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February 11, 2014

35 Years after the Iranian Revolution, Concerns of Middle Eastern Stability Remain

February 11 marks 35 years since the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeni’s Islamic Republic of Iran.  Looking back at the Jewish community’s public statements from the time, it is striking how many of the concerns expressed about the region-wide implications of the Iranian Revolution are still relevant today.

Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini

In an op-ed published in January 1979, the Anti-Defamation League examined the impact of the Iranian crisis on Israel and the West at a moment when it was unclear who would govern Iran: a fundamentalist Islamic government, right-wing military rule or a leftist-Communist oriented regime.

Not unlike the sentiment expressed following the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in 2011, in 1979 there was great fear of the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to a similar revolution. Should that happen, ADL wrote, “the fate of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman would most likely be sealed if the Shah is deposed and if Saudi Arabia experiences similar troubles.”

And as today, when analysts and even some Middle East leaders have accused Washington of misreading and misplaying regional developments in Iran, Syria, Egypt and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, ADL criticized the longstanding U.S. policy which relied on the stability of Saudi Arabia and Iran:


“The assumption has been that if Saudi Arabia and Iran were heavily armed with both U.S. political support and American-made weapons, they could withstand any and all attempts at overthrow and invasion by neighboring Soviet-backed enemies of by internal radical insurrectionists. As the Shah loses his grip over Iran, the reasoning behind America’s Persian Gulf policy appears to have been specious.”


In a line which could easily have been written during any point over the past 35 years, our op-ed posited:  “In an era that is experiencing a rise in radicalism and instability, Israel is the only stable nation.  If, as some Administration and State Department officials acknowledged recently, American intelligence had misread and underestimated the threat to the Shah, could it be that it is misreading the current situation of the Saudi royal family or underestimating Israel’s strategic importance?”

Even as we enter an era of growing energy independence in the U.S. and rising hopes about significant Israeli fuel sources, the strategic implications of a shut-off of Middle Eastern oil still leads to great global anxiety. In 1979, the specter of losing Iranian oil was a calamity for the West and Israel. As we wrote: “Twelve percent of American foreign oil imports and five percent of its total consumption are Iranian.  The figure for Western Europe and Japan are even more imposing: 16% of oil consumption in Japan is from Iranian oil fields, 15% in Italy, 14% in Britain, 11% in West Germany and 10% in Canada.  And for Israel, the figures go even higher – fully 60-80% of Israel’s oil comes from Iran.”

Most tragically, our op-ed highlighted fears for the welfare of the venerable Jewish community of Iran, which then numbered over 80,000:  “While some Moslem religious leaders have issued statements assuring Iranian Jewry that they would be able to live as a ‘protected minority’ under an ‘Islamic Republic,’ it is clear that any change in government would raise questions about the future viability of a community that dates back 25 centuries…Recent revelations about anti-Semitic speeches delivered by Khomeini in Iraq have only served to confirm Iranian Jewry’s apprehension about living under an ‘Islamic republic.’”

Today, with a fraction of that community remaining in Iran, Jews worldwide still worry about their security and well-being.

Thirty-five years ago, Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its sponsorship of international terrorism, and support for the perpetuation of the brutal Assad regime in Syria weren’t quite on the radar screen.  Yet it is striking that Iran and the region’s instability and unpredictability remained a constant over the years.


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January 15, 2014

Ariel Sharon in the Middle East Media: Reviled In Death As In Life

Just as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was demonized in the Arab and Muslim media throughout his life, so it is following his death.  Following Sharon’s death on January 11, newspapers and websites across the Middle East were flooded with articles, opinion pieces and cartoons depicting him as a “killer,” “butcher,” “terrorist,” and “war criminal.”

In their look back at Sharon’s life, most opinion writers have focused on what they consider to be his direct responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon. Others have accused him of being responsible for the US-led war in Iraq and for masterminding an alleged assassination of Yasser Arafat.

Jihad Al-Khazin wrote in the London-based Al-Hayat, “….I hear he died and I hear that he is about to die, and I say ‘God, don’t send him back.’ He paid the price of his crimes on earth, and when he leaves he will be firewood for hell.”

Ironically, while the view from the street and the media is uniformly negative, many Arab leaders – quietly – are said to have had great respect for Sharon. While they may have disagreed with his policies, many have said that they trusted his credibility and viewed him as a leader who would always stand by his word.

Perhaps more than other Israeli leader, Sharon was vilified in the Arab media throughout his life. While op-eds frequently assigned to Sharon the worst human attributes, it was through the more visual – and visceral – editorial cartoons where the former Prime Minister was portrayed as a demonic figure that was the embodiment of human evil.

As highlighted in ADL’s 2010 publication, Personalizing the Conflict: A Decade of Assault on Israel’s Premiers in the Arab Media, depictions of Sharon in cartoons included rivers of blood, images of the angel of death, various monsters and animals with demonic features, Nazi comparisons, and classical anti-Semitic themes like allegations of blood libels.

A favorite caricature of Sharon was of him eating Palestinian children, drinking their blood and slaughtering them.  Even following Sharon’s debilitating stroke in January 2006, Arab newspapers portrayed him on his sick bed, intimidating the angel of death, who is afraid to take him.

After his death, the cartoons appearing in the Arab and Iranian media repeat these long-time images of Sharon as a devil, now eagerly awaited in hell.


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