By Rabbi Avi Shafran
One would be forgiven, especially were one an optimist, for imagining that recent reports of the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s donation of $400,000 to a Teheran Jewish hospital might signal something positive about Iran’s current leadership. With Purim within sight, the idea of good news coming out of Persia is an enticing one.
Our theoretical optimist would also likely have been gratified by the words of the hospital’s director, Dr. Ciamak Morsadegh, who said the Iranian leader “is showing that we [Jews], as a religious minority, are part of this country, too.”
But the Iranian leader’s smiles, largesse, and (to flashback several months) Rosh Hashanah good wishes to the world’s Jews were lopsidedly outweighed by another recent report, this one provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute. (MEMRI, the single most valuable news source for happenings in the Arab and Muslim worlds, does not profess or evidence any political stance; it simply translates and makes available speeches, media reports, and other information, positive and negative alike, that aren’t otherwise accessible to the English-reading public.)
The report included a video clip and transcript of a broadcast aired on Iran television’s Channel 1 on February 6. It is remarkable.
The video consists of a simulation—not quite up to the latest Hollywood special-effects standards but which might hold its own against a 1980s disaster film—of Iranian planes and missiles attacking civilian and military targets in Israel.
Footage of ostensibly missile-equipped “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones, in flight are accompanied by voice-over comments like “Iranian UAVs entering stealth mode in order to evade enemy radar” and “Iranian UAVs passing over the Iron Dome systems of Tel Aviv and Haifa.”
The planes are shown bombing target after target (bull’s-eyes all, of course): Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion Airport, Israeli “missile bases in Jericho,” an Israeli Defense Ministry “emergency meeting,” the Dimona nuclear reactor, and Haifa’s airport and refineries. Missiles streak forth, spectacular explosions ensue and, presumably, large numbers of people are incinerated. Actual news footage is interspersed here and there from what seem to be terrorist attacks in Israel, with wounded people staggering about and emergency personnel frantically trying to help.
Nor is America spared in the Iranian blood-lust fantasy. Attacks on the mainland aren’t portrayed—the producers apparently wished to keep things within the realm of believability—but an American aircraft carrier stood in for the country.
“The USS Abraham Lincoln” is shown in the Straits of Hormuz, and its commander is sternly warned by an Iranian official by radio.
“Commander of Abraham Lincoln, Navy,” he intones. “You have entered the Islamic Republic of Iran’s marine borders. Immediately leave this zone. I say again: Immediately leave this zone. Otherwise, we will have to defend our territory.”
After which Iranian missiles are fired, and the American ship is destroyed in a succession of fireballs.
It’s all primitive and risible propaganda, to be sure, intended for internal Iranian consumption. But what does it say, in the end, about the Rouhani regime if that is what it feeds the country’s populace, if it is seeking to prepare them not for détente but for war?
The current “Geneva Agreement” between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., consists of a short-term freeze of crucial portions of Iran’s nuclear program and its daily monitoring by international inspectors, in exchange for decreased economic sanctions; and it is intended as a time-buyer as the countries work toward forging a permanent agreement.
No one can know whether that strategy will bear fruit in the long term. But what the world powers need to know, even as they pursue diplomatic solutions to the threat that is Iran, is that they are dealing with a government that may occasionally present a reasonable face but whose internal fantasies are dark and destructive, a leadership whose sociable smiles are belied by its devilish daydreams.
A snake can seem to smile, too, and can even, with skill, be rendered docile, at least for a time. But it’s always necessary to remember that, however quiescent and cooperative the creature might seem, it’s still, in the end, a snake. v
© 2014 Rabbi Avi Shafran.
“It’s All in the Angle” (Torah Temimah Publications), a collection of selected essays by Rabbi Shafran, is available from Judaica Press.