Presidents Obama and Rouhani have had a phone conversation. It was the first time since 1979 that the presidents of Iran and the United States have spoken to each other.
Iran resents the United States for putting the Shah into power in 1953. The United States resents Iran for holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1980). Despite these tangible offenses, the leaders of the two countries were finally able to speak.
Iran and Israel have no such offenses as part of their history. Israel has never ever done anything to harm Iran. Iran, to be sure, sends weapons to Hezbollah, which is a threat to Israel. But Iran has never engaged in any direct hostility against Israel.
Nevertheless, in 2001, Iran’s President Rafsanjani, who is generally described as a moderate, called the existence of Israel an ugly, colonialist phenomenon and said that nuclear war could destroy everything on the ground in Israel but would merely damage the world of Islam.
Iranian leaders have consistently spoken against Israel’s existence. Furthermore, they are creating a nuclear arsenal and have endured severe sanctions in order to keep increasing their nuclear capabilities, while claiming that they are not interested in building a bomb. Their claim is not convincing in light of their willingness to endure economic hardships resulting from sanctions.
So then, why are they continuing to oppose Israel?
Iran’s hostility towards Israel makes no sense whatsoever. Iran has mentioned the plight of the Palestinians on occasion, but Iran has hardly ever been friends with an Arab nation. The big exception is with Assad’s Syria, since Assad is an Alawite and therefore a member of a Shiite sect. Palestinians, and most Arabs, are Sunnis. Sunnis and Shiites have been at war for centuries.
Iran has never faced up to the fact that it has no reason to be enemies with Israel. Neither has the rest of the world. Leaders of all nations take it for granted that Iran is Israel’s enemy, and nobody has ever asked why. Hostility to Israel is the rule and not the exception. Who needs a motive?
On the other hand, Iran does have a reason to worry about the status of Shiites in the Arab world. That is why Iran is aiding Hezbollah, a Shiite organization. Week after week, bombs go off in market places and even in mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. They kill lots of people who happen to be present at the sites of the bombings. The victims are typically Shiites, and the bombs are, by and large, directed against Shiites.
Although Iranian leaders have not been reacting publicly to these religious murders, they are concerned about terrorism. “In July, China and Iran signed an agreement on security cooperation to strengthen their bilateral cooperation to combat terrorism and drug-related crimes. But more such collaborative efforts are needed to bring an end to the scourge of terrorism,” according to an op-ed in China Daily by He Wenping that appeared on September 25.
China is worried about terrorism in Xinjiang Province; Iran is concerned about attacks on Shiites. It makes sense for them to cooperate. Somehow, Iran has not seen fit to publicize this issue.
Recognizing Israel would do Iran a world of good. It could benefit from Israeli technology. It could end the nuclear expansion that provoked the sanctions. It could open up the United States to becoming a trading partner of Iran.
Rouhani would like to make Iran rich and secure. On the other hand, think of how timid he was about recognizing that the Holocaust had happened. If one hates Israel, one is quite open to the concept of denial, since the Holocaust was one of the factors leading to the United Nations vote dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into two states.
On the third hand, what would Iran’s mullahs say? Would they declare Rouhani’s presidency invalid? Perhaps they would. If so, maybe Rouhani could use this as a way of ending the power of Iran’s theocrats.
Israel is the most hated nation on earth, which is a reason that the Palestinian Arabs have never been able to accept a compromise with Israel that would have created a Palestinian Arab state. The Palestinian Arabs are the only independence movement ever to reject independence because of a boundary dispute.
They had to reject it; one can’t make a deal with a party that is universally detested. If Rouhani recognized Israel, it would help the Palestinian Arabs.
Recognize Israel, President Rouhani.
Prof. George Jochnowitz
The writer is professor emeritus of linguistics whose specialty is Jewish languages, in particular the dialects of the Jews of Italy and southern France. He taught for many years at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, and was an exchange professor at Hebei University in Baoding, China. His varied interests include politics, music, the Bible, and humanity itself – and his wife, two daughters and grandson.