Donate: I’ve dedicated my life to activism and journalism in service to justice and human rights in Israel-Palestine. You will not find the in-depth analysis and reporting here, anywhere else. Support my research and the reporting I offer by donating to support my work. The Paypal icon (and QR code) in the right-hand sidebar permits you to make a tax-deductible gift.
Alon Pinkas, former chief of staff to a Labor Party prime minister and former Israeli diplomat has published an absolutely ghoulish profile of the pro-war vision of Tom Kaplan. Kaplan is a billionaire metals trader with no academic or professional expertise in foreign affairs in general, or Iran in particular. Yet he is the darling of pro-Israel anti-Iran war hawks in the US and, apparently Israel.
He is a key figure in United Against a Nuclear Iran, the most hawkish US NGO related to Iran. UANI is known to have exceedingly close relationships with both US and Israeli intelligence. One of its largest donors was Sheldon Adelson who, in 2013, donated a third of its budget. Kaplan provided half of its revenue with an $850,000 donation.
If anything, Adelson is even more hostile to Iran than Kaplan:
The Las Vegas Sands CEO [declared] that Obama should launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack on a swath of uninhabited Iranian desert…and threaten that Iran will be “wiped out” if the country’s leadership doesn’t dismantle their nuclear program.
Not to be outdone, Kaplan appears to regret that UANI doesn’t have US weapons systems at its disposal to humble Iran:
I do know that as much as United Against Nuclear Iran may not have had Tomahawk missiles and aircraft carriers at its disposal, we’ve done more to bring Iran to heel than any other private sector initiative and most public ones.”
Kaplan is one of the world’s largest investors in gold and other precious metals. He touts them as safe investments which will retain their value amid tumultuous world events. In other words, the more crisis and unrest in the world, the more he benefits. What better way to create such instability than advocate for war with Iran? We can see how much economic carnage even minor crises in the Middle East can cause to oils markets and national economies.
In a report hyping a silver mine he owned (which subsequently went bankrupt) he specifically mentions the unstable Middle East as reason for his wealthy peers to invest in the precious metals he touted:
…Consider the following factors: destabilization in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, tensions between India and Pakistan, the potential for nuclear confrontation with North Korea and Iran, […] religious extremism and terrorism on a global scale and corporate hooliganism.”
Kaplan: the Iran “expert”
Pinkas laughably calls Kaplan an “expert” on, and “astute observer” of Iran. He notes that he is a “doctor of history,” which refers to Kaplan’s bachelors, masters and PhD degrees from Oxford University. Bloomberg reports on his dissertation:
In 1988, Kaplan was completing his dissertation at Oxford—on the Malayan counterinsurgency and the way commodities influence strategic planning…
There may be some way in which the Malaysian counterinsurgency intersects with a study of commodities. But it seems unlikely. Even more glaring is a PhD in the field of 20th century Asian history qualifies him as an expert on Iran.
The Haaretz profile touts him as someone with new and innovative views on how Israel should deal with Iran. They amount to a declaration of war. Pinkas suggests that Kaplan himself and his views have gotten the ear of Israel’s current leadership, including Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett.
The former Labor Party functionary contends, with some justification, that Israel has engaged in a major escalation in its Cold War against Iran. Instead of past governments, which have contented themselves with covert acts of sabotage of nuclear facilities and the assassination of a handful of nuclear scientists, the new policy has let loose the Dogs of War.
Iranian scientists and military commanders, have died mysteriously, treated as martyrs of the nation (indicating they were killed by Israel in ways that have not been disclosed). Industrial plants producing material for military-use have suffered explosions. An Al Qaeda commander offered shelter by Iran was assassinated, as was the father of Iran’s nuclear program using a remotely operated weapon operated using artificial intelligence, if one can believe the NY TImes’ Ronen Bergman, who enjoys close ties to Israel’s Mossad.
Kaplan’s Israel Connection
Bennett has ghoulishly called the new policy the Octopus Doctrine. Though why this should be declared a “doctrine” is anyone’s guess. Israel, the then-PM suggested, would henceforth “go for the head of the octopus,” rather than being satisfied with the tentacles. By which he means, instead of seeking to blunt Iranian operations and proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere; instead of containing Iran–“mowing the grass,” as it were–Israel is taking the fight to the center of Iranian power. It seeks to extract a far heavier price from Iran than it already has.
The summary Pinkas offers of Kaplan’s views borders on the pathological and surely will lead to a nuclear Iran. Here are some of them:
…This astute observer of Iran made the argument that Tehran’s promotion of continuous and sustained disaggregated conflict in a fashion that has allowed its own territory to be immune from a proportionately destabilizing counterforce must end.
