Make No Mistake: Israel is the Good Guy in the New Fight with Iran

By Timothy Furnish Published on April 14, 2024

Anyone not currently in hiding with the Twelfth Imam knows that this past weekend, the Islamic Republic of Iran attacked Israel directly — for the first time ever.

Saturday night Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, both ballistic and cruise, at the Jewish state. Almost all were shot down, either by the Israelis, Americans, Brits, or French. (Reports differ on whether Jordan actively participated, or simply allowed others to do so in its airspace.) Why would the ayatollahs risk open war with their archenemy now?

Iran’s Recent Rationale for Attacks

The proximate cause? Israel’s April 1 air strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus. (Yes, the Iranian Republican Guards Corps was operating from there.) Embassies are supposed to be untouchable under international law. Nonetheless, Tel Aviv deemed taking out that threat worth the public relations risk, because Israel’s leadership knows Iran truly is an existential threat.

So Tehran has a diplomatic fig leaf to cover its “retaliation.” Never mind its 444-day occupation of the American embassy, which lasted from late 1979 until Ronald Reagan was sworn in in 1981.

Persians Don’t Have Arab Reasons to Dislike Israel

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Why, exactly, does the Iranian regime detest Israel so very much? Iran doesn’t border Israel, so it has no territorial claims there. Persians are not Arabs, and thus have not been at war with Israelis until recently. (Although they had conflicts with Jews, several millennia back. But as Zoroastrians, not Muslims.)

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In fact, when Mohammed Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran (1941-1979), Iran and Israel were close allies. That ended abruptly, however, in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini took over after the Islamic revolution.

Khomeini’s Legacy of Jew- and Israeli-Hatred

Khomeini had five major problems with Jews and Israelis, all of which remain as primary motivators for the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and his ilk. In ascending order of importance:

  • The Shah’s alliance with the “Zionist entity,” and with the “Great Satan,” America.
  • The heretical (to Twelver Shi`is) Bahai movement has its global headquarters in Israel. (Thanks to the Ottomans — long story.) Its adherents are despised as a Zionist fifth column.
  • Championing the “Palestinian cause” gives Tehran a convenient club with which to beat the Arabs — especially the Saudis — for failing their fellow persecuted Muslims.
  • Islamic traditions say that al-Dajjal, the “Deceiver” (Islamic “antichrist”), will be Jewish. Most of his followers will be as well.
  • Twelve Shi`ism (and Sunnism) both have a strain that promotes “hotwiring the apocalypse.” That means stoking conflict — perhaps even nuclear — in order to spark the return of the vanished Twelfth Imam, who will reappear as the Mahdi, Islam’s apocalyptic savior. I wrote in this venue a few months ago about this. “Some men do just want to watch the world burn. Especially if the smoke might attract their messiah.”

Khamenei Added Another Element

Khomeini died in 1989, passing the ruling mantle to Khamenei, who added another element: regional hegemony for Iran. In this regard he hearkens back to the various pre-Islamic Persian empires, which ruled over most of the Middle East. (Iranians are very proud of that past, as I know from having visited there.)

Interior of Jamkaran Mosque, Qom, Iran — from my 2008 trip there.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia Are Competitors

Drawing upon both Islamic beliefs and Persian “manifest destiny,” Tehran is trying to gain control of the region and leverage itself into a global superpower. Two other Muslim powers, however, stand in the ayatollahs’ way: Turkey, with its large military and Ottoman imperial cachet, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with its oil wealth and control of the two holiest Muslim cities, Mecca and Medina.

But Israel Is Iran’s Real Enemy

But neither presents the danger and opportunity that Israel does. Tel Aviv has nuclear weapons, which both Ankara and Riyadh lack. Also, its military is formidable and modern. But its population is only 1/10 that of Iran.

Adding in Iraq and Syria gives Iran another 70 million potential allies, should all-out war erupt. And should Israel use nuclear weapons against Iran, those populations would almost certainly turn against the Israelis — violently.

Furthermore, Russia is an overt ally of the Islamic Republic, China a more covert one. Both would almost certainly back Iran in any major conflict, perhaps even to the point of inserting military forces. So why not goad Israel into counterattacking via a flashy but ultimately impotent missile and drone barrage? And if worse comes to worst, the Mahdi will show up and save the ayatollahs’ bacon lamb.

Did Biden Betray Israel?

So goes, I submit, the thinking in Tehran. No doubt, too, the Iranians were testing Israel’s air defenses, and probably found them far more robust than they expected. But they’ll try again now that the direct conflict genie is out of the bottle.

Next time, will the Americans, Brits, and French help? Or will they let Israel stand alone?

There’s a disturbing report that the Biden administration knew in advance, via the Turks, that Iran was going to attack Israel. But Biden didn’t even bother to pass along his (admittedly useless) “Don’t!” warning. Instead, his underlings simply had Ankara tell Tehran to keep the attack “within certain limits.”

Then we learn that Biden told Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that America opposed an Israeli counterattack. How reassuring that must be to Israel’s leaders and people.

Don’t Rely on Christian Eschatology to Decide Whom to Back

Many Americans, particularly evangelicals, support Israel for eschatological reasons — which can drive other Christians who disagree with that particular theological take to do the opposite.

Here’s an idea. Let’s put aside competing biblical interpretations of the modern Jewish state and back Israel for purely prosaic reasons. It’s our ally, a democracy with Western values, and it’s under attack by a large, powerful, apocalyptic-minded Islamic state and its non-state proxies. Let’s not allow our Christian divisions on this issue to blind us to which is the right side in this conflict.

It is Israel.

 

Timothy Furnish holds a doctoral degree in Islamic, world and African history from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor, and occasional media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults with The Stream on matters of international security.

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