Does Zakaria Misinterpret Iranian Intentions?

I'm not questioning Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek piece this week because he lifted quotes from my articles without attribution (though this sort of behavior is certainly ungentlemanly), but because some of his interpretations and assumptions strike me as obviously wrong. And I write this -- I feel a need these days to make this point over and over again -- as someone opposed to a military strike on Iran, either by the U.S. or Israel, because I can't see how such a strike would be in the American national security interest. As I've stated before, I don't think a nuclear-armed Iran is in America's best interest either, but the costs of a strike clearly outweigh the benefits.

In any case, two quick points about Zakaria's piece. First, his misunderstanding of Amalek. He writes, "One of Netanyahu's advisers said of Iran, 'Think Amalek.' The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In 1 Samuel 15, God says, "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." Now, were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic."

This is a grossly unfair interpretation of what Netanyahu's adviser meant (and I should know, because he said it to me) and an unfair interpretation of Amalek in Jewish thinking. It is true that the Bible calls for the smiting of Amalek. It is also true that this is a Jewishly inoperable commandment, never carried out, and never to be carried out. Amalek stands for the vicitimizers of Jews. The Nazis represent, in modern history, the archetypal Amalek, a force committed to genocide. But Judaism doesn't allow the extermination of those who seek to exterminate the Jews. Just look at relations today between Germany and Israel. Germany wiped out a third of the Jewish people, and yet the Jews, or their nuclear-armed Jewish state, have sought nothing but constructive relations with Germans. The same, by the way, holds true for Iran. Iran's leaders seek the elimination of the Jewish state; the Jewish state seeks, in the best of all possible worlds, diplomatic relations with Iran. Israeli thinking about Iran is not motivated by blood-curdling thoughts of revenge; it is motivated by justifiable fear.

The second point: Zakaria writes that "over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were 'un-Islamic.' The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral."

When ayatollahs start talking about Islamic morality, I run for the exits. Their ideas about what constitute moral acts are not, generally speaking, ours. Here's one obvious example, from the Iran-Iraq war, courtesy of the German writer Matthias Kuntzel:

During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran's forces were no match for Saddam Hussein's professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as twelve years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child's neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.

At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. "In the past," wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, "we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone." Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. "Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves."

These children who rolled to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass movement created by Khomeini in 1979 and militarized after the war started in order to supplement his beleaguered army.The Basij Mostazafan - or "mobilization of the oppressed" - was essentially a volunteer militia, most of whose members were not yet 18. They went enthusiastically, and by the thousands, to their own destruction. "The young men cleared the mines with their own bodies," one veteran of the Iran-Iraq War recalled in 2002 to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. "It was sometimes like a race. Even without the commander's orders, everyone wanted to be first."

How do I say this as bluntly as possible? A leadership that could murder its own children in such a horrible way is capable of absolutely anything. Including lying about its nuclear intentions.