What’s the final aim of Iran’s vicious intervention in the Middle East? The latest statement to emerge from Tehran claimed that the country’s strategy now is to “annihilate” Israel within the next 25 years. This “threat” came on Saturday from the highest-ranking officer of the Iranian army, Commander Major General Abdul Rahman Mousavi. He said the army will move hand in hand with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp, IRGC, so that “the arrogant system [… Israel] and the Zionist regime will be annihilated.”
In a televised speech hours later in Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that his militia’s rockets “could now hit all of Israel.” He said, “We have the ability, the power and the missiles to hit any target in Israel.” One day earlier, on Friday, vice-commander of IRGC, Hussain Salami, also warned “that Israel’s airbases are within reach”. He wrote in a tweet: “Israel: Don’t trust in your airbases; they’re within reach.”
Salami’s remarks came only three days after Israel published a map showing what it claimed to be five Iranian military bases inside Syria. Two on the outskirts of Damascus and one in each of an airfields near Aleppo, Sayqal East of the capital, Deir Al Zour in the east of the country and T-4 near Palmyra in central Syria. The latter was the target of an Israeli strike on April 9 which apparently resulted in killing 14 persons among them seven IRGC members, including the head of its drone programme, Colonel Mehdi Dehghan. This might explain the reason behind Iran’s bellicose remarks successively crammed within the space of one week.
Salami went on: “Israel is in the range of our missiles (…) wherever you are in the occupied land you’ll be under fire from us (…) if there is war, you’ll be completely eliminated, you’ll have nowhere to run except to fall into the sea.”
These kinds of statements profoundly sound familiar to us: Arabs. Our political heritage has deeply suffered as a result of similar fiery statements irresponsibly made by Arab leaders over the last half century to the detriment of all the Arabs. The most popular Arab leader of that period, Jamal Abdul Nasser, stands out among them. He publicly threatened that he would “throw the Israelis into the sea” in several speeches leading up to the six-day war that ended in the most tragic defeat of the armies of three Arab countries (Egypt, Syria and Jordan) in modern history.
In a public address (November 1965) Nasser famously declared that the national aim “is the eradication of Israel”. In two other speeches delivered successively in two days on the eve of the war (May 27-28, 1967), he said: “We will not accept any … coexistence with Israel … today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel …our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel.”
Another Arab leader, Saddam Hussain of Iraq, in a speech delivered on April 1990, a few months before invading Kuwait, he warned that any attack on Iraq would be answered with chemical missiles. In his own words: “I will burn half of Israel”. However, it is worth mentioning that Saddam had never retaliated against Israel, not even verbally, following the destruction of the Tammuz (Osiraq) nuclear reactor by the Israeli air force, south of the Iraqi capital, in 1981. Nevertheless, during the Gulf War of 1991 that ended Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Saddam frantically fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel without any palpable effect.
According to officially archived documents confiscated by the American forces during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, partially released in 2012, it seems the late Iraqi leader resorted to publicly threatening Israel, as well as using his Scuds, mostly to conceal his secret correspondence with both prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir successively in 1990 and 1991. These communications were regularly organised through his half-brother, Barzan Al Tikriti, the then Iraq ambassador in Geneva.
However, it seems that the noises one hears from Iranian military leaders about “eliminating” Israel are all bark but no bite, exactly recalling what Arab leaders had said in the past. The Iranian-financially supported media and various commentators in the Middle East, mostly based in Beirut, are trying to convince public opinion that what Iran is doing in the region is “preparing the ground for the final war with the Zionist entity.”
They believe that some “historic transformation” is currently taking place with the formation of what they call “resistance axis”, a coalition of Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and Iranian armies and Hezbollah militia. In fact, none of these countries’ national armies is involved in such an axis.
What the Iranians are talking about is a united command among newly-formed and financed militias in these four countries, in addition to Hezbollah’s. The “National Defence Forces” in Syria (estimated between 50,000-100,000 strong), the “Popular Mobilisation Forces” (est. 60,000) in Iraq, the Al Houthis of Yemen and IRGC of which 75,000 are estimated to be fighting in Syria.
Such a plan can serve one purpose only and it is certainly not confronting Israel. Despite all the bellicose Iranian and Hezbollah statements, war with Israel is the last thing on their minds. Controlling the corridor between Tehran and Beirut through Baghdad and Damascus is the ultimate jewel the Iranians desire. Whatever else they utter is all bark and no bite.
Mustapha Karkouti is a columnist and former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. Twitter: @mustaphatache.