Israel’s ‘Dove’ and Hawk in its War against Iran

It has been abundantly clear to those who closely follow the political developments in the Middle East that, for at least two decades, Israeli politics has been moving continuously toward extreme, reactionary right. The left, and the center-left represented by the Labor Party, have been marginalized, and the relatively moderate elements of the old Likud Party have left it. As a result, Israeli politics are now dominated by the extreme groups and figures, ranging from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – the hawk of Israeli politics – and his like-minded supporters that are still with what remains of Likud, to Yisrael Beiteinu (the Jewish Home) and the ultranationalist religious groups. Such environment has allowed men like former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman – a “neo-fascist … a certified gangster … the Israeli equivalent of [Austria’s racist politician] Jörg Haider” – who founded Yisrael Beiteinu to rise to power in Israel. Even Netanyahu’s electoral setback in the January did not present any significant break from the rightward movement of politics in Israel; it actually represented a left turn to the extreme right.

A constant feature of Israeli politics is that much of it is based on myths. The list of such myths is actually very long, but here is a sample. Anyone who opposes Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian lands and urges its people to resist it is opposed to the “peace process,” a mythical process that has not yielded any tangible benefits for the Palestinians and their dream of having their own independent state. Anyone that does not believe that Iran and its non-existent nuclear weapon program represent an “existential threat” to Israel is an “appeaser” of the Islamic Republic, even though many former high security officials in Israel have rejected such a notion of the threat..

But, one of the greatest myths is that the Israeli President Shimon Peres is a “moderate,” a “man of peace,” and a “dove,” presumably because he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (together with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin), or that he has urged “peace” with the Palestinians. He received the Nobel Prize for the Oslo Accords, which are dead, but recall also that a war criminal like Henry Kissinger also received the same prize. As for Peres’ advocacy of peace with the Palestinians, he advocates peace on, of course, Israel’s terms, which is no peace at all. Never mind that Peres spent the lion share of the initial stages of his career in Israel’s ministry of defense; was Israel’s Prime Minister when the massacre of innocent people in Qana in southern Lebanon took place in April of 1996; was Israel’s Foreign Minister during the battle of Jenin in April 2002 in which Amnesty International accused Israel of committing war crimes against the Palestinians; played a fundamental role in the creation of Israel’s nuclear program and arsenal, and has been a member of too many Israeli governments that have continued to expand Jewish settlements on the Palestinian lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But, it is Israel’s policy toward Iran that reveals the bogus image of Peres as a “dove.” When it comes to Iran, the difference between him and Netanyahu the hawk is zero, zilch, nada. Both lie, both exaggerate, and both want war with Iran.

The Hawk

Led by Netanyahu, Israel has been waging a secret war on Iran, consisting of assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientists, killing of many innocent people by terrorist groups, trying to recruit terrorists, such as those of the Jundallah, to carry out terrorist operations in Iran, waging a cyberspace war against Iran’s nuclear facilities that even a recent NATO study recognized as being tantamount to the use of force and illegal, likening Iran to the Nazi regime, our era to 1938, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, an outrageous claim that has been criticized even in certain pro-Israel circles, and using the Israel lobby in the U.S. to advocate military attacks on Iran.

Netanyahu has been at this for over a decade, first against Iraq, and now against Iran. A comparison (made by comments of a commentator on an article published by Foreign Policy) between what he said about Iraq in 2002, and what he has been claiming about Iran reveals eerie similarities, and given that everything claimed about Iraq turned out to be a lie, it only goes to show the baselessness of the Netanyahu’s propaganda about Iran.

In a speech at the United Nations on September 11, 2012, Netanyahu said, “The world tells Israel, ‘Wait, there’s still time,’ and I say, ‘wait for what, wait until when?’…The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs.” Have we not heard this before? Yes, almost exactly a decade earlier, on September 12, 2002, Netanyahu said, “It is simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam isn’t feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons, as we speak. How imminent is it? Look, do you want to wait and find out? The answer is no.”

On March 5, 2012, Netanyahu said, “a nuclear-armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and to the peace and security of the world.” Compare this with what he said on September 12, 2002, “Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk.” On April 18, 2012, Netanyahu said, “Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal,” which should be compared with what he said on September 12, 2002, “[I]t is simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam isn’t feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons, as we speak.” Of course, nothing less is expected of Netanyahu. He, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy put it, is a liar.

The Dove

Let us see what Shimon Peres, the “dove” of Israeli politics says about Iran. As an example, I analyze his speech to the European Union parliament in March, focusing on what he said about Iran.

Peres: The greatest danger to peace in the world is the present Iranian regime. Really? How many countries has Iran invaded over the last three centuries? Zero. Over the same period, how much territory has been taken from Iran by force? Four million square kilometers. How many times Iran has been invaded just over the last 75 years? Twice (in 1941 and in 1980), not to mention the CIA-MI6 coup of 1953 that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and established the dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi that had very close relations with Israel.

