December 19, 2023
The following column originally appeared in The Japan Times.
Since the horrific attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, journalists, pundits and some national leaders have pointed out, almost in passing, that Hamas is supported by Iran.
Despite this fact, Iran seems to have escaped serious scrutiny and any measure of responsibility for the ongoing terror it has unleashed in Israel, Gaza and the region. That needs to change; Iran must be held accountable.
Iran’s patronage has enabled Hamas to fire thousands of missiles into Israel, even before the current war. Iran’s support has facilitated the building of tunnels under civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, mosques and schools. Iran’s backing has not only allowed but encouraged Hamas’ terrorism for years, culminating in the heinous massacre and abduction of Israeli and other civilians on Oct. 7.
An additional front of attack on Israel’s civilian population at her northern border with Lebanon and Syria by another Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, has prompted Israel to evacuate towns and villages as far as 20 kilometers from the border.
Still another Iranian-backed terrorist group, the Houthi of Yemen, has targeted Israeli civilians and the U.S. military with missile strikes, and recently, a pirate seizure of an Israeli-owned ship in the Red Sea.
Whether Iran gave orders to Hamas to act on Oct. 7 or gave a tacit nod to the plan is irrelevant; Hamas and other terrorist organizations dedicated to exterminating Israel and Jews around the world cannot function independently of Iran.
Iran has explicitly and repeatedly called for the annihilation of Israel and is well on its way to acquiring a nuclear arsenal to help fulfill that goal. The U.S. designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. Still, the United States and many nations around the world operate under the delusion that Iran, under its present government, can be placated and negotiated with to act as a reasonable and law-abiding member of the international community.
One has to wonder how it is that appeasement still has capital with anyone having even a cursory familiarity with the history of the last century, much less of the last few months. Oct. 7 should have been a reminder to everyone of the futility and doom of ignoring what a self-proclaimed enemy has openly declared as its intention.
Unfortunately, Jews of every persuasion are all too attuned to the lessons of history.
Successive generations of Jews have suffered at the hands of the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition, Czarist Russia, Nazis, Arab nationalists, Communists, Fascists, Islamist terrorists and more, but survived as a people and as a faith. Over these centuries of hatred and repeated attempts at annihilation, Jews have learned one thing — to take the words of their haters at face value.
Hitler and the Nazis were clear in their intentions to rid the world of Jews by implementing the Final Solution. The Holocaust proved that their words were not simply rhetorical, but, in fact, accurately reflected an ideology of genocide. A policy of appeasement and indifference to the plight of the Jews and others resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews and World War II.
Similarly, Hamas’s Charter of 1988 makes clear the terrorist organization’s mission: to eradicate Israel and rid the world of Jews. The Charter is unequivocal in its rejection of Israel’s legitimacy and existence. So, too, Iran, Hamas’ ideological and financial backer, speaks today as it has spoken for decades, calling for the annihilation of Israel, calling it a cancerous tumor, a “little Satan,” with Jews depicted as the enemies of Islam.
Lest the world believe that the malevolence that begins with the targeting of Jews ends with them, let the lesson of the Holocaust remind them of the fallacy of such a belief.
The Holocaust showed us where a policy of appeasement leads.
The ideology held by the Iranian sponsors of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis is an ideology that rejects modern civilization and its ideals. The Iranian government’s first target may be Israel and the Jews, but Iran and its proxies will not stop there.
Look no further than within Iran’s borders to see what Iranian ideology means to its own citizens: Since the September 2022 death of Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody, hundreds of Iranian women, lawyers, activists and journalists have been executed, imprisoned and disappeared. Iran’s own people who reject the totalitarian rule of the Supreme Leader and the ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard are a target, as is the United States and other democracies around the globe. The Sunni countries of the Middle East are next on their list for destruction.
Iran must not be permitted to continue its development of nuclear weapons and missiles for their delivery, threatening Israel’s very existence and the safety of Jews around the world. Iran must be stopped from supporting its terrorist proxies who not only attack Jews and Israel, but also target the United States.
Since mid-October, and as of this writing, it is reported that American forces in Iraq and Syria have come under attack by Iranian-backed militia groups at least 76 times. The Houthis in Yemen have launched numerous missiles and drones at ships in the Red Sea. The international sanctions on Iran must continue, its financial resources must be curtailed, it must be named and shamed for its gross violations of human rights as well as its support for terrorist proxies, deliberately causing global instability, death and destruction.
Since its founding 75 years ago, Israel has been under constant threat from her enemies — Iran and its terrorist proxies included. With Oct. 7, Israel does not need a further reminder of Iran’s intentions and capabilities; Iran is an existential threat.
Now it is time for the rest of the world to acknowledge this fact, to take Iran at its word for its stated goals, recognize Iran’s actions and those of its proxies as apt reflections of the conviction of their statements, and act accordingly.
Shira Loewenberg is Director of American Jewish Committee's Asia Pacific Institute.