…Kaplan’s blueprint focuses on implementing a steely, methodical approach toward Iran that matches Tehran not so much target for target, but strategy for strategy. The endgame: To reset red lines in order to de-escalate what he believes constitutes an inexorable trajectory toward total war between Israel and Iran.
This is Gen. Patton on steroids. It’s Sherman’s March to the Sea. Strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. Bring it to its knees. Strip their land of anything of value. Starve them. The problem is that Israel is not the Third Army, nor the Union Army. Neither is this World War II nor the Civil War. How can one possibly use the term “de-escalate,” while speaking in terms that will surely guarantee war?
Kaplan has, if you believe Pinkas, the ear of Israel’s top leaders, including its most recent prime minister, Naftali Bennett and its current one, Yair Lapid:
His policy approach, known in Israeli defense and intelligence circles as “strategic proportionalism,” was clearly received by open minds. Both then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid acknowledged privately…that they not only endorsed the logic underlining this paradigm shift, but that Kaplan’s thesis encapsulated how they wanted to shape a new Israeli policy.
Strategic proportionalism is yet another one of those opaque military phrases which obscure, more than illuminate reality. Pinkas offers several examples of Israeli policy-makers embracing Kaplan’s war fever mentality, including this statement from Lapid:
“We have told the world we are not willing to take it anymore,” he said last week. “Iran says we can bring the war to your doorstep, because you will never bring it to ours … this is not how it’s going to play [out]. … If the Iranians are bringing war to our doorstep, then they’re going to find war at theirs.
What’s ludicrous about his claim, is that Israel is far more aggressive, interventionist and militaristic than anything Iran can muster. It engaged in pre-emptive war against its frontline Arab neighbors three times since 1948. It invaded Lebanon twice, installing a puppet regime which it propped up for 20 years. It mounted a covert terror campaign during and after the Lebanese civil war, setting off numerous bombs which furthered the disintegration of the country. It installed a puppet president, only to see him assassinated. It has invaded Gaza more times than one can remember. It conquered and annexed the Golan from Syria and has mounted hundreds of air assaults on Syrian territory over the past decade. Israel has essentially bought an airfield in Azerbaijan for use in the event of war against Iran. I could go on. Whatever aggressive tactics Iran has employed, and whatever proxies it may have, can’t begin to compare to Israel’s.
The notion that Iran is bringing war to Israel’s doorstep while Israel has been standing back and taking it, is ludicrous. As I mentioned above, Israel has mounted a concerted effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, bombed IRG missile bases, assassinated scientists. What is that if not Iran “finding war at their doorstep?” Has Israel been silent in the face of Iran’s operations in Syria? Has it restrained itself in any way?
This is typical thinking of the Israeli military, intelligence and political class. Always the victim of aggressors, Never the aggressor. Never the bully. It’s an attitude so disconnected from reality, that it becomes pathological and profoundly dangerous. Recall Adolf Hitler’s successful use of grievance and victimization by Germany’s enemies, as part of his inexorable march to power. Every country that has ever engaged in genocide feels the same way: we have always been oppressed, always victims. Now it’s time to take revenge on those who trampled upon us. We must repay their provocations in kind.
Kaplan expands upon his delusional vision:
Kaplan argues that Israel should not rest on its laurels, but instead press home its advantage, all the while doing the regime in Tehran a subtle favor by enlightening them further.
“They’re still imbibing a dangerous cocktail of misperceptions driven by adrenalized ideological training and increasingly messianic fervor within the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard,” he observes.
It’s laughable that Kaplan accuses Iran of the same misperceptions, ideological extremism and messianic fervor that characterizes Israeli society. Neither Kaplan nor Israel’s far right-wing political leaders have any grasp of Iran. They are filled with misperception and delusions both about Iranian weakness and Israeli capabilities. They have imbibed a heady drug that has made them feel invincible. As for “adrenalized ideology,” anyone observing Israeli politics over the past decade has seen an increasing inclination toward not just extremism, but Judeo-fascism. And if it’s “messianic fervor” you want, you have to look no further than the settler movement which envisions the destruction of the Muslim holy places and their replacement with the Third Temple.
Yet another summary of Kaplans’ views that is dripping with condescension:
Noting that the revolutionary regime is prone to overreach, Kaplan contends that they need to be disabused of such false narratives and presented with one they can understand clearly…
In yet another passage, Kaplan offers a feverish narrative filled with lies amidst grandiose visions and a totally invented narrative of Jewish history:
Kaplan believes it would be therapeutic to let the regime know the following in no uncertain terms (and at the risk of sounding belligerent but without necessarily reversing opaqueness [sic]): We have heard your tedious proclamations that you intend to wipe us off the map, to raze Tel Aviv to the ground, and so on. We are done dissecting every word for hidden meaning and ambiguity, and we are done performing a comparative Farsi-Hebrew-English content analysis. This is not the first time Jews have been on the receiving end of this level of hostility, and we get it. So please hear this: If Iran’s endgame is the eradication of Israel, that will also be Israel’s strategy.
