For the last thirty years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not only been constantly calling for the destruction of Israel, but has also been acting to make it happen. There is a little-known story that in 1873 Naser al-din Shah Qajar, king of Iran at the time, met with a few European Jewish figures. In his memoir, Naser said he made the following suggestion to them: as they were affluent enough, they should buy a land, make it home to the Jewish people and they themselves should become leaders of that land.
The first encounter of an Iranian government with the Arab-Israeli conflict goes back to 1930. Mohammad Ali Foroughi, Iran’s foreign minister at the time, proposed to his leadership that Iran should be generally neutral in this conflict but have a slight tendency towards the Arabs. When Foroughi later became Prime Minister himself, he supported the Palestinians in his speech at the League of Nations.
But Foroughi’s position on this issue had strong opponents. In 1936, the foreign minister, Enaytollah Samiee, proposed another policy that embraced a strategic alliance between the Jewish state and Iran. In his letter he advocated strong Iranian support for a Jewish state as Iran and the Jewish people had a common opponent, the Arabs of the region. He cites his concern that in the future an Arab empire could arise on Iran’s southern and western borders and threaten Iran’s national interest and so he looked at the Jewish state as a strong strategic ally.
In 1950 Iran started its relations with Israel, amounting to de facto recognition, though it is worth noting that Iran had voted against accepting Israel at the United Nations. In July of 1951,
Mohammad Mosaddegh, an ally of Islamists who had taken power due to the murder of Ali Razmara, his powerful rival, by Fadayan-e Islam, a radical Islamic fundamentalist group influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down the Iranian consulate in Jerusalem and cut off diplomatic relations. After the fall of Mosaddegh, the Shah was not yet powerful enough to stand against the rising Islamists and couldn’t restart diplomatic relations with Israel. Later, on July 24, 1960, the Shah declared a new chapter of relations between Iran and Israel. Two days later, Syria and Egypt, which had joined to become the United Arab Republic, cut off ties with Iran as a result of the Shah’s new policy. This ushered in 20 years of fruitful cooperation between Iran and Israel. Before the revolution, the two countries had worked with each other in several areas including oil, military and intelligence, agriculture, construction and other fields that were beneficial for both nations.
It seems these days that such fruitful relations in partnership between Iran and Israel are far from ever happening again, but it only seems so on first sight. One must only remember demonstrators in the streets of Iran after the stolen elections of 2009 chanting ”Not Gaza, not Lebanon – my life for Iran.“ This was a sharp departure from the Islamic Republic’s hateful propaganda against Israel. In just one powerful sentence, Iranians revealed their true views on how much they detest the regime’s militant support for other Islamists in the region and its constant threats towards Israel. And by that they proved their true democratic vision.
Now that this vision is no mere passing fancy, but could become reality, how would future Iranian-Israeli relations look? What would the architecture be of Iran’s future Israel policy? First and foremost, the full establishment of diplomatic relations is of great importance to a democratic Iran. Second, not only would a democratic Iran stop all counterproductive meddling in the Middle East conflict, but it would also articulate clearly that support for the Palestinians is not in Iran’s national security interest. On a more societal level, youth exchanges between the two countries in culture, economy, education and sports would build a strong pillar as well. Iran’s courageous democrats are not too far away from that true and lasting friendship between Iran and Israel, as the Iranian regime is not only morally bankrupt, but also facing the a financial crisis so severe it may lead to its demise. In The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand wrote, “Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today.” This applies so accurately to Iran’s younger generation and its democratic cause. They know in their minds and hearts that Teheran and Tel Aviv are natural allies.
This article was co-written with Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian journalist, who is a Senior Fellow and Head of Iran Research at Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin