I read again in this morning’s Boston Globe a matter of fact reference to Iran’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map.” This echoes the repeated allegation by President Bush and other top administration officials that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has issued such a call. “We are talking about a specific threat on a partner of the U.S. and Germany,” Bush told the German newspaper Bild last week. But is this not just more neocon disinformation, designed to inspire fear that Iran’s nuclear program, which heads the long list of Washington’s charges against Iran, is really designed to annihilate Israel?
It turns out that Ahmadinejad never said what is being routinely attributed to him. Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at University of Michigan who reads Persian, explains that he actually stated (quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini): “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).”
Now, some might say, “So he didn’t say, ‘wipe off the map,’ he said ‘erase from the page.’ What’s the difference? Anyway he’s saying he wants to get rid of Israel.” But Cole explains why the mistranslation significantly distorts the Iranian leader’s words. “Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope -- that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government. Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that ‘Israel must be wiped off the map’ with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.”
How would it sound if Bush kept repeating: “The Iranian president has quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, who died seventeen years ago, as saying ‘the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time’”? Pretty lame huh. Or if he were to say, “In ten years, Iran might be able to build a nuclear weapon to use against Israel, which itself has had a couple hundred nukes for quite awhile?” Pretty lame too. You can be sure that employees in the current incarnation of the Office of Special Plans aren’t being paid to churn out that kind of stuff. They’re paid to produce effective propaganda to justify the planned attack on Iran.
“This is how we’ll spin it,” some wise neocon must have suggested as soon as the Iranian leader made his statement. “We’ll say Ahmadinejad has stated publicly that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and since we know that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons, clearly Iran plans to nuke Israel at the earliest opportunity. People will say, ‘That’s crazy, Israel would respond to an attack by destroying Iran.’ But we’ll say, ‘Ahmadinejad is indeed crazy. And he’s as bad as Hitler!’”
There are risks in this spin. In the build-up to war on Iraq, the security of Israel was only referenced marginally. The suggestion that the war was “for Israel” was roundly pooh-poohed and those arguing this were and are tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism. But here the president is all but declaring that he will attack Iran rather than allow the country to acquire the ability to produce nuclear weapons which might someday be deployed against nuclear Israel. On March 20 Bush declared specifically, “The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That’s a threat, a serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace. I made it clear, and I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel.” Not, “One of the threats from Iran,” but “The threat from Iran.” The problem with Iran (which has never in modern times attacked another country) is that it threatens, not the U.S., but Israel! That’s the pretty clearly stated position of the administration. And if it’s actually unlikely that Iran plans military action against Israel, the administration will doctor the intelligence as it has in the past, and ensure that the press hypes the threat. “Vanish from the page of time” becomes “wipe off the map.” Ahmadinejad becomes Hitler. A legal nuclear program once promoted by U.S. administrations becomes a cause of inherent suspicion because Iran with all its oil has no reason for nuclear power. A design on a stolen laptop becomes confirmation of a military nuclear program. Iran’s withdrawal from a voluntary non-binding agreement between Europe and Iran becomes a violation of international law. The U.S. eager to effect regime change in Iran becomes the “international community” supposedly “losing patience” with Iran.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the real reason behind the manufactured “crisis” is Washington’s concern about the state of Israel. It may be the primary concern of some of the neocons who have played key roles during the last few years; Douglas Feith, for example, seems to view the invasion of Iraq (which his OSP marketed before the war) as the “answer to the Holocaust.” But Israel isn’t the reason that Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice have embraced the neocon program.
The war planners can hype any slight shred of evidence for Tehran-al Qaeda contact, emphasizing reports that some Taliban fighters fleeing Afghanistan were given safe passage through Iran. But anyone paying attention knows that Iran almost went to war with the Taliban, supported the Northern Alliance, and as a Shiite nation is despised by bin Laden and his crowd. Iran has close ties with the Shiite political parties in Iraq. So “for bureaucratic reasons” as Wolfowitz would say, the administration’s selling its regime change plans for Iran as a response to a nuclear program threatening the Jewish state (and hence “world peace”).
Surely there are risks in saying, “The real threat is to Israel, and we will use military force to protect Israel.” True, AIPAC has Congress in its pocket, the Christian Zionist contingent can be counted on to support military action against Iran, and those asking questions may be silenced by the charge of anti-Semitism. Even so people will ask, “Why don’t we let the Israelis take care of themselves? Why our boys instead of theirs?” And there could be a big ugly backlash against “the Lobby” as ongoing legal investigations and scandals proceed. But what’s the alternative to making Israel the issue, as the president has done?
They could say, honestly, “This has more to do with acquiring geopolitical control over Southwest Asia and encircling rising China than fighting terrorism or establishing the security of the Jewish state.” But they can’t say that without validating chapter and verse Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and calling into question the whole logic of the system. So they lie, make up quotes, plant scary stories in the press, doing so more recklessly as the president’s poll figures drop. All so they can wipe their enemies off the map, using their own nukes to do so.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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