(There is an English version of the interview below.)
By Tom Gross
The interview I gave last week to Radio Farda has been much discussed among both anti-regime and pro-regime media in Iran in recent days, as well as by Persian-language blogs in and outside of Iran.
(Radio Farda is one of the most prominent pro-democracy stations broadcasting in Persian into Iran, with millions of listeners and tens of thousands of page views on its website daily.)
Among those that republished the interview was the Iranian government-controlled news agency Fars:
However, the Fars news agency removed certain key passages from my answers. For example, from the first answer, they took out my words “Were a democratic government, at peace with Israel, to assume power in Iran, that might be a different matter.”
And when I answered the question on Obama’s foreign policy, they omitted my words about the Iranian regime instituting a crackdown that continues to this day.
However, Fars did translate verbatim my thoughts about how it would have been easier to pressure the governments in Syria and Bahrain if the present Iranian regime was not in power
Here, for the Iranians who subscribe to this list, is the original interview published in Persian. (There is an English version below.)
(Incidentally, the Iranian regime quite often refers to my dispatches in its media, though they usually spin things in them to suit their worldview. My dispatches are also often picked up and linked to in Arabic among pro-democracy websites in the Gulf, in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. The site monitor indicates my website now has about 3000 regular readers in Saudi Arabia too.)
INTERVIEW WITH RADIO FARDA
Radio Farda spoke to Tom Gross, an international relations expert writing for The Wall Street Journal, Sunday Telegraph, National Review and National Post. We asked him questions on Iran, Israel and the Middle East.
Published on line in Persian: May 11, 2011
WOULD ISRAEL ACCEPT A NUCLEAR IRAN?
Recently Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan declared that an Israeli attack on Iran would be “stupid”. Israeli defense officials supported his declaration. Does it mean that Israel has changed its strategy and accepted the possibility of a nuclear-able Iran?
I don’t believe that for one minute Israel will accept a nuclear Iran – at least not with the present regime in place in Teheran. Were a democratic government, at peace with Israel, to assume power in Iran, that might be a different matter. But with the present Iranian regime, it could represent an existential threat to Israel.
I would take any public remarks on this issue by such a senior official as Dagan with a pinch of salt. After all, the Mossad, like all intelligence services, engages in disinformation as well as providing information. I am sure that all options are, and will remain, on the table for Israel.
By making such remarks at the present time, Dagan may have been wanting to cool the temperature with Teheran because Israel fears that the regime in Damascus, which is Iran’s closest ally, may ask its friends in Teheran to order Hizbullah to attack Israel. Damascus hopes that would provoke a regional war, and distract attention from the present bloody crackdown in Syria.
OBAMA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
How do you evaluate Obama’s doctrine in the Middle East and specifically regarding Iran? How it is different from his presidency at its starting point?
For its first two years, the Obama administration demonstrated a more confused and inept foreign policy than any U.S. presidential administration since Jimmy Carter. There are signs that Obama himself now recognizes what a huge mistake he made when he failed to swiftly support the pro-democracy campaigners in Iran following the rigged election of 2009. He gave the regime there valuable time to regain control and institute a crackdown that continues to this day.
The consequences of the failure by Obama and others in 2009 are not just apparent in Iran. It would probably be much easier for the West to pressure the regimes in Bahrain and Syria now, were a different government in place in Teheran.
ISRAEL AND SYRIA
According to some media, Israel prefers Assad to an unknown alternative or an Islamist one. Do you agree with such an assumption?
Bashar Assad is, like his father, a bloody tyrant – even though some prominent Western foreign ministers and journalists, amazingly, continue to make excuses for him. No one in Israel, however, has any illusions about Assad. Israel would undoubtedly like to have peace with a liberal democratic Syria.
Naturally Israel is concerned about a post-Assad Syria deteriorating into an anarchic situation reminiscent of Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s or Iraq a few years ago. But Israel knows that in the long run, making peace with the Assad regime – which has little popular support in Syria – is futile. Only an agreement with a representative Syrian government can bring about a sustainable and lasting peace.
ISRAEL AND EGYPT
In Egypt, a majority of people according to a poll, are against the peace treaty with Israel. Can we say a democratic Egypt means the end of 30 years of peace with Israel?
Israel and all those who care about Middle East peace are very concerned about developments in Egypt. But I think it is still much too early to say that a post-Mubarak Egypt will mean the end of 30 years of peace with Israel. After all, the Mubarak regime’s peace was a very cold one indeed. Consider, for example, the vicious anti-Semitism that was rife in Mubarak’s state-controlled media. So the next government may not be much worse. But of course, Israel is very concerned about increased arms smuggling from Egypt into the hands of Hamas in Gaza.
THE AMERICANS AND AL JAZEERA
Recently Sec. Clinton praised Al Jazeera’s coverage. Such a remark is a marked contrast from the open hostility towards Al Jazeera from the Bush administration. Why such a U-turn?
Senior Obama administration officials say one thing one week, another the next. In the last presidential election campaign, Hillary Clinton famously taunted Obama as unfit to take that “3 am call” on American foreign policy. I am still not convinced that either of them is. Certainly the English version of Al Jazeera is relatively fair. For example, it gives Israel a fairer hearing than the BBC and some other prejudiced Western media. But as for the much more influential and widely viewed Arabic-language Al Jazeera, well that’s another matter altogether.
AL QAEDA AND THE PEOPLE OF THE MIDDLE EAST
Some analysts say that “the spring of Arab revolutions” is proof that Bin Laden’s ideology is dead among the Arabs masses and young people in the Arab world. Do you agree with this? How do you see the operational power of Al Qaeda in a post-Bin Laden world?
I don’t think Bin Laden has ever had that much support among young people in the Arab world – or indeed Iran. Most people in the Middle East, like people everywhere, want to live in a free society where they can choose their leaders and develop their economies for the good of all. Bin Laden only appealed to many people so long as the Saddams and Assads and Gaddafis were in power. In this sense the neo-Conservatives are, and have always been, right.
The real desire of many Middle Easterners is to live in free societies just as other people do from Japan to Canada to Brazil to South Africa. But no doubt in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, his extremist supporters will try to conduct acts of terror for some time yet.
ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND PEACE
Wikileaks revealed that the Palestinian Authority offered major concessions to Israel but negotiations remained at stalemate. Is the main reason that Abbas reunited with Hamas?
It seems that Abbas has never been very serious about peace – at least not a peace that would involve an Arab Palestine co-existing next to a predominantly Jewish state of Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him almost everything he supposedly wanted, and yet he walked away. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has virtually begged Abbas to come to the negotiating table over the last two years and yet he has refused.
Can you imagine a Chechen or Kurdish or Basque leader walking away from negotiations if the Russians or Turks or Spanish offered them 97% of what they wanted? Israeli leaders agreed to peace in 1948 even though Israel was giving up some of its most significant places, such as Hebron and Jacob’s tomb in Nablus. Leaders that truly want peace are willing to compromise.