The Iranian Bogeyman

For the last several months, the Clinton Administration, Israeli government and pro-Israel community have been whipping up hysteria — and I do mean hysteria — about the Iranian threat to Israel, world peace and the known universe. So I would like someone to explain to me why the Administration gave a “green light” to Iran to send arms to the Bosnian Muslims and the Israelis and American Jews looked the other way. If these guys are such a menace, why would we allow the Iranians to export their revolution (which is what they are really doing) to a country that America is supporting?

The first to criticize the Administration should have been the Israeli lobby, since it has made Iran its new bogeyman. Unfortunately, the community appears petrified to criticize the most pro-Israel President in history. Why? If you can’t give counsel to your friend, who can you talk to? It wasn’t necessary to make it a big deal, but Jewish leaders should at least be willing to say the Administration’s actions are inconsistent with its policy toward Iran.

Frankly, the whole anti-Iran campaign appears overblown to me. I can understand organizations inflating the Iranian threat for fundraising purposes — promoting the peace process clearly hasn’t motivated people to contribute, so it’s necessary to create a new danger. Still, Iran should not be portrayed as the equivalent of the former Soviet Union.

It is worth remembering that Iran could not even defeat Iraq in their gulf war. Iran is also a long distance from Israel. In fact, I was looking at my old propaganda maps illustrating the distance of nations threatening to Israel and Iran does not even appear.

Since the Iranian revolution, the principal concern of policymakers has been the spread of Khomeinism; however, seventeen years have elapsed and that has not occurred. Moreover, despite the alleged upsurge in radical fundamentalism, the majority of Muslims are rejecting the rabid anti-Semitism of Iran and a growing number of Muslim nations are entering into diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel.

A legitimate concern is Iranian sponsorship of terrorism, but even this is exaggerated. The Iranian connection does not appear nearly as global as, say, the Palestinians’ once was. Iranian-backed terrorists are primarily found in southern Lebanon and they could be stopped tomorrow by the Syrians if Hafez Assad shut off the money and arms pipeline from Tehran and used Hama rules (Thomas Friedman’s reference to Assad razing the city of Hama and killing 20,000 people to eliminate opponents to his regime) to wipe them out. The American failure to pressure Assad to do this — closing the pipeline at least — is another indication of the hypocrisy of the policy toward Iran.

The more serious danger is Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability. Again, the rhetoric exceeds the reality. Despite the best efforts of the Germans, French, Italians and others, the Iranians do not appear close to manufacturing nuclear weapons. Obviously, we want to do everything possible to insure Iran never obtains the means to do so, but it is equally clear the Clinton Administration (like its predecessor) is not willing to take the necessary steps, such as imposing sanctions on the Europeans, Russians and Chinese.

Israel has been reducing its defense spending. Its strategists recognize the Israel Defense Forces are the dominant power in the region. For some reason, our community acts like it prefers the days when Israel was the underdog, threatened on all sides.

My point is not to rehabilitate Iran and promote it as a friend of Israel and the West. On the contrary, the threat it poses to our interests should be taken seriously. That can only be done, however, if it is evaluated in the context of Iran’s true capabilities rather than the political agenda of either the Clinton Administration or the pro-Israel community.

All danger to Israel hasn’t evaporated, but let’s keep the threats in perspective. In his speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Prime Minister Shimon Peres drew a round of applause for remarking that the Israeli education budget is now equal to that for defense. For the first time in decades, we have the opportunity to focus on all the positive developments in Israel, from its phenomenal economic growth to its success in absorbing most of the olim to its innovative approaches to domestic problems we share. Let’s put the bogeymen back in the closet and celebrate the triumph of Zionism.