Written by Dennis M. Nilsen exclusively for SouthFront
I am grateful to my South Front colleague Mr. Nohouji for responding to my latest piece on Israeli attitudes towards its Shia neighbors. I am in complete agreeance that we carry our prejudices into whatever we write, no matter the effort to contain them.
To speak in a general vein, with the points which he makes about Israeli and Iranian behavior and about the residue of foreign interference in the Middle East, chiefly by the British, I am in complete agreement. Allow me to address each point in turn.
That there have been no concretely-proven Iranian actions against Israel is true, and despite the widely-held opinion that the Sepah were behind the bombing in Buenos Aires, no proof has ever been presented to give a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt. To reiterate my point, the Iranians lack the military capabilities of the Israelis (and their seemingly permanent backers, the United States) and so, if they intend to strike a blow it will be done via hybrid methods. Also, the Iranians possess centuries of foreign policy experience and, well practiced as they are in the art of statecraft, only act in the open when such a move will be in their best interest. Such a modus operandi is common to all wise counsellors who would rather see their plans inch forward year after year than see them laid waste by an act which gives short-term success but long-term failure.
On the contrary, Israel has conducted overt military strikes against Iraq and Syria, and, if the emails given out by Wikileaks about a joint Israeli/Kurdish special operations mission to destroy the Iranian nuclear program tell the truth, then the Zionist State has indeed attacked Iran.
His thinking about Iranian non-use of a nuclear weapon is also correct. If Iran did launch, what could their leadership possibly expect save a massive retaliation that would all but destroy the country? What could they possibly have to gain by such a move? It is actually a measure of great trust on the part of the Iranians that, despite Israel’s denial of their nuclear arsenal and refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty, they were willing to limit their program and to have it inspected by an international IGO.
Mr. Nohouji’s mention of the relatively peaceful coexistence of the Muslims and Jews in Palestine until the end of the 19th century is also correct. I did not think to mention this because it was too far off topic, but, yes, a policy of passive acceptance of the ruling power was held by all but a few Jews until the advent of Zionism in the 1880s, which very quickly got the backing of the British Government, who then made the fateful Balfour Declaration in 1916, sowing the fate of the territory. That the Zionists had undue influence within the British Government is well known, and one only needs to investigate who paid Winston Churchill’s bills in the 1930s to find this out. It has also been argued that the United States came into World War I on the side of the Allies because Zionist leaders, in thanks for Britain’s declaration of its commitment to a Jewish homeland, lobbied the American Government with such force and persuasion as to make Wilson believe that continued non-action would be morally untenable.
The reception of the Balfour Declaration prompted not a few far-sighted individuals to say that such a move would ensure everlasting enmity between the Muslims and the Jews. But when the US and Britain entered on Israel’s behalf from 1948 on, especially in the 1967 War, this state of affairs became permanent.
Certainly all Iranians are taught about the joint American/British coup against Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, and I agree that its memory, coupled with British support for the Israelis, is an added element to the distrust of the Israeli government. The British Empire is by this time gone, but an unseen financial empire still remains, headquartered largely in London and New York, and it is this empire which the Ayatollah Khamenei often preaches against. The opposition of the resistance economy of Iran and the individualist-capitalist empire headed by the UK and Britain is one of the central subjects of Jean-Michel Vernochet’s book Iran: la destruction necessaire, an excellent read for a wider appreciation of this conflict.
I have not been able to verify Mr. Nohouji’s point on the jurist Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid’s scholarship on the limited guardianship of the jurist but did verify that he was a Shiite jurist in the 11th century.
In response to the point on Ayatollah Khamenei, yes, the Assembly of Experts can restrict and even depose him, but only candidates approved by the Guardian Assembly can stand for election to this body; further, members of the Guardian Assembly are chosen by the Ayatollah himself. So, while the 88 jurists who sit on it are not mere spectators, it can reasonably be argued that the thinking of its members is largely in line with that of Khamenei.
Lastly, I agree that Iran’s rhetoric would deescalate considerably should the Israelis withdraw from the occupied territories. Still, the control of Jerusalem by a Jewish state will always be anathema to the regime (if not to a majority of Iranians) and a source of irritation to the entire Muslim world. Such a move by the Israelis – again, all but impossible due to the disproportionate influence of the settler movement within their politics – would certainly calm the flames, but not put them out entirely. Conversely, the politics of Greater Israel has a not insignificant following in Israel, whose members see the settler movement as a plan to consolidate and eventually annex the West Bank. As long as the Zionist State exists as is, Palestine occupied or no, there will exist enmity between the two countries.
