Iran is experiencing a great deal of turmoil.
At the forefront is the arrest, and subsequent death, of prominent Iranian scientist and Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation founder Kavous Seyyed-Emamai, which has outraged even the most hardened opponents of the Islamic regime.
It has also shed light on a subject that has not previously gained mainstream attention – Iran’s wildlife, its shrinking natural habitats and the destabilizing effects of climate change. Iranian farmers and villagers, many of whom recently took to the streets to express their anger at the regime, are having trouble keeping crops watered and animals fed.
Who knew about Iran’s environmental predicament?
It seems as though the Israelis knew. As Ronen Bergman recounted in his 2007 book, The Secret War With Iran, the Israelis had collaborated with Iranian officials, prior to the Islamic Revolution, to spirit two pairs of an endangered species away.
The head of Israel’s National Parks Authority, Gen. Avraham Yoffe, Bergman wrote, dreamed of populating Israel with biblical animals. The problem was, many were considered to be extinct. In his search to find the endangered fallow deer, he came upon two nature preserves in Iran with dwindling deer populations.
His vision for the reintroduction of biblical herds neatly dovetailed with the Iranian royal court’s own wildlife plan, and an agreement was struck between the government of Menachem Begin and the brother of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for two pairs of deer to be brought back to Israel.
The deer were captured, their permits obtained and their travel arranged as they waited in Iran’s Royal Zoo to be shipped to Tel Aviv’s Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve.
Under normal conditions, such a “deer lift” would have gone unnoticed. At the time, diplomatic relations between Iran and Israel were intact; close to 1,700 Israelis worked and lived peacefully in Iran.
However, these were not normal conditions. This was January 1979, the Islamic Revolution had already started, and it was just days away from the shah’s departure. Angry mobs were setting restaurants and movie theaters on fire; they even stormed the Royal Zoo and slaughtered the shah’s prized lion and tiger – which were symbols of the monarchy.
The two pairs of deer, however, which were temporarily caged next to the slaughtered big cats, made their way onto an El Al flight to Tel Aviv. Passengers – both Israeli and Iranian – were told to leave many of their belongings behind to make room for the four-legged passengers.
In a plot deserving of a Hollywood script, the deer were miraculously saved and now roam freely in Israel, where their population is thought to have exceeded 650.
What the story of these deer highlights is the uncanny ability of Israel to anticipate the future and create sound, working solutions to prevent a problem. Israeli innovators, such as Simcha Bass, who created drip-irrigation that revolutionized farming practices, tackle environmental challenges with the same fervor they reserve for fighting daily threats of terrorism.
Today, Israel is at the technological forefront of energy and water conservation because it had to overcome harsh environmental conditions such as arid land, desert temperatures and lack of fresh water. Mitigating the dire consequences of water shortage, Israeli scientists routinely share their knowledge with other countries to assist with desalination, irrigation and the reuse of treated sewage.
Enter Iran, a country with no diplomatic relations with Israel, and none in the foreseeable future if the regime continues its “down with Israel” chants. Iran is also a country which may have already experienced political instability due to warming trends of its temperature. In fact, as cultivable land and crops decrease due to diminished rainfall, farmers are under increased pressure to find other ways of providing for their families, which explains their anger at the regime.
This cannot bode well for the Islamic Republic, which relies on its traditional stronghold, Iran’s rural communities, for support.
If Iran as a nation is to survive, its leaders need to sober up from their revolutionary stupor and rethink their relationship with Israel.
They also need to stop incarcerating and killing their own scientists. I recently discussed the matter with a senior Iranian diplomat who went to great lengths to deny the regime’s involvement in any nefarious activities, at home or abroad.
“You keep poking your fingers in Israel’s eyes,” I said. “This can’t end well. Iran is running out of water and Israel has the technology. You will need Israel soon, in fact now, to save you.”
He shrugged and said, “We have no problems with Israel. It is Israelis who have a problem with us.”
Denial is a river (that can dry up soon).The author is a doctoral candidate at St. Andrews University, holds two graduate degrees from Columbia University and is a former consultant on Iran at the Council of Foreign Relations and Iran policy adviser for Hillary for America.