May 22, 2019

Now is the time to rebuild people to people relations between Iran and Israel

Last month Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went before the United Nations General Assembly and addressed the people in Iran directly saying in Farsi language “we are your friends”. This direct statement to the Iranian people along with a video message earlier this year to the people of Iran by Netanyahu in my opinion have been long overdue by Israeli officials! For the last 38 years the Iranian regime and its propaganda machine have sadly and successfully brainwashed the Iranian population on a daily basis into to believing Israel and America are their greatest enemies. While many of us in the free world know that this claim is pure nonsense, the wide majority of Iranians in Iran who are under the age of 35 do not know the extent of the great progress and friendship Iran shared with Israel from the late 1950s until 1979. With the Iranian regime today on a ridiculous war path with Israel, the time to promote people to people ties between Israelis and Iranians in long overdue.

Most average people in Iran today and even Iranians living in the West have little to no knowledge of the great economic, medical, infrastructure, educational, agricultural, academic and even military ties Iran and Israel shared from the late 1950s until 1979. The radical Shiite Islamic regime of Iran has tried to sweep under the rug the tremendously positive relationship Israel shared with Iran, which in my personal opinion was incredibly beneficial to both countries. Instead the ayatollahs running Iran with an iron fist for nearly 40 years have portrayed Israel and Israelis as a “boogie-man” or scapegoat for all of their internal problems. “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” are the chants they teach children and adults alike in Iran, but many of these same folks have no clue of the significant assistance Israel provided Iran in so many sectors during the mid-20th century.

While the collaboration and close cooperation between Israelis and Iranians are well chronicled in countless history books, yet perhaps the best source of this information is the memoirs of Meir Ezri, the first unofficial Israeli ambassador to Iran. Prior to his 2015 death, Ezri, an Iranian-Israeli, published his memoirs entitled “The Legacy of Cyrus: My Iranian Mission” in both Hebrew and Farsi languages. The book has subsequently been translated to English for scholars and I had the good fortune of obtaining a copy a few years ago. Ezri was an Iranian born Jew who immigrated to Israel during the early 1950s and was later tapped by then Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to travel to Iran in an effort to foster positive relations between the two nations.

(Israel’s first unofficial ambassador to Iran, the late Meir Ezri)

Ezri’s book in my humble opinion is quite frankly a treasure-trove of details outlining the various areas of close cooperation between the two countries even though they only had de-facto relations. The following are just some of the sectors of which Ezri outlines close Israeli-Iranian ties:

Strong Economic Trade

Israel being an emerging hi-tech hub in the 1960s and 1970s, had multi-million dollars’ worth of economic trade with Iran when purchasing machinery, electrical and electronic goods, textiles, agricultural equipment, chemicals and construction equipment. Iran under the late-Shah was undergoing an internal infrastructure boom that was seeking to modernize the oil-rich country into a modern first-world country. Therefore, the Iranian government under the Shah turned to Israel, a local non-Arab and advanced western-style country to supply them with many of their goods needed to re-build and develop their nation. Likewise, Israel sold the Iranian government under the Shah weapons and defense systems because Iran, like Israel had a mutual enemy– the Arab countries of the Middle East. Of course the economic trade between Israel and Iran was not one-sided, the Iranian government of the Shah sold Israel millions of barrels of crude oil during a time when the Arab states refused to sell oil to Israel. Of course Iran’s Jews at that time who were business-savvy merchants were also at the forefront and key bridges to the growing economic trade between Israel and Iran.

Academic Ties

In his memoirs Ezri outlines the array of academic ties between Israeli and Iranian universities in the fields of literature, history, geology, medicine, water irrigation and engineering. And yes you even had Israeli scholars like the late professor Amnon Netzer travel extensively throughout parts of Iran to study the roots of the ancient Judeo-Persian language and the ancient Persian languages prior to the Arab/Islamic invasions of Iran.

Agricultural Cooperation

Israel from its inception due to necessity has been at the forefront of agricultural advancements and as a result offered its expertise to countless Iranian state-owned and private-owned farms. Ezri in his book lists the various agricultural classes Israel provided Iranian farmers and trainees in Israel for six week time periods. Israeli agri-experts provided courses to Iranians on irrigation, agri-management, cultivation of cotton, rearing of poultry, management of dairy farms and the use of chemical fertilizers for improvement of crop yields. The popular Israeli Mashav program sent countless Israeli experts to provide Israel’s famous drip-irrigation technology to farms across Iran and to recommended Iranian farmers grow cotton and sugar-beets in certain Iranian provinces to increase their crop yield. The Israeli agricultural programs and technologies were so successful, the Iranian farms were able to grow enough crop for sale in Iran and even enough for sale to other countries in the region!

