(Inter Press Service)
The controversial Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee and thousands of supporters filled a convention center in downtown Washington last week for the Washington-Israel Summit of Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and the “Iranian threat” was a recurrent theme.
CUFI supports Christian Zionism—the belief that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of the Biblical End Times prophecy and thus deserves political, financial, and religious support. Its founder, Hagee, recently came under fire from Jewish groups and others for a sermon in which he described Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust as part of God’s plan to drive the Jews from Europe and bring them to Palestine.
In support of two bills regarding divestment and sanctions against Iran that CUFI participants would lobby for on Capitol Hill, the conference hosted a panel where three neoconservative Iran hawks discussed the direction of U.S.-Iranian relations. Though the panel was closed to the press, this correspondent attended with a standard participant’s pass.
The presentations from the “Iran: Eye of the Storm” panel were filled with contradictions and featured alarmist rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran, reiterating claims that conflate Iran’s hostility toward Israel and genocidal intentions like those of Hitler.
Patrick Clawson, the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, started off the panel by offering a view of the global threat that Iran poses—especially should it acquire nuclear weapons.
Clawson claimed, like fellow panelist Clifford May of the neoconservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that Iran’s leadership is strictly ideologically motivated and not restrained by rationality or national interest.
The threat, Clawson said, emanates not from the heated anti-Israeli rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who Clawson says does not set policies—but rather from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who Clawson said has referred to Israel as a cancer in the region.
Clawson said that the rhetoric was also less important than the threats posed to Israel by Iranian support for anti-Israeli groups in the Levant.
“Iran is spending at least $200 million a year financing, training, and arming every terror group that is killing Israelis in the pursuit of eliminating the state of Israel,” he said.
Clawson went on to say that because of Iran’s clear opposition to Israel demonstrated by its rhetoric and support for anti-Israeli groups, a nuclear-armed Iran would be an even greater risk.
“If Iran makes progress on its nuclear weapons, Iran will be in a much better position to carry through on these kinds of threats,” said Clawson. Adding an oft-repeated claim that the Iranian leadership doesn’t hold to rational thought, Clawson elicited laughter from the crowd with his statement that “Some Iranian leaders are quite happy to be suicidal. Many of them are not rational.”
But in the question and answer session that followed the panelists’ speeches, Clawson softened his position, implying that the Iranian leadership was capable of acting rationally toward Iranian national interests and is not totally beholden to its fiery rhetoric.
When asked about the potential retaliation of the Iranian regime to a U.S. air strike on Iranian nuclear targets, Clawson responded, “The history, so far, is of blood-curdling threats, and [then] nothing happens.”
Clawson pointed to an incident in 1988 when the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian commercial airplane. Clawson said that after the incident, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—the first supreme leader of the Islamic Republic and widely regarded as the most ideological Iranian leader since the 1979 revolution—had exercised restraint against retaliation.
Clawson even pointed out that the following week, Khomeini declared to the Iranian people that the United States had joined its then ally—Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—in the bloody, drawn out Iran-Iraq War, and unable to fight both the United States and Iraq at the same time, a negotiated settlement to the conflict needed to be reached.
Though Clawson expressed both views at the conference, the dichotomy is typical of arguments made against Iran. For a popular crowd, speakers will usually invoke the images of genocidal threats to Israel and beyond to garner support.
Meanwhile, speaking before more elite crowds, Iran hawks will often cite different arguments that don’t rest on the overblown notion of messianic, suicidal ideologues in control of the Iranian government.
For example, speaking at an event sponsored by the organization Intelligence Squared—this time on a dais that included both supporting and opposing views—and debating the notion that “We must tolerate a nuclear Iran,” Clawson, who was against the idea, never mentioned any of the more incendiary arguments against an Iranian nuclear bomb.
Rather, he stuck to only one line of thinking: that a nuclear-armed Iran would create an arms race and proliferation.
‘”If Iran gets away with building this, it will not be the only country,” said Clawson at Intelligence Squared, delivering the meat of his rationale.
While Clawson did mention the idea of proliferation at the CUFI summit, it took a back seat to his main argument of an ideological and irrationally driven direct threat to Israel.
May, for his part at CUFI, took an even harder line on Iran, spending the bulk of his time discussing a comparison of the Islamic Republic and the Nazi Germany of Hitler.
“Once again, we have enemies who know how to manipulate words, images, and ideas, who are organizing mass movements, and who are utterly ruthless, who are openly intent on conquest and genocide,” said May, bringing his comparison to a head and implying that Iran is pursuing another Jewish holocaust.
Frank Gaffney, the head of the neoconservative think tank Center for Security Policy, used his time on the CUFI panel to talk about how Iran directly threatens the United States. Gaffney claimed that Iran had been at war with the United States since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Pushing the idea of a missile defense system in the region, Gaffney suggested that the Iranians may be able to develop an electromagnetic pulse weapon in the form a crude nuclear missile that “could within practically the blink of an eye transform large parts of this country from a 21st century superpower to a pre-industrial society.”
However, these views do not appear to reflect those of most American Jews. A poll released this month by the firm Gerstein/Agne found that large majorities favor diplomacy with Iran, support a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, and are highly skeptical of political alliances with right-wing evangelical groups such as CUFI.
Ali Gharib writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org).
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