Iran: We saved the Jews three times; Netanyahu should learn history
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif tells NBC his country `doesn’t support blind terrorism’ and `we will never have a bomb.’
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations in his recent speech to the U.S. Congress that Iran wants to destroy Israel.
In an interview with NBC, Zarif said that “Iran saved the Jews three times in its history,” insinuating that Netanyahu should brush up on his history lessons.
Zarif said Netanyahu distorts both the current reality and the writings in Jewish sources and the Bible.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Netanyahu now totally distorts realities of today,” Zarif said. “He even distorts his own scripture. If you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews. …
“It is truly, truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved Jews three times in its history: once during that time of a prime minister who was trying to kill the Jews, and the king saved the Jews; again during the time of Cyrus the Great, where he saved the Jews from Babylon, and during the Second World War, where Iran saved the Jews.” http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.645497
Challenge from the reporter
Senior NBC correspondent Ann Curry, who has been covering the nuclear talks between the powers and Iran for two years, challenged Zarif with the examples that Netanyahu gave in his Congress speech.
She quoted a tweet from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “This barbaric wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime, has no cure but to be annihilated.”
The Iranian foreign minister tried to avoid the question and claimed that Khamenei was not referring to all Jews, but the “Israeli regime” headed by Netanyahu.
“If we wanted to annihilate Jews, we have a large number of Jewish population in Iran who not only live in the country in peace, but, in fact, have a representative in Iranian parliament allocated to them, disproportionately to their number,” Zarif said.
“Every 150,000 Iranian Muslims has a representative in the parliament, whereas less than 20,000 Jews in Iran have a representative in the parliament. So we’re not about annihilation of Jews.
“We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with Jews everywhere in the world. If people want to espouse fear mongering to fan such hysteria in the world, that’s to their detriment.”
`The regime is a threat’
Curry repeated the question and asked Zarif to qualify the distinction between “the regime in Israel” and the Jews.
“This regime is a threat,” Zarif replied. “A regime that engages in the killing of innocent children, a regime that engages in acts of aggression. Iran has not invaded any other country. We have not threatened to use force.
“Just exactly the opposite of Israel. Israel threatens to use force against Iran almost on a daily basis. … Of course if they did use force against Iran, we would defend ourselves, as we have done with great sacrifice in the past. But we are not invading, we are not threatening anybody. We have not threatened anybody for 250 years.
“We have a record to prove of what we say. He doesn’t. He has a record full of infanticide, full of killing of innocent people, full of aggression against his neighbor, full of occupation.”
Curry continued to pressure Zarif. She reminded him that during the speech to Congress, Netanyahu accused him of laying a wreath at the grave of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for killing hundreds of Americans.
Again, Zarif tried to avoid the question: “First of all, we have our policy differences with the United States. Secondly, I’m not running for a popularity contest in the United States [against Netanyahu].”
Replying to Netanyahu’s accusation against him, Zarif said: “He is the one visiting [Jabhat] al-Nusra (Nusra Front) terrorists in Israeli hospitals. It’s for him to respond to those allegations. We have been proven, time and again, that we have supported people who stand for justice, who stand against oppression.
“We do not support blind terrorism. We never supported groups or tendencies that commit beheading in Syria and in Iraq. Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot make this unequivocal statement, which I can.”
`We will never have a bomb’
Regarding Mughniyeh, Zarif said he was only part of the resistance to Israel. “We’re not talking about a group that came from all over the world to Syria or to Iraq to wreak havoc,” Zarif said. “We’re talking about people defending their country, defending their territory against occupation.”
The Iranian foreign minister emphasized throughout the interview that Iran is not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons and has never tried to do so.
“We never had the bomb. We will never have a bomb. We’re not looking to have a bomb,” he said. “We do not believe a bomb is in our interest. Whereas [Netanyahu] does have a bomb. He has 200 nuclear weapons.
“He has stood against a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. … He continues to make allegations against Iran. He’s in no place to do that. He doesn’t have the authority, the moral authority, to do that.
“In 1992, he said Iran was three years away from the bomb or four years away from the bomb. In 1996, he repeated that. He said, in 2012, before the entire world, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, with that cartoon of a bomb, that Iran was a year away from making a bomb.
“Now we are in 2015 … and he’s still repeating the same lie.”
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Long History of Crying Wolf About Iran’s Nuclear Weapons
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the U.S. Congress tomorrow about the perils of striking a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu, not generally known for his measured rhetoric, has been vociferous in his public statements about the dangers of such compromise, warning that it will allow Iran to “rush to the bomb” and that it amounts to giving the country “a license” to develop nuclear weapons.
It is worth remembering, however, that Netanyahu has said much of this before. Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”
Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”
In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.
For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”
Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false. Despite this, Netanyahu, apparently unchastened by the havoc his previous false charges helped create, immediately went back to ringing the alarm bells about Iran.
A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from developing weapons capability. Another cable later the same year showed Netanyahu, now back in office as prime minister, telling a separate delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding that alternatively, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.”
In statements around this time made to journalists, Netanyahu continued to raise alarm about this supposedly imminent, apocalyptic threat. As he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a 2010 interview, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” adding, “that’s what is happening in Iran.”
In 2012 Netanyahu said in closed talks reported by Israeli media that Iran is just “a few months away” from attaining nuclear capabilities. Later that same year, he gave a widely-mocked address at the United Nations in which he alleged that Iran would have the ability to construct a weapon within roughly one year, while using a printout of a cartoon bomb to illustrate his point.
Despite this heady rhetoric, Netanyahu’s estimates of an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb have consistently been at odds with analyses made by his own intelligence agency. In 2011, departing Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan said in his final intelligence summary that, contrary to Netanyahu’s repeated statements at the time, an Iranian nuclear weapon is in fact not imminent, and that any military action against the country could end up spurring the development of such a weapon.
Just last week, leaked intelligence cables reported by Al Jazeera revealed that at roughly the same time in 2012 that Netanyahu was brandishing his cartoon bomb and telling the United Nations that Iran was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, Israeli intelligence had actually determined the country was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”
The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.
Despite this, he continues to be treated by lawmakers and media figures as a credible voice on this issue.
When Netanyahu gives his address to Congress, he can likely be counted on to say much the same thing he’s been saying for the past two decades about an impending Iranian nuclear threat, and credulous pundits and politicians can be counted on to believe him.
Photo: Richard Drew/AP
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