An audiotape of an “off-the-record” interview in March with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, conducted by regime-aligned journalist and economist Saeed Leylaz, has been causing a global stir.
The three-hour recording, which was leaked to London-based Persian TV channel Iran International and subsequently reported on by The New York Times, has been examined from different angles. These include questioning whether the conversation was digitally doctored, and pondering the veracity of, or motive behind, Zarif’s claims.
One ostensibly jarring revelation that Iran’s top diplomat is heard making concerns his subordinate role to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The only surprising aspect of this self-evident morsel is Zarif’s verbal acknowledgment of it. In every other respect, it’s old news. Khamenei is Tehran’s figurative puppet-master, and the IRGC calls the literal shots.
Nevertheless, Iranian theologian and former Islamic Republic vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi compared the leak of the tape to Israel’s 2018 seizure of a trove of nuclear documents from a warehouse in Tehran. While perhaps a bit overly dramatic, the analogy is apt when viewed in the context of another of Zarif’s allegations; one involving former US secretary of state John Kerry, currently the White House’s climate czar.
According to Zarif, “Kerry informed me that Israel attacked [Iranian positions] 200 times in Syria.”
Leylaz then asked, “You didn’t know?”
Zarif replied, “No, no.”
Though the likelihood that Zarif was unaware of Israeli operations in Syria is slim to nil – and despite it being unclear from the interview when the conversation with Kerry was supposed to have taken place – prominent American Republicans are up in arms. Some have called for him to resign; others are suggesting that he committed treason.
Former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley tweeted on Monday, “This is disgusting on many levels. [President Joe] Biden and Kerry have to answer for why Kerry would be tipping off Iran, the number one sponsor of terror, while stabbing one of our greatest partners, Israel, in the back.”
Kerry countered the accusations in a post of his own, tweeting, “I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened – either when I was secretary of state or since.”
Given that the Iranian foreign minister is a liar and part of a deceitful government, Kerry might very well be telling the truth. But he would do well to reflect on why accusations surrounding his attempts to undermine Israel, not to mention the United States, are completely plausible.
LET’S NOT forget that this is the same Kerry who became the leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War after his discharge from the US Army, recounting to Congress in 1971 that his comrades had “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads... razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.”
Aside from there having been suspicions about his military service in general, some of which have been proven false and others about which there are still questions, many stories on which Kerry based his congressional testimony were found to be false.
During the decades that passed, Kerry’s record was cleansed, partly due to the public’s short memory. But his dim view of American power, and by extension, of the might of its allies, never wavered.
This brings us to his openly hostile behavior toward Israel, which he summed up on December 28, 2016, in a farewell speech at the State Department.
Laying out his “vision for Middle East peace,” he lied about the role that the US played in advancing UN Resolution 2334, adopted by the Security Council five days earlier. He then defended his administration’s decision to abstain, rather than veto the vote, on the grounds that the resolution was “in accordance with American values.”
It’s an interesting way for an ally to categorize a decision that – in the words of the UN press department – “Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including east Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”
Kerry proceeded to raise his voice when insisting that during the tenure of his boss, then-president Barack Obama, the US never permitted the delegitimization of or boycotts against Israel. He conveniently failed to mention that these types of moves are precisely what the resolution aimed to enable and promote.
Luckily, the Palestinians did it for him, lauding the resolution for paving the way for boycotts, divestment and lawsuits against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
In any case, the underlying message of Kerry’s tirade was that the stalemate in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians was the fault of the “extremist” right-wing government in Jerusalem – not the terror-masters in Ramallah and Gaza. He also warned that Israel could not remain both Jewish and democratic without returning to the 1967 borders and sharing its capital with the Palestinian state that would have been established by now had it not been for settlements.
He promptly exhibited his true colors by saying that while Israelis celebrate Independence Day each year, the Palestinians mourn the “Nakba” – the catastrophe of the founding of the Jewish state in 1948. This is precisely what the Palestinian leadership has been saying all along: That the problem is not the “occupation” of territories that Arab states lost in the Six Day War, but rather the existence of Jews on any inch of the Land of Israel.
THIS DIATRIBE had echoes of remarks he made earlier in the month at the 13th Annual Saban Forum in Washington, DC, where he delivered the keynote address. On the last day of the conference, titled “Challenges for the Trump Administration in the Middle East,” he reiterated a position that has since become the butt of jokes – thanks to the Abraham Accords.
“There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world,” he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in an onstage interview. “I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying, ‘Well, the Arab world’s in a different place now. We just have to reach out to them, and... then we’ll deal with the Palestinians. No. No, no and no. There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and without the Palestinian peace.”
Perhaps even more telling is his interview with Goldberg in The Atlantic on August 5, 2015, three weeks after Iran and the P5+1 powers reached the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement. In view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s serious efforts against the JCPOA, in light of Tehran’s flagrant violations of it from the minute that it was adopted and taking into account the Biden administration’s rush to enter into another deal with the devil, the following excerpts are chilling.
“Do you believe that Iranian leaders sincerely seek the elimination of the Jewish state?” asked Goldberg.
Kerry replied, “I think they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps to, quote, ‘Wipe it,’ you know... ”
“Off the map,” said Goldberg, finishing Kerry’s sentence.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Kerry said. “I haven’t seen anything that says to me they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one, and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.”
Later on, Kerry stressed, “Let me put this in very precise terms. Look, I’ve gone through this backwards and forwards a hundred times and I’m telling you, this deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets. And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.”
IN AN ANALYSIS on Tuesday, Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent and senior contributing editor Lahav Harkov noted that though there are plenty of reasons to criticize Kerry, “he probably doesn’t deserve the wrath he’s attracting” over the leaked tape. Rather, she argued, “It’s Zarif and his smooth-talking to cover for Iran’s genocidal regime that deserve our ire.”
Harkov’s point about Zarif is spot on. She may also be right about Kerry. But responsibility for his not being given the benefit of the doubt lies squarely on his own shoulders.