The Iranians are not myopic idealists, but they do realize that continued pressure on Israeli will hopefully lead to the pulling out of a wearied American state. They are also convinced – and I invite Mr. Nohouji to correct me – that the Western bloc is bent upon a regime change in Tehran, just as happened in Iraq. They are fearful that the Americans, in order to ensure a certain and inexpensive petrochemical lifeline, will continually pressure Iran in this fashion, hoping to undo the vela-ye fa qih either directly or indirectly through interior subversion; hence the efforts of the IRGC to counter cyber cultural warfare. Israel, which continues to have an extraordinary influence on American politics – due largely to American Evangelical Protestants and not American Jews, whose support has been waning in the last decade – is the other reason why the Americans are so tied to it.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON “ISRAEL AND THE SHIA THREAT”
The text below is Hadi Gholami Nohouji’s response to the analysis “Israel and the Shia Threat” written by Dennis M. Nilsen. It originally appeared at SouthFront on September 6, 2017.
Upon reading this piece which has as its main objective identify the rationale behind the increasing hostility of the Israeli leadership towards the Shia in comparison with the Sunni, I think it is necessary to make a few points about some of the issues in this article.
As an Iranian national and journalist I try to be as unbiased as possible and, to be honest, I did find the overall majority of the points in this article to be true and the analyst’s insight and information about the issues engaged are superb and nearly complete. Still, we all tend to be a little biased when expressing ourselves and in this case I believe this has also happened (I invite the author to challenge this thought if believes that I am in the wrong).
The first point is that although the Iranian is overtly hostile to Israel its hostility has not been translated directly into action and there haven’t been any direct actions on behalf of Iran against Israel. Many could point to the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires but it is important to remind them of the fact that the allegations are many and the concrete evidence of Iran having a hand in that are none.
Nevertheless Israeli hostility towards Iran has been translated into action as there are evidences pointing that Mossad was involved in the assassination of Iranian scientists from 2010 to 2012 while Tel Aviv Wikileaks confirmed in 2012 that part of Iran’s nuclear installations were destroyed or sabotaged by Israel and kurds.
Another thing to remember is that the Israeli leadership probably is aware of the fact that Iran, even if it were to attain nuclear weapons (which the JCPOA now ensures it won’t), will never launch a unilateral nuclear strike against Israel or any other country the simple reason being that in doing so Tehran would ensure its own destruction, which renders much of the rationale in favor of the isolation of Iran unsustainable (also it is important to take into account that Tel Aviv itself has an ample nuclear arsenal and doesn’t even allow inspections of its sites).
Surprisingly many analysts still have the mentality that acquiring a nuke is synonym to using it while they ignore that the use of a single nuke by Iran would assure international response against Tehran and would pave the way for the use of the same kind of weaponry on Iranian soil.
Another one of the important facts ignored in the text is the fact that the Muslims and Jews were living in harmony and without much problems in Jerusalem and the land of Palestine or Israel until late 1880s when the Jewish population of Europe and to some degree Middle East began to more actively discuss the prospects of a possible return to the land of Palestine which was largely as a solution to the widespread persecution of Jews, and anti-Semitism in Russia and Europe.
This and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 (with ample British support) and the subsequent annexes of territories were the major reasons for which we are facing this Arab-Israeli crisis of today (for sure the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states themselves aren’t any less innocent in this issue).
That is why I think that Iran, itself victim of the Great Britain’s interventions in its own political issues (the Coup against the first democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1953 in favor of a later on dictatorial dynasty), is much more sensitive to what identifies (correctly or mistakenly) as British plans to take over Middle East and control its resources which would explain the hostility towards Israel.
Also one should not forget that Israel was one of the major backers of the Pahlavi Dynasty that deprived the Iranian population of the much needed political and individual freedoms following the coup in 1953 and ended the country’s short lived first experience of a democratic system.
Still, it is true that religion plays a big part in the hostility of the Iranian leadership towards Israel but ignoring the other facts and variables that influence this attitude is a mistake that limits and does not show the big complete picture.
The last point that I do think that needs to be addressed is the fact that there has been talk about the vela-ye faqih at least since the 10th century CE, when Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid first talked about the “Limited Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist”, a limited version of what is actually being implemented in Iran.
Also, I have to remind the fact that the actual Vali-ye-faqih in Iran, Seyed Ali Khamenei, is supervised by the Assembly of Experts which means that the Vali-ye-faqih’s power is regulated through this council.
I do believe that even with all the problems and hostile rhetoric among Iran and Israel in the long run and if Tel Aviv ceases its occupation of the Palestinian land and ends discrimination against the Palestinians, then Tehran will have little reason to keep up its hostile rhetoric and there could be a de-escalation of tensions.