Concerning Iranian rhetoric, it seems that
even six years after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s original statement about wiping
Israel off the map, there are a lot of misunderstandings, which are either the
result of rationalization or – in the worst cases – are based on political
The two most widespread ways of minimizing the Iranian
threat are by stating that the Iranian regime is rational, a claim I discussed
in this column two months ago, or by arguing that Ahmadinejad never said that
Israel has to be wiped off the map.
Last week, once again, Iranian
rhetoric toward Israel took center stage after Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili
interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor on April 14. The interview was
originally titled, and is still titled as such on Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel,
“The danger comes from Iran,” which describes the essence of the 25-minute
interview well. Later the website of Al Jazeera gave the interview the more
sensational title, “Dan Meridor: We misquoted Ahmadinejad.”
Here is the
contentious section of the interview on which the title suggesting an admission
Nabili: As we know, Ahmadinejad didn’t say that he plans to
exterminate Israel, nor did he say that Iran policy is to exterminate
Ahmadinejad’s position and Iran’s position always has been, and
they’ve made this – they’ve said this as many times as Ahmadinejad has
criticized Israel, he has said as many times that he has no plans to attack
Israel. He simply said that if you hold a referendum in this part of the world
with everybody who lives here, he will accept the outcome of that
Meridor: Well, I have to disagree, with all due respect. You
speak of Ahmadinejad. I speak of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani, Shamkhani. I
give the names of all these people.
They all come, basically
ideologically, religiously, with the statement that Israel is an unnatural
creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say, “We’ll wipe it out,” you’re
right. But “It will not survive; it is a cancerous tumor that should be
removed,” was said just two weeks ago again.
statement, quoting Ayatollah Khomeini that Israel “must be erased from the page
of time” was translated by the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcaster
(IRIB) as “must be wiped off the map.” For the Iranians themselves, the meaning
of the phrase was never in question.
A statement from 2008 by Ahmadinejad
is still displayed on his official English language website: “O dear Imam
(Khomeini)! You said the Zionist Regime that is a usurper and illegitimate
regime and a cancerous tumor should be wiped off the map. I should say that your
illuminating remark and cause is going to come true today.
Regime has lost its existence philosophy... the Zionist regime faces a
complete dead end and under God’s grace your wish will soon be materialized and
the corrupt element will be wiped off the map.”
The call to “wipe Israel
off the map” has also appeared on many public displays in Iran, including on
missiles and vehicles at Iranian military parades and on official government
buildings. In a 2004 military parade, in particular, the Iranians themselves
translated their main anti-Israel slogan on the side of a Shehab- 3 missile as
“Israel must be wiped off the map.”
Therefore there is no reason to
dispute the interpretation of the original Ahmadinejad statement, unless a
Western pundit wants to debate the translation department of the Iranian
Thus, based on all this, US President Barack Obama cannot be
accused of having made a mistake when he told the UN General Assembly in 2011
that “Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a
world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the
The English idiom used by the Iranian translators in 2005 was
carried later by Western media and became the symbol of Iranian anti-Israel
rhetoric, even though many similar statements have been made by the entire
Meridor gave many examples for similar such
statements, and also noted that this rhetoric is accompanied by deeds as well,
such as uranium enrichment and missile development.
firm objections to the interviewer’s positions regarding the Iranian threat and
rhetoric, his acknowledgment that Ahmadinejad didn’t literally say “wipe Israel
off the map” was taken out of context, and was quickly presented both in Israel
and abroad as an important new development, as it was thought to be an admission
by the Israeli government.
The topic was subsequently raised by CNN’s
Christiane Amanpour in an interview with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on April
Amanpour: One of the things that people always ask me and makes them
worried for Israel is about what President Ahmadinejad was said to have said a
few years ago about “wiping Israel off the face of the map.” Many Iranian
officials who I’ve interviewed, including just now recently, have said that it’s
not what he said nor is it the policy of the Iranian government to have any
military attack on Israel. Your own minister, Dan Meridor, said that yes, that
is not what Ahmadinejad said. He didn’t say “wipe Israel off the face of the
map.” Do you accept that or you still believe that Iran has a military design on
Barak: I think we are focusing too much on the nuances of rhetoric rather
than on the content.
Amanpour: But this is really important, everybody
talks about this.
Barak: I’ll tell you exactly what they have
said. He said and others said in public many times that the “Zionist
entity” – it’s a code name for Israel – is something unnatural in the Middle
East and should be removed or destroyed. That’s what he said.
AT THE end
of last month, Hans Blix, former chief UN weapons inspector, was interviewed on
the same Al Jazeera program that interviewed Meridor and was asked about the
allegations according to which Iran wants to wipe Israel off the face of the
map. Blix said, “Mr.
Ahmadinejad has made statements that are aggressive
and which I certainly would not condone, and I think they are unwise on the part
of Iran. But I also understand that the formulation as you quote him is not
exact, and that in Farsi it was a little different and perhaps a little less
threatening. Nevertheless, it was not wise to make it and it has increased the
It is widely believed that Ahmadinejad is in the habit of
making offensive statements against Israel, and that even his most offensive
statement was mistranslated. This is the reason the Meridor interview received
so much attention – because it was perceived not only as a confirmation of these
preconceptions but also as an admission of guilt by Israel.
The writer is
project coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.