Peres: Nobody threatens Iran. Iran threatens others. Really? Netanyahu has been threatening to attack Iran for a long time. President Obama has kept saying “all options are on the table” regarding Iran, which Peres applauded in his speech. Saudi Arabia has urged the U.S. to attack Iran. General James Mathis, commander of the Central command responsible for the U.S. forces in the Middle East, has said that the sanctions are intended to bring Iran to its knees. The U.S. has trained members of Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MEK) for operations with Iran……… And, as despicable as the Iranian leaders may be in the eyes of a majority of their own citizens, they have only said that if Israel attacks Iran, they will defend their nation and retaliate forcefully. According to Pentagon’s report of June 2012, Iran’s military posture is purely defensive: “Iran’s military doctrine remains designed to slow an invasion; target its adversaries’ economic, political, and military interests; and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests.” James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate on April 18 that Iran’s military “strategy [is] to deter – and if necessary retaliate against – forces in the region, including U.S. forces,” if an attack on Iran occurs.

Peres: It [Iran] endangers the independence of Arab countries. First of all, since when has Israel been worried about the independence of Arab countries? Secondly, which Arab country is Peres talking about?

Peres: They [the Iranians] deny the Holocaust. They call for another Holocaust. True, Ahmadinejad, on his way out as Iran’s President, has repeatedly cast doubts on the Holocaust (which has been condemned even within Iran). But, on occasions, he has also expressed his belief in it. For example, in a speech at Columbia University in 2007 he said, “However, I believe the Holocaust, from what we read, happened during World War II after 1930 in the 1940s.” This admission has not reported widely, simply because it will destroy another myth.

But, the claim that Iran has called for another Holocaust is sheer lie. With its 25,000 Jews Iran has the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel. Iranian Jews have been free to practice their religion. There are 18 synagogues active in Tehran alone, whereas the government has not allowed Iranian Sunnis, which represent 10 percent of the population, to have a single mosque in Tehran. The Ahmadinejad administration provided extra funds to the Jewish hospital in Tehran. Between 12,000 and 18,000 political dissidents were executed in Iran in the 1980s, almost all of them Muslim, but at most 17 of them Jews (other estimates are even lower) on accusation of spying for Israel. And, the Iranian Jews have their own representative to the Iranian parliament, set aside for them by Iran’s Constitution, a practice going back decades. In which nation have the Jews been given a seat in the parliament, exclusively devoted to them? Are there discriminations against Iranian Jews? Yes, but the ruling elite also discriminate against Iranian Muslims who do not agree with its policies.

Peres: They are aiming to build a nuclear weapon and they deny it. A nuclear bomb in the hands of an irresponsible regime is an imminent danger to the world. First of all, what Peres is saying is that it is fine for Israel to have nuclear weapons because it is a “responsible” government. Secondly, too many American officials have said repeatedly that Iran is not making nuclear weapons, and has not even made the decision to do so, with the most recent assertion made by Clapper.

As for the Iranian regime being “irresponsible,” Clapper said, “Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach,” balancing its own domestic interests with “the international political and security environment.” He added, “Iran prefers to avoid direct confrontation with the United States” and would only act defensively (emphasis mine) “in response to perceived offenses.” Many current and former security officials of Israel believe that the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people, when it comes to national security and foreign policy issues. Israel’s Military Intelligence chief Major General Aviv Kochavi also said on April 18, “Iran has not yet decided to build the bomb.”

Peres: [Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei declared that religion prohibits the production and use of nuclear arms. Why then does he build missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads? Here is what the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation stated about the issue in January: “Even if Iran decides to develop a nuclear weapon, most evidence suggests that it will not possess a missile capable of reaching all of Europe or the United States – to say nothing about its ability to arm the missile with a nuclear warhead – for years to come [if ever].”

As for why Iran has built any missile that can reach Israel, it has done so for the same reason that Israel has F15-I fighter/bomber that can reach Iran; is receiving aerial refueling aircrafts for its bombers on the way back from Iran; has missiles that can reach Iran; has received permission from Azerbaijan to use an air base near the border with Iran, and has reportedly received permission from Saudi Arabia to use its airspace to attack Iran. Given these facts, any regime, regardless of its nature, will want to be able to defend itself, and to retaliate in case of an attack.

Peres: During the Helsinki conference which took place in 1975, the U.S.A. placed the issue of human rights in the Soviet Union at the top of the world’s agenda…..Today, this call should apply to Iran. A clear voice must be raised against the violation of human rights by the Iranian regime. Yes, absolutely, but that clear voice belongs to neither Israel, nor the U.S., nor the European Union, all of which have terrible track records when it comes to respect for human rights. If Israel has any concerns about human rights, it should stop, as a first step, killing innocent civilian Palestinians in Gaza, and respect the rights of the Palestinian people that are violated systematically on a daily basis, and in particular the Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s jail.

Peres also spoke at length about the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran’s support for it. I believe that Iran must not interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs, but its support of Hezbollah is no worse than Israel’s close relations with the MEK – an exiled Iranian group that has carried numerous terrorist operations in Iran, was up until a few months ago listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, and is despised in Iran – the aforementioned recruitment of the Jundallah terrorists, its recruitment and training of Iranian Kurdish fighters and dissidents, and its close relations with Azerbaijan, which has reportedly been working with Israel against Iran.

Thus, when it comes to Iran, there is no difference between “doves” and hawks in Israel; they are all hawks. It is the same in the U.S. political establishment. Everyone is a hawk and wants a war with Iran because that is what the War Party and Israel lobby want.

Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.