands of rockets and missiles being supplied by Iran to its terror proxies Hamas and Hizbullah?
How does the future EU foreign affairs chief “live” with the fact that, in stark violation of international counter-terror conventions and other instruments prohibiting financing of terror, Iran proudly and openly bankrolls those terror organizations, providing them with advanced technologies for producing weapons and supporting and encouraging their activities?
Would Mr. Borrell “live” so lackadaisically and glibly with similar existential and terror threats against his own country and his own people?
The current apathetic and lackadaisical attitude displayed by the future EU Foreign Affairs Chief and current Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to the Iranian threats to destroy Israel, should not be taken lightly by anyone in the international community.
Nor should it be dismissed as a momentary and haphazard lapse by an irresponsible politician.
Closing a blind eye to Iranian threats to annihilate Israel and its population, as well as to the Iranian leadership’s consistent and institutional policies of denial of the Holocaust, is tantamount to giving Iran a green light to continue threatening Israel with extermination and annihilation, knowing that the international community remains apathetic.
To downplay and trivialize Iran’s threats of aggression and genocide against Israel, a sovereign member of the international community, including threats to violate the UN Charter as well as some of the most serious international instruments prohibiting such threats, represent a real danger to the international order and to the accepted norms and modes of international behavior.
Such a message to the Iranian leadership, delivered by none other than the incoming Foreign Affairs chief of the EU, is doubtlessly interpreted by Iran as a sign of Europe’s weakness and timidity vis-a-vis Iran’s current aggressive tendencies.
This attitude would appear to echo a prevalent view that exists within the EU and within the wider international community, intent on appeasing and coddling the Iranian regime – evidently for economic and wider security reasons.
In a recent article dated June 15, 2019, political scientist Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a board member of the Harvard International Review and president of the International American Council on the Middle East, stated:
It is an unacceptable double-standard that the United Nations and the international community have been, and continue to be, silent about Iran’s threats against Israeli citizens. If the situation were reversed and if Israel threatened to annihilate Iran, the international community would be up in arms, and quick to defend Iran. Through political and economic pressure, the ruling mullahs of Iran should be held accountable by the international community for endangering global security and regional stability.34
In light of the astounding statement by Minister Josep Borrell trivializing and marginalizing the Iranian threats to annihilate Israel, and in light of the message that such trivialization transmits to the Iranian leadership, the EU might be expected, prior to its confirmation of his candidacy, to reconsider his suitability for the post of “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”
* * *
1 https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/brussels-playbook/politico-brussels-playbook-hungarys-change-of-heart-us-eu-relationship-burns-fighting-words/ See also https://jewishjournal.com/news/world/301154/eu-foreign-policy-nominee-said-world-has-to-live-with-iran-wanting-to-destroy-israel/
3 “Borrell apologizes for minimizing the extermination of Indians in the United States” http://www.tellerreport.com/news/–borrell-apologizes-for-minimizing-the-extermination-of-indians-in-the-united-states-.r1gq8ow2Am.html
4 Budapest Business Journal, 21 September 2018 https://bbj.hu/politics/fm-summons-spanish-ambassador-as-war-of-words-escalates_155276
For a comprehensive analysis on “The Iranian Leadership’s Continuing Declarations of Intent to Destroy Israel” 2009-2012, by Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum and Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall see https://jcpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/IransIntent2012b.pdf
See also “Iranian Official and Social Media Call for the Destruction of Israel after the JCPOA” , February 16, 2017 https://jcpa.org/article/iranian-official-social-media-call-destruction-israel-after-jcpoa/
https://jcpa.org/irans-new-revolutionary-guards-commander-threatens-the-u-s-and-israel/#sdendnote6sym with quotes from https://fararu.com/fa/news/388946/%D9%87%D8%B4%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%DB%8C%D9%84
See also Bassam Tawil “The Hamas-Iran Plan to Eliminate Israel”, July 22, 2019 https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/14575/hamas-iran-eliminate-israel
26 Ibid Article 2 paragraph 4
30 Article 20 see https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx