Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Iran and the Relevance of Purim

Iran and the Relevance of Purim

By Joseph Puder 

As Jews worldwide and especially in Israel, celebrated the holiday of Purim (lots) last week, a sense of deja vu was in the air. Contemporary affairs evoked echoes of the text read by Jews in the Scroll of Esther. Haman, the Persian “Prime Minister,” under the Emperorship of Ahaseurus (presumed to be Xerxes I, King of Persia and Media) set out to annihilate the Jewish people in and around 337 BCE. Haman convinced Ahaseurus to endorse an edict permitting him to commit genocide against the Jews in the Persian Empire, a form of the Final Solution to the Jewish question in those days. The reading of Haman’s call to eliminate the Jews is an eerie reminder to Israeli Jews of how some things have not changed. The recent president of Iran (formerly Persia), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had a similar call to “wipe the Jewish State off the map.”

While Ahaseurus was made to understand that he had made a mistake by his beloved wife Esther, he could not reverse his decree. He therefore permitted the Jewish people to defend themselves against those Persians who had set out to kill the Jews by engaging in what we refer to today as a pre-emptive attack.

Today, unlike the time of Esther, Mordechai, and Ahaseurus, there is no Iranian leader that would stop the genocidal threats against Israel, or refrain from propagating anti-Semitism in Iran. In fact, the Iranian Supreme Leader himself, Ali Khamenei, is plotting the very demise of the Jewish state. Deliverance for today’s Jews will not come from a benevolent Iranian leader, nor will it come from the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama. Rather it will come, as in the days of Esther, in the form of a pre-emptive attack; one that will capitalize on the vulnerabilities of the Khamenei-Rouhani regime.

Iran, much like Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, is not a homogeneous society. Close to 50% of Iran’s population of 76.4 million (as of the end of 2012) is non-Persian. They include ethnic minorities such as Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and Baluch. The Islamic Republic of Iran under the Ayatollahs fostered discord and enmity in dealing with its diverse ethnic minorities. This will impact the regime’s ability to mobilize for war with Israel and the West should the interim agreement between the six world powers (U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) and Iran, signed in November, 2013, fail. 

Under the interim agreement, Iran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear program in return for relief from some sanctions. The sanctions relief commenced in January, 2014, but it is still unclear as to how much of the nuclear program the Iranians have “rolled back” or are willing to roll back. According to Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official and lead negotiator for the U.S. on the interim deal, any final agreement will be contingent on Iran taking concrete and verifiable steps to prevent it from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. Yet, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi charged that the “[h]alting of Iran’s nuclear program and dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities are not on the agenda.”

The delusional Western powers will learn soon enough that Tehran is simply buying time until it can produce a nuclear weapon. Israel cannot wait until that happens. However, a singular Israeli attack on the nuclear facilities in Iran will only delay the Iranian nuclear program. What the free world, and the U.S. in particular, should strive for is regime change. Removing the dangerous “messianic clerics” of Tehran from power and creating a multi-ethnic democratic Iranian regime is the wish of not only the oppressed ethnic and religious minorities (Sunni-Muslim, Christians, Bahai, and Jews) in Iran, but also the dream of the educated Persian middle-class that has been devastated by the Islamic Republic. 

The Sunni-Muslim Baluch in southeastern Iran have taken up arms against the regime of the Ayatollahs, as did the Sunni-Muslim Kurds in north-central western Iran, and the mostly Shiite Arabs known as Ahwazis (named after the capital of the southwestern province of Khuzestan).  

Israel’s Arutz Sheva reported on December 18, 2013 that “[t]hree members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have been killed in a roadside bomb in Iranian occupied Baluchistan according to the Iranian media.” Earlier in October, Baluch rebels killed 14 Iranian border guards. In retaliation, the Iranian regime hanged 16 Baluch fighters. Baluch rebels also gunned down a public prosecutor and his driver in the city of Zabol. 

The Baluch struggle against the Iranian regime for an independent Baluchistan has resulted in an upswing in Tehran’s severe oppression and discrimination against the Sunni Baluch. Western Baluchistan was annexed to Iran in 1928. Since the fall of the Shah, the Ayatollahs have forbidden the use of the Baluch language, and have targeted the region for deliberate economic neglect and discrimination in employment. Serious fighting between the Baluch nationalists and the IRGC erupted in 2006.

The Kurds, a much larger minority in Iran, have given the Tehran regime a great deal of trouble. The Iran-based Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) began fighting the IRGC in 2004, after Iranian security forces fired on Kurdish demonstrators, killing 10 people. In 2014, PJAK was the only Kurdish group still waging an armed struggle against the Iranian regime. According to Rudaw, Iranian Kurdish youth were “disappointed with the traditional Kurdish parties fighting the Tehran regime, because they left Iranian territory in the 1980’s to take refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan.” One such party was the Freedom party of Hussein Yazderpana (this writer hosted him in New York City). These parties that moved to Iraq were forced to renounce attacks against the Iranian military and the IRGC to avoid reprisals against Iraqi Kurdistan thereby creating a vacuum that was filled by the PKK-related PJAK. 

Vera Eccarius-Kelly, a researcher on Kurdish Diaspora and Professor of Comparative Politics at Siena College in New York, suggested that “Iran’s brutality has provided the PJAK with a level of legitimacy among young Kurds, but the current thaw in relations between the U.S. government and the Iranian regime signals an extremely difficult future for the Kurdish fighter in Iran.”

In April 2005, the tensions between Ahwazi Arabs and the Tehran regime boiled to a head with the leak of a memorandum from the office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran that set forth a policy aimed at changing the ethnic makeup of Khuzestan province. Ahwazi Arab demonstrators took to the streets of Ahvaz to protest the memorandum. Over the course of the next two weeks, the protests quickly spread through major cities and towns in the rest of the province and the Iranian government reacted with brute force. The Ahwazis responded by taking up arms and attempting to assassinate Iran’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Ahwaz.

There is a saying in Hebrew that translates to “not every day is Purim,” and an understanding that miracles do not occur twice the same way. The miracle in our modern time will be the uprising against the Islamic regime in Tehran by the minorities who together, with the economically and politically repressed Iranians, will no longer endure the Hamans that rule them. The educated Iranian people are pro-American, even pro-Israel, and they seek a more democratic society – a free and less corrupt economy, unlike the one that is currently dominated by cronies of the regime and the IRGC. Nepotism and corruption on one hand, high unemployment and inflation on the other, are causing rising frustration among the young people of Iran.

The gist of the Purim story is the pre-emptive strike by the Jews against Haman and his cohorts. This time, the miracle would be a coordinated pre-emptive strike by the Iranian people and the Israeli Air Force that will destroy the regime’s assets, but would leave most Iranian people safe, and ultimately free.