President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the Qods Day (Jerusalem Day) celebration, which was commemorated on October 5 in Iran, suggested the settlement of Israeli Jews in big lands like Alaska or Canada. Evidently, the more the Iranian regime is confronted with international pressure over its nuclear program or meddling in Iraqi affairs, the more inflammatory its anti-Israeli rhetoric becomes.
Tehran's theocratic dictators have several motives for their persistent threats against Israel, the least of which is concern for Palestinians. As part of their fundamentalist expansionist ideology, the Iranian regime wishes to present itself as the leader of the Islamic world and Middle East. Therefore, clerics capitalize on regional, nationalistic, and religious sentiments. Iran also uses Israel alongside the United States as a scarecrow to justify its ill intentions behind meddling in neighboring countries. Internally, Iran uses Israel and the US as a decoy to distract attention from the widespread poverty and suppression, while expending huge sums for armed forces to maintain its grip on dictatorship.
The Iranian regime has always tried to frame its confrontation with International community and its own people, as a battle between Iran and Israel. This strategic campaign is the most visible in the US where Mullahs' advocacy organizations have followed suit and repeated the same arguments, of course dressed up to fit within the boundaries of local laws and norms.
The Iranian lobby in US
In 1999, Trita Parsi, a young Iranian-Swede living in Stockholm and Siamak Namazi, residing in Tehran, wrote a joint paper entitled "Iranian-Americans: The bridge between two nations" at a conference organized by the Iranian regime in Cypress.1 The authors argued,
"An Iranian-American lobby is needed in order to create a balance between the competing Middle Eastern lobbies. Without it, Iran-bashing may become popular in Congress again."
The "competing lobby" was AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee). In this paper, Parsi and Namazi demonstrated an astonishing level of knowledge about how this organization functions. They proposed a roadmap for mimicking AIPAC in order to establish an Iranian Lobby in the US.
Namazi is a member of Iranian regime's inner circle and his firm is in tight cooperation with the government, especially within the oil sector. 2
Both Parsi and Namazi have been involved in reciting Tehran's anti-Israeli propaganda abroad, toned down of course for obvious cultural and legal reasons. In his first political statement in 1997, Parsi pointed to AIPAC as one of the main reasons for the US sanctions and animosities towards Iran. 3 Similarly, his partner Siamak Namazi wrote a paper in 1998 and appealed to the Iranian Diaspora to create a lobby in the US. He wrote:4
"We need to get involved and for the time being the government in Iran is even encouraging such a development, albeit not always harmoniously... I propose that we should start showing up to the leadership training seminars and other events organized by the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) for their youth. Not only will this create an opportunity to learn the fine skills of community organization and grassroots lobbying, but it also takes away from AIPAC's ability to spread misinformation about Iran through a deliberate campaign to further its own political agenda."
Two years after their Iran lobby roadmap paper, Parsi came to the US and became Congressman Bob Ney's assistant. In April 2002, assisted by Ney and two Washington lobbyists, he founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). 2 Ney, a former congressman from Ohio, is currently serving prison time. His indictment was partly related to his affair with two international arms dealers hired by the Iranian regime. 5
On several occasions, the Iranian authorities have publicly portrayed NIAC as the Iranian regime's lobby in US. For example, on December 28, 2006 the state-run newspaper, Aftab, in Iran published an interview with Parsi. In his introduction, the editor underlined the role of Parsi's lobby on behalf of the Iranian regime. Next to Parsi's photo, the article's title is indeed telling: "The Iranian Lobby Becomes Active." 6
On September 19, 2006, the head of the Iran Interest section in Washington, Ambassador Faramarze Fathnejad, thrilled about Parsi's efforts, underlined
"the importance of relationship between the Iranian regime and Iranian-American organizations in the U.S. He especially pointed to "NIAC and its young leader who is a consultant to CNN and has been very successful in his activities". 7
Sadegh Kharazi, the senior Iranian diplomat under Rafsanjani and Khatami, conducted the pro-Iranian regime's activities in US for six years (1989-1995). Kharazi was the man behind the 2003 grand bargain initiative; he gave a very interesting interview to Shargh newspaper on May 28, 2006.
During the interview, he clearly admitted the existence of an Iranian lobby in US and urged the authorities to support this lobby more actively. He pointed to Parsi's nationalistic efforts in the US and explained that the Iranian lobby in US should remain non-governmental. "The authorities should help and direct this lobby," Kharazi urged.
Israel depicted as a burden on US
Similar to the Iranian regime's goal of putting Israel at the center of its foreign policy, its advocacy organizations have also concentrated their efforts on Israel. It is not accidental that Parsi's doctoral thesis and his only book are focused on the "Israeli problem." 8
The Iranian lobby's campaign line is simple and efficient; Iran has always been ready to reach an agreement with the US, and the US according to Parsi "has refused to start a dialogue with Iran for the past 26 years." 9. The reason behind US hostilities and refusal to engage Iran, they say, is Israel, and such policy contradicts American interests.
