What Is at the Root of the Israel-Iran Confrontation?

Since we seem to be moving (once again) toward some sort of confrontation with Iran, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit one of the main reasons the world is sliding toward war. I'm opposed to an Israeli strike on Iran; I'm also opposed to an American strike on Iran. Military bombardments could lead to consequences we haven't yet fully thought through. And  I believe there is still time for the U.S., working in concert with its allies, to bring about a change in Iranian behavior. I also believe that President Obama is serious when he says that all options are on the table. But I'm also opposed to the idea that we should give up and move toward a policy of containing Iran. I don't think containment would work, for reasons I outlined here.

One of the problems with the anti-attack crowd is that it downplays the threat Iran poses, particularly to Israel, but also to the U.S., to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to Iran's non-Jewish neighbors as well.

But since the worldwide conversation has turned again toward the alleged imminence of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, I asked Adam Chandler, the Goldblog Deputy-Editor-for-Studying-Iranian Anti-Semitism-So-I-Don't-Have-To, to put together a bit of documentary proof about why the Israeli leadership might find Iran's leaders, and their intentions, to be so worrying. 

Chandler reminded me that one sure way to tell that an opponent of military action is not grappling seriously with the evidence that Iran really, truly, actually prefers to see the Jewish state physically eliminated is if said opponent makes mention of the old line, "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never actually said he wanted to destroy Israel." 

A notable example came last year when Reza Aslan attempted to explain the statement as a Farsi translation gaffe. In response, we here at the Goldblog assembled a list of twenty completely unambiguous statements by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that show his true feelings. Often these lines come from translations made by official Iranian news sources, which actually emphasize the destruction. Here are a few to refresh your minds:

July, 2006: "Nations in the region will be more furious every day. It won't take long before the wrath of the people turns into a terrible explosion that will wipe the Zionist entity off the map...The basic problem in the Islamic world is the existence of the Zionist regime, and the Islamic world and the region must mobilize to remove this problem. It is a usurper that our enemies made and imposed on the Muslim world, a regime that prevented the progress of the region's nations, a regime that all Muslims must join hands in isolating worldwide."
October, 2006: "This regime (Israel) will be gone, definitely..."You (the Western powers) should know that any government that stands by the Zionist regime from now on will not see any result but the hatred of the people...The wrath of the region's people is boiling... You should not complain that we did not give a warning. We are saying this explicitly now..."
January, 2008: "I advise you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity which has reached the end of the line... It has lost its reason to be and will sooner or later fall. The ones who still support the criminal Zionists should know that the occupiers' days are numbered."
February, 2008: "World powers have created a black and dirty microbe named the Zionist regime and have unleashed it like a savage animal on the nations of the region."

Boiling wraths! Filthy Zionist entities! Black and dirty microbes! Ahmadinejad is not just an average spewer of anti-Israel invective, he is the Robert Browning of hate. It is not clear why some people won't give him his due.

There is another argument floating across the Internets, that Ahmadinejad's words don't matter, that he is not the one in charge of the nuclear program, and that his anti-Semitism is far more extreme than that of other regime leaders.  Well, here is the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, speaking a couple of days ago: "The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor that should be removed and will be removed, God willing."

Of course, a few of you may be thinking, "Well, words are words. It's not like Iran is parading Shahab-3 missiles down the streets of Tehran with banners and posters talking about the destruction of Israel, right?"


The banner on this missile says: "Israel must be uprooted and erased from history."

This banner even included a translation:

Accordingly, we here at the Goldblog will continue to issue updates on Iranian rhetoric-revisionism.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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