Israel Defense Minister Converses with Radio Listeners in… Iran
This week, Israel’s Iranian-born defense minister Shaul Mofaz made the unique gesture of answering questions from listeners in Iran – in their own language – in a live broadcast over Israel Radio’s Farsi-language service.
The questions came thick and fast.
In answer to one, he promised everything would be done to protect the environment against radioactive fallout should Israeli forces destroy Iran’s nuclear capability.
Shaul Mofaz was only six when his family emigrated from Iran to Israel. His knowledge of Farsi is rudimentary at best. But that didn’t stop the Israeli defense chief from getting his message across to a stream of callers from the Islamic Republic who appealed to him for help on Israel Radio’s Farsi service this week.
One caller from a city in central Iran asked when Israel and the Jews would finally repay their historical debt to Cyrus the Great and rescue the Iranian people from the dread ayatollahs, just as US President George W. Bush had helped the people of Iraq and Afghanistan throw off their oppressors.
(It was in 538 BC that Cyrus, king of Persia, fulfilling the word of God as spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah, issued a proclamation allowing the Jews to return to Zion from their exile in Babylon and rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem.)
Mofaz, admitting he was not in the miracle business, wished the Iranian people success in their struggle for freedom. But then a stream of callers pleaded for Israel to intervene to help overthrow the Islamic regime. The defense minister replied it was up to the Iranian people to determine its fate. But he also mentioned the United States role in the region and said the Americans still had much work to do after prevailing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran and Syria were still there as key elements of Bush’s axis of evil.
This reply brought forth a chorus of listeners who wanted to persuade the Israeli minister that the Teheran regime was more of a danger to the region and the world than Saddam Hussein had ever been.
Mofaz gently parried these demands. He also refrained from answering a listener, apparently calling from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, who wanted a rundown of Israel’s attitude on the Kurdish question and Iraq’s future.
Many of the questions focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. One caller wanted to know how Israel would respond to Iran’s efforts to build an atomic bomb or stage a nuclear attack. Mofaz said that, should it became necessary to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Israel would take steps to ensure the safety of Iranian civilians.
Some callers asked for a response to the Iranian defense minister Hossein Dehghan’s statement on Sunday, December 14, that Iran had no choice but to develop increasingly powerful weapons to overcome the technological threats posed by its strongest enemies, the United States and Israel. Mofaz denied any threat. The Jewish state had no offensive intentions towards Iran; nor did it nurture any hostility toward the Iranian people. In the past, Iran and the Jewish states had enjoyed warm and productive relations. But if Israel came under attack, he emphasized, it would defend itself with all the measures it deemed necessary.
A woman caller, a Muslim, then recalled tearfully the disappearance eight years ago of the son of Jewish neighbors who had never been heard of since being caught in flight across the border with Pakistan. In the last decade, 12 Iranian Jews have been caught fleeing by way of Pakistan and never seen again.
Mofaz reiterated Israel’s commitment to protect Jews all over the world. He promised to investigate these cases and see what could be done to help.
At the end of the 50-minute program, Mofaz said he would never have imagined the depth of sympathy for Israel entertained by ordinary Iranians – in sharp contrast to the violence and hate emitting from the rulers of the Islamic Republic. The gap between regime and people was dramatic. A lot of this sympathy is born of the Iranian people’s historic resentment of their Islamic rulers and the Arabs, who invaded their country 1,400 years ago, destroyed Iranian culture and forced the populace to embrace Islam.
Israel Radio’s Farsi service has become a byword among a wide audience in Iran. Just last week, an Iranian legislator who voiced sharp criticism in parliament of the Iranian government was asked sarcastically whether he was not Menashe Amir, director of Israel Radio’s Farsi service, in disguise.
Mofaz’s warm dialogue with ordinary Iranians occurred in the same week as harsh comments from Iran’s supreme leader and strongman, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the capture of Saddam Hussein last Saturday December 12. The ayatollah voiced the wish that “Bush and Sharon” share the same inglorious fate suffered by the former Iraqi dictator. Cynically parroting the words of President George Bush about Saddam, Khamenei thundered, “The world would be a better place without them.”
Tehran’s hostility is not confined to belligerent language.
debkafile‘s military sources reported on December 15 that Russia has sold Iran advanced 300-A air defense missile systems – over Washington’s objections – to defend its controversial nuclear reactor in the southern town of Bushehr. Their deployment was discovered by chance Sunday, when two of the missiles while being installed flew out of control. One hit a minibus, killing two bus passengers and injuring 20; the second caused heavy damage to town buildings – far more extensive than admitted by Tehran. The official Iranian news agency IRNA, reporting on the incident, said a self-targeting weapon – which it did not identify — failed to trigger its auto-destruct mechanism and slammed into the minibus.
The diplomatic fallout from this discovery will be considerable.
Israel too is watching Iran’s constant weapons upgrades with a wary eye.
On Tuesday, December 16, Israeli Shin Beit director Avi Dichter, in a rare public appearance, named Iran as the world’s No. 1 terror state and Israel’s most dangerous security threat. Tehran, he said, targets both Israel and Jews everywhere. He cited Tehran’s hand behind the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community in which 85 died and more than 200 were wounded. Dichter accused the Iranians of continually hatching trouble right up to the present. Beyond backing, financing and arming the virulently anti-Israel Lebanese Shiite terror group, the Hizballah, Tehran has marked out Israel’s Arab citizens for exploitation as a potential fifth column. He described Iranian agents are actively recruiting hirelings in the Arab community.