This is the voice of a madman or something close to it. Someone who, if listened to, can only lead to catastrophe for both Iran and Israel.
He continues with his twisted account of Middle Eastern history:
Israel should tell the Iranians, in a language they understand: “We are as much a part of the Middle East as you are. And we know the rules. We shall do to Iran as Ashurbanipal did to the Elamites. And as the Babylonians and Medes did to Nineveh,” says Kaplan, who is as steeped in antiquity as he is a student of military history. “Many Jews may no longer get the references to dismantling empires, but I’m quite confident the Iranians will.”
Kaplan is no more “steeped in antiquity” or a student of military history, than I am King Cyrus. And since he purports to be steeped in the history of the region, he might want to remember that Israel has never dismantled empires. Rather it has, except for brief periods, been a vassal to much greater powers, whether they be the Babylonians, the Romans, the Seleucids, the Ottomans, etc. Once again, these are messianic fever dreams that can only lead to disaster.
In the following passage, Kaplan comes very close to saying that Israel has the capacity to destroy Iran and wipe out its 2,500-year history. In other words, he barely skirts advocacy for genocide:
Kaplan says Tehran needs to understand that, in expanding its empire to the Mediterranean and not taking the off-ramp from its present strategy of encircling and provoking Israel, random events may well risk the fruits of some 2,500 years of culture by enraging the one country it should fear the most due to its unique history as well as its military capacity.
“Dismantling Iran is suboptimal,” says Kaplan, “but so too is their entire strategy.”
A psychiatrist would characterize this bit of self-aggrandizement as grandiose delusion:
When asked by a Gulf Arab ruler, who bore witness to Kaplan’s warning, how he was able to predict an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia practically to the hour of the day, Kaplan responded without cynicism: “In my past life, I believe I was a Persian.”
I know Iranians who would, if they could, beat him with a stick to disabuse him of this notion. The reference above to Kaplan’s chummy relationship with Gulf potentates highlights his natural affinity for Iran’s most bellicose enemies. Here he compares his love for the Gulf monarchies to his wife:
In an article published by a United Arab Emirates-owned media outlet this February, Kaplan described the Emirates and its leaders as “closest partners in more facets of my life than anyone else other than my wife.”
Iranophobia and the profit motive
There is a far more pecuniary reason for his admiration for Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed. Intelligence Online writes:
In the shadow of his alliance with Mohammed bin Zayed lurk much more strategic issues. Over the years, Kaplan has built up a mining empire through his investment firm Electrum Group…in which the UAE sovereign wealth fund Mubadala has invested. At the same time, the billionaire has set up extremely well-connected philanthropic and lobby groups which mostly operate in the Middle East. Kaplan thus boasts a significant arsenal of influence, focussed on Iran and its neighbours, and, to a lesser degree, China. This has not escaped the interest of western spy chiefs.
One might argue that Kaplan’s hatred of Iran may have little to do with any global strategic vision, but rather because it’s “good for busines.” He is, above all, a speculator who has made huge bets on precious metals. He has succeeded wildly in these gambles. But to maintain his business interests, he needs capital, which can be amply provided by Middle Eastern potentates. Also, these leaders understand that oil is a commodity that, while presently profitable, will increasingly become less important to the world economy. That’s where Kaplan comes in: he pitches his clients tp hedge their bets on oil, by investing in a commodity that almost never loses its value, espeically in the midst of crisis: gold and silver. At the very least, we can say that Kaplan’s business interests complement his obsession with, and hatred of Iran.
Another shady character playing a major role in Kaplan’s business affairs is disgraced Malaysian financier, Jho Low. Low’s investment firm, Jynwel, was the second largest investor in Kaplan’s Electrum Fund. He sunk $150-million into Electrum Group, Kaplan’s gold trading firm. Those shares were confiscated by the US government as part of its investigaton of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. The Wall Street Journal report linked above also adds:
Jynwel’s investment in Electrum came at the same time sovereign-wealth funds Mubadala Development Co., which the Abu Dhabi government owns, and the Kuwait Investment Authority also invested in Mr. Kaplan’s firm. The three parties bought a total stake of about 20% in Electrum for $450 million, the firm said.
