With all the ballyhoo about the alleged "existential" conflict between Israel and Iran, you might think that the news that Iran is trying to send an aid boat to Gaza, in the wake of the Israeli military attack on the Turkish aid boat that killed eight Turks and an American, would occasion a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in the American media. But the American reaction so far seems rather muted, and Iranian government officials, who in the past have at times seemed followers of the Saddam Hussein school of propaganda ("you will be buried in the sand while your wives sleep with rich Arabs,") now seem more loyal to the Maz Jobrani school ("I am Persian, like the cat. Meow!")
Iran's Fars news agency also reported that top Iranian officials will allow two other ships to leave, but its navy will not escort them.
"Maj. Gen. Salami, deputy commander IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guard Corps), discussing the humanitarian aid ships to Gaza, said that protecting these ships is not on the agenda of the IRGC," Fars said.
You may have heard that the IRGC has a force called the "Qods Brigade." It's a provocative name -- Qods is the Arabic name of Jerusalem. Imagine if, during the struggle against apartheid, the government of Angola had an elite fighting force called the "Johannesburg Brigade." Presumably some white South Africans might have regarded that as provocative.
Brave words. And yet: now that the Iranian aid ship could clearly use a bit of protection -- if it truly intends to sail to Gaza, as opposed to just claiming that it will do so -- the bravely-named "Qods Brigade" apparently has other business to attend to.
This seems to be a significant climbdown. Israel National News reports:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that he would provide marines on the ship "to teach Israel a lesson" if attempts were made to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza.
Last year, Reuters reports, Iran tried to send an aid ship to Gaza:
In January 2009, an Israeli warship approached an Iranian aid boat heading for the Mediterranean territory and told it to leave the area, 70 km (45 miles) from Gaza. The ship went on to Egypt, which borders Gaza, but was refused permission to unload.
Iranian retaliation was swift and decisive: "Iran lodged a protest over the issue with Egypt," Reuters says.
Perhaps this "existential" conflict has been slightly exaggerated. Maybe that's why the U.S. media isn't going nuts over this.
Israel claims Iran is an existential threat -- that's why Israel must bomb Lebanon and blockade Gaza. Israeli and U.S. officials have threatened to bomb Iran. But so far they haven't been stupid enough to actually try it. As bullies are wont to do, they usually only attack those who appear too weak to defend themselves.
Kalam fahdy, as the Palestinians say. Empty talk.
The table-pounding between Israel and Iran recalls the Palestinian joke about the unfortunate woman who revealed on her wedding night that she had been married three times before but nonetheless insisted that she was still a virgin. When asked to explain the apparent contradiction, she said that her first husband had been a painter; and he would paint beautiful pictures of her, but would never make love to her. So she divorced him. Her second husband was a poet; and he would write beautiful poems about his undying devotion to her, but would never make love to her. So she divorced him. And her third husband: well, he was an official in the Palestinian Authority. And every night he would stand at the foot of the bed and shout: "I want to make love! I want to make love!"
When it comes to their alleged existential conflict, Israel and Iran have a lot in common with that unfortunate woman's third husband. Israeli and Iranian officials like to shout. They are two peas in a pod -- tizein bilbass -- two butts in one pair of underwear.
I recently asked a friend whose father was driven from his home by Israeli forces in 1948 to ask his dad whether he agreed with those Palestinians who are comparing Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to the Arab nationalist leader Nasser. No, came the reply: "Nasser = speeches. Erdogan = deeds."
Instead of indulging in fantasy rhetoric about the "Zionist entity," Turkey focused its attention on a real, salient issue, the blockade of Gaza. By its vigorous support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Turkey forced the world to confront the issue of the blockade. What similar accomplishment for the Palestinians can Iran point to?
For all their brave talk against "the Zionist entity," Turkey, Britain, and America have more martyrs to the Israeli occupation than Iran does. Judging from Western press reports, the last foreign protester shot by Israeli forces was a Jewish art student from Maryland.
What a sea change it would be if Turkey's successful support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla schooled the Arab and Muslim worlds about what matters and what doesn't. Speeches: no. Deeds: yes.
What might happen if the whole Muslim world took a siesta from protesting cartoons and novels and focused its energy on supporting resistance to the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem?
As Tariq ibn Ziyad is purported to have said: "The sea is behind you and the enemy in front."