By Aaron Bandler
(JULY 26, 2021 / JEWISH JOURNAL) Israeli Consul General of the Pacific Northwest Dr. Hillel Newman and Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) National President Morton Klein discussed the history between Israel and Iran in a July 22 webinar hosted by Iranian Americans for Liberty.
Klein started off the webinar by saying, “We should all realize that Iran leaders and the media there repeatedly claim ‘Death to the Jews, Death to Israel!’” He invoked the late Elie Wiesel in saying that people should “take seriously” those that say they want to kill them, so it’s important to take Iran’s threats seriously.
The ZOA president added that it was troubling that President Joe Biden wants to re-enter the Iran deal. “Without Iran, Hamas wouldn’t be able to launch these wars against Israel,” Klein said.
He also argued that Biden pledged to not revoke sanctions against Iran in order to get them to re-enter the deal but he’s already doing so, and pointed out that Iran is enriching uranium to 63% capacity in violation of the deal; they need to reach 90% in order to obtain nuclear weapons “They’re very close,” Klein said.
Klein also said that there were recently four Iranians who were arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap an Americans human rights activist who actively speaks out against the Iranian regime. Biden’s response, Klein said, was that it had “nothing to do with” reentering the deal.
Additionally, Klein pointed out that Iran helped al-Qaeda with the 9/11 terror attacks and that Dennis Ross, a former diplomat under President Bill Clinton, told him on a phone call that it’s “at least 8 years” before the Iranian government gets a nuke.
Newman then weighed in, saying that while Iran is “Israel’s biggest problem” among the bloc of Muslim countries, Israel feels for the people of Iran as they struggle with shortages of water and other basic commodities.
“Iran as we knew it used to be a wonderful power in the world and look where it is now where children on the streets have to beg for water,” Newman said. Iranian Americans for Liberty Executive Director Bryan Leib, the moderator, interjected that the Iranian people have also had to deal with Internet and electricity blackouts. He cited the Iranian government’s “mismanagement” of economic resources while funding “billions of dollars to terrorism around the world.”
Newman then turned to the history of Israel-Iran relations, calling 1947-1953 a “period of ambivalence” until Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi seized back power after the 1953 coup, which then resulted in a “extended period of wonderful relations between Israel and Iran.” “Israel saw Iran as a natural ally,” Newman said, as during the Cold War, Israel’s main enemies were in the pan-Arab states; it wasn’t necessarily a battle between Judaism and Islam. In fact, according to Newman, “much of the infrastructure that still exists in Tehran today was built by an Israeli company.”
But after the Iranian revolution in 1979, the “wonderful relationship” between the two countries “changed overnight,” Newman said, though it wasn’t until 1990 that Israel-Iran relations became particularly “hostile.” Still, Israelis who were living in Iran at the time of the revolution had their lives threatened as a result and had to flee, per Newman.
Despite hostile relations between the two countries, “we have a wonderful relationship with the Iranian people,” Newman said, pointing out that there’s “great admiration in Israel for Persian culture and Iranian people.” “If only this maligned [Iranian] administration would go or change its policy towards Israel.”
Leib then pointed out that it’s “widely known that the Islamic Republic of Iran are the main funders behind terrorist organizations like Hamas like Hezbollah” and that “Israel’s leadership to their credit has repeatedly stated that they will do whatever is necessary to ensure that this evil regime never obtains a nuclear bomb.” Newman pointed out that Iran isn’t just an enemy to Israel; it’s also an enemy to the United States, as the Iranian government frequently refers to the U.S. as the “Great Satan.” Iran is also a threat to the Western world at large, Newman argued.
“The maligned activity of Iran is like an octopus … it covers hemispheres,” Newman said, adding that “they expand their revolution and cause conflict between themselves and the West.” The issue of Iran potentially obtaining nuclear weapons is “an existential threat … to Israel and the Western world … due to the fact that they have such an extreme radical ideology, you can’t bank on anything [to check them],” Newman said.
He argued that the Iran nuclear deal’s sunset clauses––the provisions limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability that expire after 10 years––essentially pave the way for Iran to get nukes and would grant them “legitimacy” in doing so. Israel’s attitude to the deal is ““fix it or nix it,” Newman said.
Leib pointed out that “Iran is in a de-facto state of war with the United States and with Israel and with other countries as well through the terrorist proxies that they fund.” Some of these proxies aren’t as well-known but are still inflicting enormous damage worldwide, according to Leib. Newman said that Iran’s use of proxy terror groups shows their rhetoric is already being carried out through action.
“We should all open our eyes,” Newman said, arguing that too many governments seem to think they can take the “tame the lion” approach with Iran. “You must make sure the lion is not the lion anymore.” He called for “extreme pressure and sanctions” against Iran in order to push its government to “the brink” to pressure it into changing its policy.
Klein interjected, citing Winston Churchill’s quote that “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last,” and that the quote aptly applies to dealing with Iran.
Newman expressed optimism that one day Iran and Israel will be friends again. “This regime will have to change its policy or fall one day,” he said. Newman also said that the recent Abraham Accords, forging peace between Israel and various Arab Gulf nations, “shows how the direction of the world is toward more cooperation more understanding” and these alliances are isolating Iran.
Klein said that he agrees with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that “to get real peace … you need a revolution in Islam” in order for Islamists “to stop believing that Jews are the enemy.” He also expressed concern that when the threat of Iran subsides, Israel’s newfound normalcy with the Arab countries under the Abraham Accords will “revert back to normal,” citing the fact that there has merely been a “cold peace” in Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan.
Newman didn’t share Klein’s concern. “I don’t think it will change anything in our relationship … because the glue that brings us together is much deeper and much wider.” He argued that the societies of Arab Gulf nations understand that “Israel is a benefit and asset to them” and the Abraham Accords provided a “people-to-people” peace. The peace between Israel and Egypt and Jordan, on the other hand, was “more like a ceasefire that never trickled down to the people,” Newman said.
As evidence, Newman pointed to a recent incident in which an Egyptian singer was criticized in Egypt for taking a picture with an Israeli singer, forcing the Egyptian singer to apologize. The picture was taken in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the Israeli singer was performing. “Just look at the gap here in what we’re talking about,” Newman said, calling it “a totally different cultural environment of peace.”
Klein then asked Newman why the UAE and Bahrain, despite signing the Abraham Accords, criticized the Israeli government’s actions in the most recent conflict with Hamas. Newman attributed those criticisms to fear of “repercussions” from Islamist terror attacks, which is why peace with Israel took so long in the first place. The glass half-full approach is that the UAE and Bahrain didn’t rescind the Abraham Accords, Newman said, as the Palestinian leadership had hoped that they could use the recent escalation as reason for the Abraham Accords to be undone.
Newman concluded the webinar by stating that “the people of Iran understand that Israel cares for them.” “We see the people of Iran as friends, potential allies.”
This article was originally published in the Jewish Journal and can be found here.