If Iran didn’t exist, Bibi Netanyahu would have to invent it. For millennia, humans have conjured bogeymen onto which to project their deepest fears and pathologies. During the 1950s, Americans were desperately frightened of Communists lurking under their beds. During WWII, we feared the perfidious “Japs” whose dastardly snear attack aroused cries for vengeance. During WWI, the British fulminated about the “Hun” and “Kaiser Bill.” The Nazis, in turn, ginned up race hate against Jews, the enemies of the entire human race.
Iran serves this role in Israel. The grey-bearded ayatollahs chanting “death to Israel” is enough to strike fear in the heart of most Israelis. This is incredibly useful to a politician on the ropes or fears s/he might be in the near future. Want to divert the world’s attention from the Palestine? Drum up war-fever against Iran. Facing looming corruption charges which could end your political career? Regale the voters with tales of Iranian bombs and Hezbollah missiles exploding over Tel Aviv.
Now, Israel’s environment minister, Gila Gamliel, has latched on to the same tactic. As Israel faces the worst environmental disaster in its history and 1,000 tons of oil pollute its most desirable beaches, she finds a convenient means of diverting the people’s attention from the disastrous response of her ministry. At first, she blamed a Greek tanker for causing the spill. But evidence showed it was not the culprit. Where to turn next? Why, Iran of course (the Hebrew version is far more damning).
But how do you connect Iran to an Israeli oil spill? It takes some doing…and a whole lot of spin. First, you find a ship that was in the area at the time the spill likely occurred. Then you narrow that down by looking for one that had been in Iran immediately before setting sail for the Israeli coast. Bingo! You’ve got the Emerald, a tanker whom the minister erroneously claimed was owned the Libyan government. Actually, Libya sold the ship to another company registered in the Marshall Islands. But the Emerald was in an Iranian port immediately before sailing to the western Mediterranean.
Gamliel shreyed to the world that Iran was guilty:
Those responsible for the pollution “must pay the price,” Gamliel argued. “The operator of the ship has black blood on their hands.”
“Iran is [conducting] terrorism by damaging the environment, and [when] Iran is damaging the environment it isn’t just hurting the state of Israel,” she said.
Where was the evidence? Well, that’s a different story. According to her there is “strong circumstantial evidence” to prove her case, but no “forensic evidence.” By which she means, the ship was in Iran, the accident happened, and the ship was in the right place to be the culprit. That’s what she calls circumstantial evidence. As for having no forensic evidence, she means she has no real evidence at all.
In fact, shortly after calling Iran an environmental terrorist, Israeli intelligence officials said that they had not consulted with her before she went public, nor had she consulted with them. Read: we have no idea what she’s talking about. Even later, an official of her own ministry contradicted her: “there’s a high probability this isn’t a terror [incident].” So which is it?
After long experience parsing Israeli officialdom I can say with almost 100% certainty that Gamliel is either lying or disseminating fake news which she may or not believe. It’s a tried and true method of diverting Israelis from a disaster right under their noses, which you hope they won’t notice. Given how badly she has addressed the oil spill and its aftermath, blaming Iran will distract people from holding her responsible. It’s oh so convenient.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.