Human Rights

From Cover-Up to Make-It-Up: The Dangers of Normalizing Relations with Iran

JNS.org – “When in Rome, do as the Iranians do.”

That was the core message emerging from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Europe this week, in a bid to boost trade relations now that the sanctions related to Tehran’s nuclear program have been lifted. Arriving at Rome’s venerable Capitoline Museum for a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Mateo Renzi, Rouhani was swiftly escorted past the museum’s priceless collection of Roman statues, including many nudes that had been covered up—yes, really—to avoid offending the sensibilities of a man frequently and falsely described as a “moderate.”

It has, finally, come to this. Western leaders—both in Europe and America—don’t even blink when it comes to agreeing to the most outrageous demands of Iran’s ruling theocracy. When our female politicians visit Iran, they are compelled to wrap their heads with the hijab. But when Iranian politicians visit our countries, we bow and scrape and now hide those aspects of our Western culture that we should be unapologetically proud about.

Those of us who haven’t been blinded by the endless reassurances that Iran is now a responsible international citizen will regard this scandal as confirmation that the Tehran regime is as fanatical as ever. And in kowtowing to an Islamist philistine like Rouhani, our leaders are doing a marvelous job of proving to the Iranians that when they say, “Jump,” we ask meekly, “How High?”

What is true in the case of art and culture is also true in politics. The “normalization” with a thoroughly abnormal Iran heralded by last summer’s nuclear deal continues apace. Any-one who questions the wisdom of this strategy will be labeled a “warmonger,” or worse, a supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

You see, whenever the Iranians demonstrate to us that they view our democracy and our way of life with contempt, there will be a chorus of Western politicians and commentators who try to change the subject, typically by talking about the malicious designs of Israel’s elected leader. President Barack Obama has set the standard on this one for the last eight years, and his media echo chamber dutifully follows. Hell, they’ll even make stuff up if that’s what’s needed.

Take columnist J.J. Goldberg of the Forward newspaper. Ever since the nuclear deal was announced, Goldberg has been trying to persuade his readers that the Israeli security establishment thinks it’s actually a great idea, only Netanyahu won’t permit them to say so openly. So he hunts around looking for anything—an isolated quote, a bodily gesture, a suggestive pause—that might count as evidence that his beloved Obama is right about Iran.

Goldberg is now claiming that Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of staff of the IDF, told a conference hosted by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies that the nuclear deal “has actually removed the most serious danger to Israel’s existence for the foreseeable future, and greatly reduced the threat over the longer term.” Note well: That phrasing belongs to Goldberg, not Eizenkot, because Eizenkot didn’t say anything of the sort.

Indeed, reading Goldberg’s piece, I was struck by the absence of key quotes from Eizenkot’s speech—an astounding omission given his assertion that the very same speech amounts to a “point-by-point refutation of Bibi-ism.” For example, Eizenkot expressly said, “Their vision of obtaining a nuclear weapon will continue insofar as Iran views itself as a regional power,” which most observers would regard as an indictment of the deal, rather than an endorsement. In similar vein, when Goldberg discussed Eizenkot’s views on the threats posed by terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIS, he neglected to quote the IDF’s chief of staff’s statement that Iran “manages a war against Israel by means of proxies such as Hezbollah, which today represents the most serious threat to Israel.”

In other words, Eizenkot considers Iran to be the primary source of the threats Israel faces—one that, crucially, hasn’t given up on its ambition of weaponizing its nuclear program. Yes, Eizenkot also said that the deal brought “opportunities,” but probably not of the sort Goldberg had in mind. Those opportunities for Israel lie not in diplomatic outreach to the Iranian regime, but in forging alliances with its Sunni neighbors, whose fear of Iranian power is even greater than Israel’s.

The question remains as to why someone would make such extravagant claims when they are easily refuted by checking the record. I can only speculate—and unlike Goldberg, I don’t dress up speculation as fact—but it seems to me that there is a whiff of desperation in all of this. If you believe against all the available evidence that the Iran deal has made us safer, then you’ll be worried that it won’t survive the Obama presidency. Ergo, who could possibly be more credible in making the case to retain it than a serving Israeli general (and never mind that he didn’t say what you said he said…)?

Be warned, then, to expect more of this sort of thing in the coming months. And be prepared for some even more bizarre spectacles—like J Street, the anti-Israel group that markets itself as “pro-Israel” to win over Jewish liberals, campaigning to rid Congress of some of Israel’s closest and most reliable friends, like Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), on the grounds that they oppose the surrender to Iran that Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated in Vienna.

The key point to remember is that nothing has substantively changed. Iran remains a brutal theocracy, unashamed of imposing its primitive values on democratic nations, as Rouhani’s visit to Rome testifies. Iran’s leaders are personally responsible for some of the most vile atrocities of the Syrian civil war, through their backing of Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. Iran wants to destroy Israel and turn the Islamic world into a web of deadly sectarian violence.

In other words, Iran’s rulers are the enemy, as they have been since the 1979 revolution, and as they will be for as long as the Islamic Republic remains in place.

Ben Cohen is a Senior Editor at The Tower Magazine and the Director of Partnership Programs at The Israel Project. Publications he has written for include Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, Ha’aretz and Tablet. He writes a weekly column for JNS.org, a news agency serving the Jewish media. Follow him on Twitter @BenCohenOpinion.

[Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr ]