Netanyahu challenges Teheran: Do not test us

If there was a need for a wake up call on the state of relations between Israel and Iran and on the nature of the Islamic state, Benjamin Netanyahu did well to play it at full volume at the Munich Security Conference yesterday where all the world’s major players were present. The overriding message of his speech was the following: “Do not test us, ayatollahs”. The two protagonists both took the same stage, naturally not in direct discussion.

The images spoke for themselves: a dapper, Byzantine-like Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, the same man who managed, with an Alice’s cat smile, the easy game that Obama and the EU provided him through negotiations, which led to the unbelievably preposterous nuclear agreement, responded to a furious, blunt and determined Netanyahu who went to the truth of the matter when he waved in the air a piece of the Iranian drone that the Islamic State launched from Syria in order to spy on Israel. The incident occurred two Friday’s ago, followed by the Israeli response, which struck twelve targets in Syria, including four Iranian military sites in the country.

The European media then preferred to dwell on the fact that the Syrians, most likely steered by Iran that supports Assad, struck down an Israeli F-16. But Netanyahu wanted to bring attention to an increasingly aggressive presence on its borders, the Iranian one with its proxy Hezbollah. Zarif, who Netanyahu directly called out by name asking whether or not he recognized the drone developed by Iran  (“Do you recognizes this? You should! It’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants in Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.”), replied by flaunting a stately air, stating he had witnessed a “cartoonish circus,” he accused Israel of using “aggression as a policy against its neighbors”, as if his country’s squares don’t scream “death to Israel” once daily and his Revolutionary Guards weren’t by now igniting conflict throughout the entire Middle East.

In fact, Netanyahu’s choice of a dramatic gesture of showing the piece of iron taken from the Iranian drone on stage isn’t accidental in these times that are becoming increasingly heated, while the world, apart from the U.S. who asked Iran (said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tyllerson on Wednesday) to withdraw its forces from Syria, seem, astonishingly, unable to understand what Iran truly represents today: the Islamic Republic continues to display its schmaltzy diplomacy while human rights are being violated up to the point of hanging homosexuals and silencing dissidents through killing and imprisoning; its goal of religious world domination is explicit along with its resounding ballistic development, its arc of influence stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, and includes most of Iraq, Syria (controlled by the Revolutionary Guards), and Lebanon, which is controlled by its proxy Hezbollah.

Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all concerned by Iran’s quest for regional hegemony. Its militias fight in all conflicts, like the one in Yemen. Iran’s breath can be felt from the Horn of Africa to the Red Sea. The money Iran spends on international terrorism, including those against the West, has led the Iranians into the streets to shout “Leave Syria, think of us”. Steven Heydemann, a highly respected Middle East scholar and nonresident Senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, estimates that in 2015 Iran spent $15-20 billion in order to sustain Assad, $700-800 million in aid to Hezbollah, and between $100 and 250 million to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In addition to keeping Israel’s northern front “hot”, Iran also looks after Gaza, which after Saturday’s explosion along the border that wounded four Israeli soldiers, two seriously, is now at risk of war. Destroying Israel is always the main objective, but it’s  only the orchid in the bouquet of flowers that the ayatollahs want to seize. Netanyahu returned its piece of iron to them. A strong and strategic wake up call. It’s so strange to think that he is doing this while in Israel a powerful net of enemies is more and more fighting not against Iran, but against  him.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal


This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (February 19, 2018)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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