On Thursday, Jonathan Tobin penned an apt defense of alleged Israeli cooperation with “Israel’s Iranian Allies of Convenience,” the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MEK), in which he observes:
While the group denies it is involved with Israel, it is difficult to doubt the truth of the allegation that the Iranian dissidents have been receiving Israeli training and have been used to carry out attacks on Tehran’s nuclear program, in particular the assassination of Iranian scientists.
Jonathan then argues:
Under these circumstances, Israel is entirely justified in using whatever means it has to prevent Khameini’s government from achieving its genocidal ends. The MEK may be an unattractive ally, but with its Iranian members and infrastructure of support inside the country, it is an ideal weapon to use against the ayatollahs.
Jonathan is correct that Israel cannot ignore the Iranian regime’s genocidal intent, and he is also correct that there is no moral equivalence between alleged Israeli targeting of Iranian nuclear scientists and Iranian assassination attempts upon Israeli diplomats.
Still, I must disagree on any embrace of the MEK.
While American diplomats and many analysts counsel ignoring rogue regimes’ rhetorical excesses, the lesson of complacency ahead of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait should have mooted that debate long ago. Saddam had signaled his intention for weeks, and was roundly dismissed by career Arabists who dismissed his statements as rhetorical flourish. It is negligent in the extreme for any policymaker to ignore genocidal statements coming from any world leader.
Nor is it wise to simply dismiss Ahmadinejad’s statement as a mistranslation. Juan Cole, a popular academic in leftist circles, has made a cottage industry out of denials that Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Cole often allows his own political biases to corrupt his analysis. After all, Ahmadinejad’s statement was only one of many, and in order to ensure he was not misunderstood, his office doubled down on the slogan, even offering the correct English translation.
So why then should Israel avoid the Mujahedin al-Khalq’s Iranian network? The problem facing Israel is not only Iran’s potential nuclear weapons, but rather the regime that would wield them.
By utilizing the MEK—a group which Iranians view in the same way Americans see John Walker Lindh, the American convicted of aiding the Taliban—the Israelis risk winning some short-term gain at the tremendous expense of rallying Iranians around the regime’s flag. A far better strategy would be to facilitate regime change. Not only would the MEK be incapable of that mission, but involving them even cursorily would set the goal back years.