Water & Sewage Systems

According to Ezri’s book, many of the water and sewer systems in such major Iranian cities as Isfahan and Bandar Abbas were created and installed by Israeli private-owned companies and government-owned companies such as “TAHAL”.  When entire regions of Iran like Hamadan and Kermanshah needed household and irrigation water systems it was Israeli companies who won the contracts for installation of such systems. Believe it or not these systems are still functioning today in Iran. Interestingly enough, the Iranian regime today with its severed ties with Israel, does manage to buy parts to maintain many of these systems through European companies that purchase them from Israel. Likewise “Mekorot”, the Israeli national water utility, was asked to drill for fresh water throughout Iran and to run a large project on the Iranian part of the Caspian Sea. Additionally during the 1970s the Israeli company “IDE” installed 36 small desalination units on Iranian Air Force facilities and 19 others throughout Iran.

Medical Care

Israel from day one and until today has been a leading nation in medical treatments and technologies. During the 1960s and 1970s thousands of Iranians of various faiths traveled to Israel for medical care when doctors in Iran were unable to help them. In his book Ezri outlines eye illnesses and gynecological infertility as the two primary areas which motivated thousands of average Iranians to visit Israel for treatment. Israel had not only successfully treated thousands of Iranians with these medical problems and other ailments, but travel and treatment to Israel from Iran was substantially less costly for Iranians. Countless, Israeli doctors and researchers frequently visited Iran as well to teach their new techniques and medical treatments to Iranian physicians because often times Israeli hospitals could not accommodate the huge influx of Iranians seeking medical treatment in Israel during that time. Interestingly, in his book Ezri even highlights one instance in which Iran’s chief rabbi Yedidiah Shofet came to him and asked for Israel ‘s  help in treating the all-important Ayatollah Malek Al-Motekalemin. With approval of Israeli officials, the ayatollah at that time was permitted to travel to Hadassah Hospital in Israel and successfully received treatment for his serious illness!

Emergency Israeli Aid for Iran in Times of Crisis

In April 1960, the Iranian city of Lar was struck with a horrific 6.1 earthquake killing nearly 500 Iranians. In May 1962 northern part of the city of Tehran encountered severe flooding. And in September 1962 the Iranian province of Qazvin was devastated by a 7.1 earthquake that killed more than 12,000 Iranians. In all three of these instances, Israel sent immediate emergency aid and assistance to help search for survivors and treat those injured. In all three instances, Israel never sought publicity nor any funds for offering to help the needy and devastated Iranians. Israelis and Israel’s government during these instances believed in the Jewish tradition of “Tikkun Olam” or trying to health the world.  Today we never hear about this important support Israel provided Iran during these times of natural disasters but the history books cannot ignore them.

One must not also forget the close ties Israel and the Shah’s government shared with regards to military, security and intelligence cooperation for more than 20 years. One may or may not believe that the military cooperation between the two nations was the most “ethical” or “morally correct” during that time. However, I will not engage in this argument right now because I’d prefer to look at the big picture as far as how both the nations of Iran and Israel benefited from their various ties from 1958 to 1979. The Jewish respect and affinity for the ancient Persian king “Cyrus the Great” has never been forgotten. His act of freeing the Jews from Babylonian captivity and permitting them to rebuild their holy temple in Jerusalem is something that has been transcribed for all time in the bible. This respect for Cyrus has endured even till today. In the end, the great results of the close Iranian-Israeli relations prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran are perhaps the best examples of what can come about in a future where Iran is no longer ruled by radical Islamic thugs hell-bent on Israel’s destruction, but rather by a democratically elected government seeking the best for the people of Iran in the future.

Ultimately the biggest losers in the severing of ties between Iran and Israel in my opinion were the people of Iran. Today with Israel’s cutting edge technology, medicine and advancements in so many different fields, the people of Iran should have enjoyed the great things Israel could offer their society. Instead the Iranian regime has poured billions of petro-dollars into terrorist groups seeking Israel’s destruction and maintained an insane nonsensical campaign of hatred and genocide against Israel for no reason but their radical Islamic ideology.

In 2012 Israeli peace activists took to social media sites like Facebook to post positive messages of peace to the people of Iran. A few years ago, the popular Israeli-Iranian singer “Rita” also outreached to Iranians in Iran with a message of love by releasing an all Farsi language record that has spread through out Iran in boot-leg C.D.s. These are incredibly positive first steps. However in my opinion, until there is regime change in Iran, more Israelis and Israeli officials should do more to foster warm ties with the average people of Iran and perhaps reminding them of past years of friendship may be a good start.