This simple approach has been dominant in Parsi's campaign for the past ten years. His first major endeavor was assisting his boss, Bob Ney, in preventing the renewal of ILSA (Iran Libya Sanctions Act) by Congress in 2001. The ILSA entailed economic sanctions against Iran. Despite a large-scale campaign by the pro-Iranian regime lobby and advocacy machinery in the US, including the efforts of the powerful USA*Engage, the act was passed overwhelmingly.
Ney harshly criticized the US administration for the failure of opening up the dialogue with the Iranian regime and blamed Israel: 10
"I serve this country and no other. So, therefore, if another country does not like Iran, it doesn't mean that we don't talk to Iran. I'm very tired of hearing Iran doesn't get along with this country or that country. We know that. We don't particularly get along with Iran. But I don't want to hear from other countries dictating our policy of who we deal with."
Parsi was even more explicit and blamed the passage of ILSA on Israel alone. For Parsi, AIPAC had forced the lawmakers to vote against American interests: 11
"In the Senate, the vote was 96 in favor and only two against. In the House, 409 Congressmen favored an extension whereas six opposed it; but these numbers neither reflect the mood in Congress nor the difficulties the Israeli lobby had to overcome in order to force Congress to pursue a policy that contradicts US interest."
Parsi's "blame Israel" attitude found fertile ground in 2006 when the Iranian nuclear program became the center of international attention. For Parsi, this "sudden and unjustified" world focus on Iran should be blamed on Israel. He wrote in 2006: 12
"For more than 14 years, Israel has been the primary force countering Iran's nuclear advances. Though Israel presents the prospect of a nuclear Iran as a global rather than an Israeli problem, it has compelled Washington to adopt its own red lines and not those of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT)...Under these circumstances, US-Iran negotiations could damage Israel's strategic standing, since common interests shared by Iran and the US would overshadow Israel's concerns with Tehran and leave Israel alone in facing its Iranian rival....Israel is playing hardball to prevent Washington from cutting a deal with Tehran that could benefit America, but deprive Israel of its military and strategic supremacy."
For Parsi, it was not only the US attitude towards the Iranian nuclear issue that had been dictated by Israel, but also the international community's decision to refer the Iranian file to the UN: 13
"With the issue of Iran's nuclear program being taken up by the U.N. Security Council, Israel's hawkish policy and AIPAC's support for Bush administration hard-liners would appear to be paying dividends."
The Israeli attitude, according to Parsi, is not limited to the nuclear issue and is a consistent policy: 13
"From the early 1990s, Israel consistently failed to appreciate the opportunity American-Iranian negotiations could provide in alleviating the Iranian threat to the Jewish state. Rather, Israel saw such dialogue as a greater danger than Iran's anti-Israeli activities, fearing that Washington would betray Israeli security interests once faced with the opportunity to make up with Tehran."
Parsi even goes as far as blaming Israel for Tehran's support of the Palestinian factions to terminate the peace process: 13
"In late 1992, the Rabin-Peres government broke with the "periphery doctrine" that had long guided Israeli foreign policy... and began depicting Iran as a global and existential threat, in the hope that the West would come down hard on Tehran... But rather than winning the attention of the West, Israel only made itself shine brighter on the Iranian radar, prompting Tehran to significantly toughen its stance on Israel and patch up its ideological differences with Palestinian Sunni-Islamist groups."
The Mullahs' campaign to single out Israel also has been the primary goal of Parsi's sister organization, "The Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran" (CASMII) which was created in 2006. 14
CASMII in the US primarily consisted of Parsi's circle. Six founding members of its board and advisory (the majority at that time) belonged to NIAC and Parsi's inner circle. 15 Alex Patico, the US coordinator of CASMII, is also listed as one of NIAC's founders and its treasurer. 16 Indeed, CASMII is NIAC's offspring and they work closely together. 17-19
In order to single out Israel, CASMII's web site is regularly posting news and articles about the Israeli plan to attack Iran. These articles aim to maintain an atmosphere of permanent Israeli threat against Iran and to convince the public that the real factor to keep the heat on the Iranian nuclear issue is Israel. The essence of these weekly articles is very clear in their titles:
"An American strike on Iran is essential for our existence": AIPAC demands "action" on Iran"
"Bomb Iran: For Israel and America!"
"Israel losing patience for Iran talks"
"Israel to ready public for 'all-out war'"
"Missile Raid Would Hit Iran Nuclear Plans: Olmert"
"Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran"
"Are We Still Going to Support Israel If They Use Nuclear Weapons?"
