Going back at least as early as the 1989 Presidential election of Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran has been attempting to end its international isolation by improving relations with the United States. And at least since the election of Iran’s next President, Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, in 1997, it has been the hope of the Iranian leadership that, once Iran got out of the cold shadow of the nuclear disagreement, the isolation would thaw, and the antagonism with the United States in the region would end.
When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that a nuclear deal had finally been reached, he reiterated this hope that the agreement would end the antagonist silence between the two sides and escort in a new era of broader cooperation. Zarif said he hoped it would “open new horizons for dealing with serious problems that affect our international community.”
The hawkish Hillary Clinton, though, who could well be the person to inherit Obama’s agreement, could not free herself from the same irrational, unsubstantiated words she’s been screeching for years and step out of the cold shadow of the old horizon into the promise of cooperation offered in the new horizon.
Clinton said she applauded Obama’s “efforts”, and said the deal “does put a lid on [Iran’s] nuclear program.” But she was incapable of stopping there and refused to step through the door of Zarif’s “new horizons”. “But,” she said, “we still have a lot of concern about the bad behavior and the actions by Iran which remains the largest state sponsor of terrorism which does go after and undermine governments in the region, [and] that poses an existential threat to Israel . . . that behavior,” she paternally scolded, “is something we will have to address”.
Before Clinton asks Americans to let her lead them into the future, she’d better look a little more clearly at the past.
There is no support for Clinton’s claim that Iran is “the largest state sponsor of terrorism”. Recent attempts to link Iran to terrorism have all been revealed as perjuries, including the assassination attempt on U.S. soil of the Saudi ambassador to the States, the attacks on Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia and earlier claims about the embassy and community center bombings in Buenos Aires.
Far from being an exporter of terrorism, Iran has been the recipient of US and Israeli terrorism, including the Stuxnet and Flame computer viruses that the US and Israel unleashed on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, the three assassinations and one more attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists and the blowing up of a military arms depot that killed seventeen people, including Iranian missile pioneer Major General Hassan Moqqadam.
But all the while Iran was being a net importer, not exporter, of terrorism, the Iranian government was also leading the world in fighting the very terrorists that the American foreign policy was focussed on fighting in the war on terror: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Iran is not “the largest state sponsor of terrorism.” In Syria and Iraq, Iran is the largest state opposition of the most important terror. For many who are suffering in Iraq, Iran is even seen as eclipsing the States as their greatest ally in the fight against the terror threat of the Islamic State.
And Iran’s opposition to al-Qaeda is not new. After 9/11, Iran gave crucial aid to the Americans in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, including placing Northern Alliance fighters in America’s hands to fight the Taliban, offering air bases to the States, providing intelligence on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets and providing crucial help in setting up a post-Taliban government.
Not only has Iran been an asset in the fight against terrorism and not a state sponsor of terrorism, but the claim that it is “the largest” state sponsor of terrorism is absurd given what is now known about America’s Saudi ally’s sponsorship of Salafist terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia and her allies have not only been financing and supporting Jabhat al-Nusra, but the Obama administration is fully aware that the Saudis have been funding the very al-Qaeda terrorists that the entire war on terror is designed to fight. And, as Iran’s opposition to al-Qaeda is nothing new, going back all the way to 9/11, so Saudi Arabia’s support for al-Qaeda is nothing new, going all the way back to 9/11. One of the most important revelations in Seymour Hersh’s reporting on the truth of the Osama bin Laden killing – a detail that went largely undiscussed – is that the Saudis had been heavily financing bin Laden and al-Qaeda and that their motivation for putting bin Laden away was to prevent him from revealing that: “A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaeda. And they were dropping money – lots of it.’”
So, Iran is not a sponsor of state terrorism, is certainly not the largest sponsor of state terrorism and has been a crucial opponent of terrorism. American awareness of these unsubstantiated claims by Clinton may be reflected in the recent removal of Iran from the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment presented to the Senate by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Clinton’s claim that Iran behaves badly by “go[ing] after and undermin[ing] governments in the region” is equally absurd, since Iran is supporting the governments in Iraq and Syria. Iran employs its soft power by maintaining relations and influence with governments in its region, including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. But every nation has relations and influence with allied governments, and Iran has neither tried to install or take out any of these governments.
And as for Clinton’s third scolding of Iran for bad behavior, that it is “an existential threat to Israel,” that claim is as irresponsible as the first two. Despite the stubbornly persistent clinging to the claim, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never threatened “to wipe Israel off the map”. The mistranslation has been irresponsibly repeated despite the constant authoritative corrections. Amongst the translation errors, Iranian expert Trita Parsi states that “Ahmadinejad’s statement has generally been mistranslated to read, ‘Wipe Israel off the map.’ Ahmadinejad never used the word ‘Israel’ but rather the ‘occupying regime of Jerusalem,’ which is a reference to the Israeli regime and not necessarily to the country”. Not only is the “Israel” part mistranslated, but so is the “wiped off the map” part. The line, according to Flint Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, is properly translated as, “this regime occupying Jerusalem must disappear from the page of time”. This statement is a reference to a wish for a future time when the Israeli government no longer occupies Palestinian territory. This wish is not for the end of the state of Israel or her people, but for the end of the occupation, and is not, therefore, a threat of aggression, but a wish no different from the official wish of the United States and others. Jonathan Steele adds that Ahmadinejad went on to make an analogy between the elimination of the regime occupying Jerusalem and the fall of the Shah of Iran, clearly showing that he is wishing for a regime change and not the elimination of a nation and her people, unless he is wishing for the elimination of himself and his own country. Dan Meridor, Israeli minister of intelligence and atomic energy and the deputy prime minister at the time, admitted to his Al Jazeera interviewer that “They didn’t say ‘we’ll wipe it out’. You are right”. Iran is also a signatory to the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative that would recognize the State of Israel: an initiative that was reaffirmed in 2009. And, even earlier, as President, Khatami expressed a willingness to accept a two state solution if that’s what the Palestinians wanted. In expressing that willingness, the President of Iran implicitly expressed the willingness to recognize the state of Israel.
If Clinton hopes to be the inheritor of the Iranian nuclear agreement, and if there is hope that the agreement can finally “open new horizons for dealing with serious problems that affect our international community,” she is going to have to take a more honest and comprehensive look at history and be willing to step out of the old hawkish horizon.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.