Do ordinary Iranians understand the Israel/Hamas conflict better than the experts?
By Clifford D. May
The essential facts of the Hamas/Israel conflict are not complicated: Hamas is a client of Iran’s ruling mullahs whose rallying cry is, “Death to America!” Hamas’s ideology is indistinguishable from that of al-Qaeda. For these two reasons alone, it cannot be in the U.S. interest for Hamas—or any similar group—to prevail anytime, anywhere.
Also beyond question: Hamas has been raining missiles on Israel for years. No nation can passively endure such punishment—and remain a nation. It was only a matter of time before Israel had to take action against Hamas, a sworn enemy that openly expresses its genocidal intentions, and that routinely uses Palestinian women and children as human shields, exploiting their suffering for public-relations benefits.
What’s curious is who gets this and who does not. Jeffrey Gedmin is president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, whose Iranian service, Radio Farda, has been receiving messages from its Iranian listeners regarding the war in Gaza. Many have been along the lines Iran’s rulers prefer and you might expect: “Death to Israel, to the imperialists and Zionists!” But the “majority,” Gedmin told me, has been of a different nature. Here’s a sampling (translated from the Farsi):
"The clerical regime is lying. It was not Israel who started this war."
"Any other country [apart from Israel] would have done the same a long time ago."
"Hamas should be destroyed. This cowardly group is taking cover in hospitals and residential areas. The people of Gaza should help Israel."
"As long as [Iran’s rulers] are helping Lebanon and Palestine, we're not going to have a decent living."
"We're soldiers from Jebrani and we don't have enough to eat, but the government is airlifting food and medicine to Gaza." (Actually, the Iranian government is not.)
"In my opinion, it would be better if our leaders, together with their supporters, would relocate to Palestine... This way we would have peace and quiet in Iran and our economic situation would improve."
"Yes, it's true. [I hear] they want to give part of our salaries to Hamas."
In the Arab world, too, there are those whose views may surprise you. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak told a visiting delegation of European foreign ministers that Hamas “must not be allowed to emerge from the fighting with the upper hand.”
Karam Jaber, editor of the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Youssef, blamed Hamas for inflicting “death and destruction on the Palestinians... We hope the Hamas leaders will realize that they are fighting a destructive war on behalf of the Iranians and Syrians.”
And Muhammad Dahlan, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, told the Arabic language newspaper al-Hayat that Hamas has sacrificed “the Palestinian cause for the illusion of an Islamic emirate in Gaza.”
By stark contrast, an army of American and European commentators have been treating Hamas with kid gloves while bitterly criticizing Israel. Reuters, the international wire service, relentlessly editorializes—in what are ostensibly news stories—against what it terms “Israeli aggression against Palestinians.” Reuters characterizes pretty much anyone who is against Israel—no matter how extreme their views—as “in support of the people of Gaza.”
Others make the case for moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel, or charge that Israel’s response to Hamas’s attacks has been “disproportionate.” On CNN the other day, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg offered an apt analogy: If you call the police to report an intruder in your home, do you want only a single officer dispatched—because that would be “proportionate?” Or would you rather enough cops arrive to ensure your safety?
By that measure, Israel’s response has been not disproportionate but inadequate—as demonstrated by the fact that the missiles keep on coming
Time magazine’s most recent cover story argues that no matter what Israel does militarily it “can’t win.” Time proposes that Israelis stop fighting and return to the borders they had in 1967—when they were attacked by their Arab neighbors in a war meant to wipe the Jewish state off the map. “Only then will the Palestinians and the other Arab states agree to a durable peace,” Time advises. “It’s as simple as that.”
But if it were as simple as that, wouldn’t Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 have brought something other than a 500 percent increase in missile salvos? What’s more, from the West Bank, even the smallest missiles could hit Israel’s largest cities and international airport. Can you imagine the death toll should those come under daily assault?
Evidently, many pundits and solons cannot. More than a few ordinary Iranians could probably explain it to them.