Sanctions and the Iranian people

Israel, however, recognizes the difference between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. And we bear no ill will or animosity toward the citizens of Iran.

Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On November 4, the US renewed sanctions against Iran’s oil, shipping and banking sectors. The world should join the United States in imposing these sanctions, which are a consequence of the Iranian government’s choices to sponsor terror and pursue nuclear capabilities. At the same time, we must also join in supporting the Iranian people’s pursuit of a free life.
As Israel’s representative at the UN, I want to directly address the Iranian people and send them a clear and unequivocal message: My nation stands with you in your desire for a better life. Israel is not your enemy; we want to be your friend.
Persians and Jews are both ancient and proud peoples, with deep and rich histories. Jews have been a part of Persian history for more than 2,500 years; it was the Persian king, Cyrus the Great. Who permitted Jews to return to the Land of Israel in the sixth century BCE and rebuild our temple.
After the establishment of modern Israel and Iran, our two nations developed strong diplomatic and trade relations. In the 1960s, Israeli army engineers went to the city of Qazvin to help Iranian farmers with water and seed management. The Israeli presence was so established there that the most widely spoken language in the city after Persian was Hebrew. For decades, Israel and Iran worked together to navigate the evolving geopolitical realities of the Middle East; there were even direct flights between Tel Aviv and Tehran.
But relations between our two nations were abruptly severed in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power and set Iran on a new path to becoming a rogue state, named by the US State Department as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. For the past four decades, this regime has forcibly exported its revolution onto others at the expense of the Iranian people.
A central pillar of the post-revolution Iranian government has been its irrational hatred of Israel. Khomeini referred to my country as the “Little Satan” and a “cancerous tumor” that needed to be removed from the region, and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Israel, however, recognizes the difference between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. And we bear no ill will or animosity toward the citizens of Iran.
We do not fault Iranians for their government’s decision to send hundreds of millions of dollars annually to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, or to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime with billions in aid, or to fight proxy wars in Iraq and Yemen. It is not the people’s choice to write “Israel must be wiped out” and “Death to America, Death to Israel” on Iran’s expanding arsenal of ballistic missiles. Nor do we hold those who may live in Qom or Tehran or Isfahan responsible for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s desire for nuclear warfare capabilities.
The Iranian people know that their welfare has been sacrificed for the government’s malevolent ambitions. In 2009, Israel watched as the Green Movement in Iran bravely protested Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Today, we follow Iranians’ demonstrations against the government’s oppressive religious, cultural, economic and political policies. When Iranians shout, in righteous anger, “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon” and “Leave Syria and think of us,” they should know that the world hears them.
The renewal of US sanctions will hit hardest at the very organizations that enable the government’s terror networks. These include the National Iranian Oil Co., for example, which bankrolls the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which illegally transports prohibited military cargo and shipments.
The objective of the sanctions is to force Tehran to choose normalization over terrorism and proxy warfare. Unfortunately, average Iranians will also feel the impact of the sanctions. To lessen those impacts, there are provisions to allow food and medicine and medical equipment to flow freely into Iran.
The Iranian people shouldn’t have to suffer for their leaders’ actions. The world must stand in solidarity with the citizens of Iran, presenting a unified front against the regime and enforcing sanctions against Iran’s instruments of terror.
There is no reason for the Jewish and Persian peoples to be enemies, and every reason for us to be friends and allies. Israel has offered medical aid to Iran following devastating earthquakes there. We’ve established a website in Farsi that provides technological expertise to help those working to alleviate the Iranian drought. We support Iranians in their desire to be able to speak without fear of persecution, practice their religion without fear of torture, and celebrate their proud history and rich culture.
We hope the day comes when Israel and Iran have more reasons to collaborate. Like Israelis, Iranians deserve to live a life of freedom.
The writer is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.