In his excellent article “Iran’s strategic nuclear deception“, Craig S. Karpel argues that Iran’s threats against Israel are a smokescreen designed to lull the West into a false sense of security regarding her true aims:
Most Europeans and Americans are not keenly aware that Iran is on track to having the ability to threaten Kuwait City, Riyadh, Dubai, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Berlin, Paris, London, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles with nuclear weapons. They are oblivious to the ultimate aim of the Iranian nuclear weapons program: to transform Iran into the dominant global superpower by enabling its regime to attain hegemonic control of the petroleum production of all of the Gulf region’s oil states, while preventing the West from taking military action against Iran by deploying missiles that can obliterate Western cities. Instead, Americans and Europeans are under the impression that the program’s main goal is the destruction of Israel…
The stream of invective calling for, predicting, and/or gloating in advance about the elimination of Israel constitutes one of the most effective strategic deceptions in history. Tehran has succeeded in minimizing Western concern about Iran’s nuclear weapons program by making it seem to be somebody else’s problem. — Karpel, “Iran’s strategic nuclear deception”
There’s no doubt that it’s Iran’s goal to become “the dominant global superpower” as Karpel says. And the West in general and the US in particular seem remarkably unconcerned as the noose tightens. But it looks more like Western self-deception than Persian trickery.
It seems to me that Iranian leaders, like Hitler, have made their intentions clear long in advance. And (also like Hitler) they intend to destroy the Jews by conventional means.
Karpel lists several threatening statements made by Iranian leaders against Israel, suggesting that they are nuclear threats. But all of them refer to the Palestinians as the instrument of Israel’s destruction and only one even mentions nuclear weapons.
One is Khamenei’s 2000 statement in which he described Israel as a “cancerous tumor” in the Mideast. Here is Khamenei’s threat:
“Palestinian refugees should return and Muslims, Christians and Jews could choose a government for themselves, excluding immigrant Jews…
He praised the 11-week Palestinian uprising against Israel, in which more than 320 people have been killed, mainly Palestinians.
“The new Palestinian generation has learned that struggle is the way to victory, not negotiations,” Khamenei said, referring to the deadlocked U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process.
Another is Ahmadinejad’s famous 2005 remark that Israel would be “wiped off the map”. But he did not mention nuclear weapons:
Ahmadinejad said in his remarks Wednesday that the issue of a Palestinian state would be resolved only when Palestinians took control of all their lands.
“The establishment of Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world,” he said, according to the press agency. “The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land.”
Referring to comments by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, Admadinejad said, “As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map.”
And here is his May 2008 “stinking corpse” comment:
“Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
“Today the reason for the Zionist regime’s existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation,” he said.
Ahmadinejad added that Israel “has reached the end like a dead rat after being slapped by the Lebanese” — a reference to the July-August 2006 war between Israel and the Shiite Hezbollah militia.
In June 2008, Ahmadinejad again predicted Israel’s demise (video),
“The Zionist regime has lost its raison d’etre. Today the Palestinians identify with your name (Khomeini), your memory and in your path. They are walking in your illuminated path and the Zionist regime has reached a total dead end. Thanks to God your wish will soon be realized, and this germ of corruption will soon be wiped off the face of the world.”
And yet again in September, he reused the bacterial metaphor:
“A Zionist organization with 2,000 [members] and with 7,000 or 8,000 activists has brought the world to a state of confusion. Let me tell them that if they themselves do not wrap up Zionism, the strong arm of the peoples will wipe these germs of corruption off the face of the Earth.”
Even Rafsanjani’s 2001 statement that includes this “…the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam” also refers to the Palestinians:
Rafsanjani said that it is unlikely that the Palestinian Jihad will weaken. He explained that the Palestinians have come to the conclusion that talks [with Israel] are effective only along with struggle and self-sacrifice – the two key elements that gave way to the second Intifada. The Palestinian Jihad is the mother of many Islamic movements, ranging from the  Islamic Revolution in Iran to Islamic movements in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Central Asia, and many other Muslim states. All these Islamic movements support the Palestinian Jihad and have not forgotten it. The Palestinian Jihad has its roots in the homelessness of five million people. Undoubtedly, [this Jihad's] culmination will be the liberation of Palestine.
Now this is not to say that Israel ought not worry about Iranian nuclear weapons, because they clearly could be used against Israel, both directly and as blackmail.
But the characterization — by the West, not by the Iranians — of the threat as primarily a threat against Israel and therefore not a serious danger to Europe and the US is very wrong.
Iran wants to destroy Israel for several reasons.
- It is an outpost of and possible military base for Iran’s primary enemy, the US, in the Middle East.
- Israel is one of the few issues guaranteed to unite all Muslims, and championing its destruction allows Iran to obtain influence even with Sunnis, such as Hamas.
- Israel sits in the most strategic spot in the Eastern Mediterranean, an area in which Iran wishes to project its power.
- Ahmadinejad may have religious reasons for wanting to eliminate Israel.
But nuclear weapons, while useful, are not essential to the Iranian strategy against Israel, which is based on Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria (with its massive stockpile of non-nuclear missiles, some of them with chemical and biological warheads).
Nuclear weapons are essential, however, for the strategy against the US and the West that Karpel outlines. And this explains the willingness of the Iranian regime to expend huge sums of money — to the detriment of its population — as well as expose itself to the possibility of military attack from a cornered Israel.
Unfortunately, the US is behaving toward Iran very much as it behaved toward Hitler’s Germany in the late 1930’s, pretending that, after all, the worst that can happen is that somebody else will be hurt. Perhaps Karpel should have titled his article “Our strategic nuclear self-deception”.