One of the best examples of the Iranian regime's campaign could be seen in former UN inspector Scott Ritter's activities. He visited Iran in 2006 and wrote a book titled: "Target Iran" in which he totally defended the Iranian regime's position point after point. He recently summarized his book in an article titled: "The Big Lie: ‘Iran Is a Threat" which was published by CASMII on October 9, 2007: "A careful fact-based assessment of Iran clearly demonstrates that it poses no threat to the legitimate national security interests of the United States," he wrote.
Simailar to Trita Parsi, Ritter has been putting the blame of US-Iranian impasse on Israel. In a October 11, 2007 article published by CASMII, he wrote: 20
A major impetus behind this trend towards rhetorically-based negativism regarding Iran is the influence exerted on the US national security decision making process by the government of Israel, and those elements within the United States, both governmental and non-governmental, which lobby on behalf of Israel.
Since 2004 Israel has been successful in pressuring American policy positions vis-à-vis Iran to more closely model the positions taken by Israel, up to and including a characterization of Iran as a nation pursuing nuclear weapons ambitions, operating as a state sponsor of terror, and possessing a government which is fundamentally incompatible with regional and global peace and security.
In his interview with Seymour Hersh on the TV news show "Democracy Now", on December 21st, 2006 he declared: 21
"Israel now complicates America's overall policy posture vis-à-vis the Middle East, because now it becomes very difficult to treat the Palestinian situation in isolation. It becomes very difficult to treat the Hezbollah situation in isolation or to treat Iran in isolation. Israel has lumped it all together, because they know how to play the American political game, I think, better than we know how to play the American political game. So this is about domestic politics trumping intelligence and sound analytical processes."
Then, he went through a long list of Israeli activities against the Iranian regime including covert actions inside Iran, using opposition groups, unfairly accusing Iran, etc. Then, Hersh asked him why the US media does not echo Ritter's preoccupations. He replied:
"One of the big problems is -- and here goes the grenade -- Israel. The second you mention the word "Israel," the nation Israel, the concept Israel, many in the American press become very defensive. We're not allowed to be highly critical of the state of Israel. And the other thing we're not allowed to do is discuss the notion that Israel and the notion of Israeli interests may in fact be dictating what America is doing, that what we're doing in the Middle East may not be to the benefit of America's national security, but to Israel's national security. But, see, we don't want to talk about that, because one of the great success stories out there is the pro-Israeli lobby that has successfully enabled themselves to blend the two together, so that when we speak of Israeli interests, they say, "No, we're speaking of American interests."
It's interesting that AIPAC and other elements of the Israeli lobby don't have to register as agents of a foreign government. It would be nice if they did, because then we'd know when they're advocating on behalf of Israel or they're advocating on behalf of the United States of America.
Then, after clearing up the Iranian regime's reputation and putting the blame on Israel, Ritter turned to another US problem:
"As an American, I will tell you, Hezbollah does not threaten the national security of the United States of America one iota. So we should not be talking about using American military forces to deal with the Hezbollah issue. That is an Israeli problem. And yet, you'll see the New York Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets confusing the issue. They want us to believe that Hezbollah is an American problem. It isn't, ladies and gentleman. Hezbollah was created three years after Israel invaded Lebanon, not three years after the United States invaded Lebanon. And Hezbollah's sole purpose was to liberate southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. I'm not here to condone or sing high praises in virtue for Hezbollah. But I'm here to tell you right now, Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization that threatens the security of the United States of America."
The long and relentless efforts of the Iranian regime to put the blame on Israel and portray the clerical rule as an innocent, non-ideological regime which only pursues the national interests of Iranian people has however been confronted with a few hurdles.
Turning Tehran into an international gathering point for Neo-Nazis and various racist and fascist elements from around the world, contradicts the image of an Iranian regime as a victim. Here too, the intellectual imagination of Parsi's circle has been admirable.
After Ahmadinejad's famous declaration of wiping the Israel off the map, a large-scale campaign was orchestrated to argue that the peaceful president was mistranslated. 22 Strangely, the suitable translator was in Tehran. He was Siamak Namazi, the same who in 1999 along with Parsi wrote the roadmap for the Iranian lobby in the US. 23
As the Iranian regime is coming under increasing pressure from the world to curb its desire for regional hegemony, Tehran's mullahs will intensify their harsh words for Israel. We should expect that their advocates in the US follow suit and elevate their anti-Israeli rhetoric as well.
Hassan Daioleslam has appeared as an expert guest in the Voice of America-TV as well as other Persian media. Daioleslam has three decades of history of political activism and political scholarly analysis. http://iranianlobby.com/
15. These were M. Ala, S. Mostarshed, A. Patico, M. Navab, J. Fakharzadeh, and D. Pourkessali