Monday, May 21, 2012

21-May-12: What the Iranians really want


Army Day in Tehran 2010. Some prefer to see the guns, others
the roses [Image Source]
There is an active genre of Middle East political analysis comprised of opinion pieces published by Western experts with approximately zero familiarity with the Iranian language, the main purpose of which appears to be to demonstrate that the ayatollah-driven Iranian regime is no real danger to anyone and people who say differently are neocon Zionists.

In January, Robert Wright writing in The Atlantic ["Do Israeli Leaders Really Think Iran Is an Existential Threat?"] where he is a senior editor addressed the question of whether Iran's leaders actually "have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map" as alleged by an Israeli source. Here's the essence of his view, in his own words:
Actually, the Iranians aren't a nation whose leaders have set themselves that "strategic goal." They are a nation with a crackpot president who (a) isn't the country's supreme leader and doesn't have the power to order an attack on Israel; (b) did say "the occupying regime must be wiped off the map" (or "vanish from the page of time"--the translation is disputed); but (c) later said he was referring to eliminating the Zionist form of government, not the people living under it; and (d) said the way to achieve this was to give Palestinians the vote--and that if they opted for a two-state solution rather than a single non-Zionist state, that would be fine, too; (e) also said that Iran would never initiate military hostilities with Israel.
Andrew Sullivan's "Iran's "Photo-Shopped" Existential Threat" at the Daily Beast gets to approximately the same conclusion. Sullivan, Wright and numerous others are far from alone in the just-ignore-those-crackpots school. So why is it that from over here in Jerusalem, the Iranians and their threats seem so much more... well, frightening; also not so Photoshopped?

Let's concede before we go further that, yes, there is a significant degree of crackpot-ism about the government in Tehran and their public antics. In the past week, we have seen threats from Iran to sue Google for failing to include the name "Persian Gulf" in its maps. Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, explains that "Omitting the name Persian Gulf is (like) playing with the feelings and realities of the Iranian nation".

Playing with the realities of another nation is never smart. Reuters is learning that now. The Iranian government took the international newsagency to court this morning. No charges have yet been publicised (since the Iranian legal system works in an Iranian, as opposed to Western, way) but AFP has suggested it involves "threatening Iran’s national security" and "propaganda against the regime".

Bearing in mind the Iranian regime routinely hangs people, this is no laughing matter. In fact, Parisa Hafezi who heads the Reuters bureau in Tehran was forced to hand in her Iranian passport in order to be released on bail pending the trial. Reuters senior management, surely understanding the price of incurring the ayatollian wrath, has already apologized and retracted the Reuters report that gave rise to the Iranian ire. And what was that? In a February 16, 2012 video report, Reuters followed a group of female ninjas training in the Iranian city of Karaj. The story’s original headline was “Thousands of female Ninjas train as Iran’s assassins”. Reuters changed the headline to “Three thousand women Ninjas train in Iran” and then it retracted the report altogether. Though Reuters did issue an apology, its global editor in chief, Stephen Adler, told the New York Times on March 29, 2012 that the headline was changed because it was “really bad”. Then he added “I don’t see factual errors in the story.”

We absolutely do understand why Reuters would want to say sorry for something that was not wrong in the first place. It has to do with believing that people who seize the passport of your key employee and suspend the Iranian activities of a high-profile global agency like Reuters are serious about wanting to hurt you. Al Arabiya helpfully points out that
Iran’s sensitivity over the way it is portrayed in Western media has become more acute in recent years, particularly since the coverage of mass protests in 2009 over a disputed re-election win by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Let's agree, then, that if you want to be accurate about what the Iranian regime thinks and does, it would be safer if you took their actual published words. Not translated by Google, not analyzed and repackaged by the Wall Street Journal, but from an Iranian source, with senior Iranian figures doing the speaking, and with the translation from the Iranian language into English being authorized, approved, copy/pasted directly from the Iranian source and officially rubber-stamped as "accurate".

On any view, Major General Seyed Hassan Firuzabadi (in the photo below) is a senior Iranian. His Wikipedia entry describes him as the absolute highest-level person in Iran's military: the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces for nearly a decade since November 2002. How high up in the hierarchy is he? "He is one of the closet to the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei" says Wikipedia; they don't come higher than that in today's Iran. When Firuzabadi speaks, there is not going to be a handler running into the room saying his comments were taken out of context.

Firouzabadi: As Iran's supreme military commander in chief for a decade,
and a member of the innermost circle of the ayatollah-driven
regime, it's self-evident that he should be heard and believed
So here, according to the semi-official ("affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard Corps") Fars News website, is how the commander in chief of Iran summed up its Israel strategy on Sunday:
Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said threats and pressures cannot deter Iran from its revolutionary causes and ideals, and stressed that the Iranian nation will remain committed to the full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end. Addressing a defense gathering here in Tehran on Sunday, General Firouzabadi said that nations should realize the threats and dangers posed by the Zionist regime of Israel. He reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader's emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, "The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel." [Go here to absorb the full context of his speech.]
How refreshing it would be if Robert Wright over at The Atlantic were to acknowledge that there is no "disputed translation" here. Like us, he has enough information in front of him to comprehend that Iran is a grimly serious place, filled with deadly serious people armed to the teeth and ready to kill, and actively developing a nuclear weapons capability for years, even while the CIA and the National Security Agency were saying, as recently as their now-discredited 2007 report that it was not ["We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program"].

Today, and certainly since the November 2011 report of the IAEA, we know about Iran's detonator development, its multiple-point initiation of high explosives, its experiments involving nuclear payload integration into a missile delivery vehicle and much more of a deeply worrying and factual nature.

What is it about "full annihilation" that intelligent and analytical people of huge influence fail to understand?

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