Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Iran and an Israeli intelligence officer who really knows what they're talking about

...The second dream is occasionally sparked by a nugget of intelligence that sends him back to the vistas of his youth. Sitting at a desk featuring the old, pre-revolution flag of Iran, he said, “My dream is to visit Iran again. And my real dream is to be [Israel's] military attaché in Tehran. That is my hope.”

Mitch Ginsburg..
Times of Israel..
16 December '13..

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth, an uproar ensued. Had the Iranian president called for genocide — foreshadowing future characterizations of Israel as a germ and a cancer — or had this, as some translators suggested, merely been a poor government rendering of a rather nuanced metaphor, which called more gently for the “occupation regime” to vanish, ever so passively, from the pages of time?

A Talmudic-level discourse ensued. The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele, siding with the co-founder of the Mossadegh Foundation, called the genocidal interpretation “propaganda distortion” that enabled Western hawks to “bracket the Iranian president with Hitler as though he wants to exterminate Jews.” Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, after speaking with translation experts in the US and Iran, ruled that the passive “vanish” was wrong and that, while the word “map” had never been spoken — the quote referred to the pages of time or history — the phrase, in the original Persian, “certainly seems” to contain a similarly destructive intent.

In north Tel Aviv, at IDF Military Intelligence headquarters, one young, Iranian-born Israeli officer, who spent his days interpreting raw intelligence on the Persian desk, could only laugh. After all, that very quote, lifted from Ayatollah Khomeini, had been carefully painted by the regime on the side of the Jewish elementary school he attended in northern Tehran. “It’s the reason I’m sitting here,” he said in an interview.

Major M., who today serves as deputy commander of one of the units in the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, has spent the majority of his service combating Israel’s top security threat, Iran. He is a small part of a significant and seemingly quite successful shift within the Israeli intelligence community, which, after years of following the Arab world, was forced to re-order its priority list and focus on an altogether different foe. Adapting to this shift is quite difficult, said one former Military Intelligence officer. “The language is different. The social, cultural, political mores are different. The history is different. All that changes the context,” he said. “You listen to two people speak and if you don’t have the context, you might not interpret it right.”

Major M.’s story and the role he fulfills in Military Intelligence, which can only be sketched in faint detail, illustrate a small part of a large and still-ongoing pivot that has helped Israel in its diplomatic struggle with Iran, its alleged operations on Iranian soil, its roiling shadow war abroad, and its larger understanding of the changing Middle East.


Mitch Ginsburg is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

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