In the passage below, only someone truly inhabiting a world of illusion could harbor such strange enthusiasms. Also, note Pinkas’ fawning puffery:
An unabashed cosmopolitan, he roams comfortably between civilizations past and present. A devoted Persophile who adores Iranian culture, he also studies its ancient religions and reads its poetry. Having traveled to well over 100 countries, he yearns most to visit Iran and what he describes as its “sacred” ancient sites: Ecbatana, Susa, Anshan, Pasargadae and Persepolis.
Here is more Kaplan condescension. I’d call it Iransplaining:
Perhaps, Kaplan suggests, the grand civilization that produced Hafez, Omar Khayyam and Saadi may one day revert to its more “civilized” temperament
As with all people who study a field without mastery and without understanding its deeper truths, Kaplan has a nostalgic, romanticized version of Iran in his brain. One which never was, at least not as he envisions it.
And of course, no anti-Iran diatribe can escape invoking the Nazi parallel:
The “gangsters” who have hijacked Iran, embodied by current President Ebrahim Raisi, are no more the heirs to Ferdowsi than the Nazis were the rightful guardians to the legacy of Goethe and Beethoven, Kaplan declares.
To which I would add that the gangster politicians and terrorists generals who have hijacked Israel are no more the heirs of Jeremiah and Amos, than Thomas Kaplan with his calls for war and genocide.
And as with any Israeli analyst harboring delusions concerning the fragility of Iran’s inter-ethnic relations, Kaplan offers a tired, failed view that Israel can topple the Iranian regime by inciting mayhem amongst the country’s diverse ethnic groups:
If Iran does not reach the appropriate conclusions on its own, therefore, perhaps the truly proportionate response would be to reverse-engineer the Iranian playbook with a more robust activation of forces within Iran’s own borders, Kaplan posits.
In an interview with Ilana Dayan years ago, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan confessed that Israel had tried and failed to sow such divisions. As for activating forces inside Iran, Israel already does that by conspiring with the terror group, MeK, to assassinate Iranian scientists and other acts of mayhem.
Here, Kaplan portrays the Iranian-Israeli rivalry as a glorified game of chicken. Go eyeball to eyeball to see which one will flinch first. The problem with this conception is that the Iranians are just as stubborn as the Israelis. They are just as nationalistic, just as proud, just as patriotic and just as imbued with the righteousness of their cause. In this game of chicken neither may blink. Neither may emerge victorious. Instead, both may end up destroying each other.
In this regard, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is instructive. Putin too harbored grandiose visions of Russian imperial power. He believed he could march into Kyiv, install a puppet Russian government, and bask in glory. But it hasn’t turned out that way. If Israel favors Kaplan’s approach it will find its nose bloodied, if not worse. Iran will mount fierce resistance. Nor will it be subdued. Nor will it be dissuaded to accede to an Israeli diktat.
It is shocking that Alon Pinkas would publish the demented rants of an unschooled megalomaniac. Even worse, he published an earlier Haaretz profile of Kaplan celebrating his brilliant strategic mind. That’s two too many. It’s disturbing that Pinkas was either lazy and didn’t do sufficient research; or deliberately neglected to provide any of Kaplan’s ideological and financial background above. It is equally shameful, but not surprising, that Haaretz published this drivel. And they did it not once, but twice! Lest anyone harbors any illusions of Haaretz being a liberal newspaper, it regularly publishes biased and superficial accounts such as this one. THough to be honest, there are a number of fine journalists who work there as well.
Kaplan’s philanthropy came at a cost for Iranian environmentalists
Thomas Kaplan apparently has a fascination with big-cats around the world. This isn’t surprising since they are the apex predators within their domain. They are stealthy, cunning, and striking creatures, both fierce and majestic. All qualities Kaplan undoubtedly sees in himself. His philanthropic venture, Panthera, seeks to stabilize populations and preserve species. As part of this mission, Kaplan funded the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, whose mission was to save Asiatic cheetahs indigenous to Iran. However, the wildlife preservationists had no idea about Kaplan’s views on Iran. Until they learned of his speech to a UANI conference:
In a short speech introducing a panel of speakers — including former CIA director and U.S. military commander David Petraeus, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, and former U.S.-Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross — Kaplan compared contemporary Iran to the expansionist empires of Persian antiquity. In his remarks, he colorfully described the country as a “reticulated python” devouring the other countries of the Middle East. He further suggested that Iran’s Shiite Muslim beliefs led it to pursue a strategy of “taqiyya,” or religious dissimulation, allowing it to conceal its true imperial aims.
Kaplan was oblivious to the impact his anti-Iran rage would have on his grantees inside Iran. As a result, Iran arrested eight of the key leaders of the Foundation. The founder of the group and an Iranian pioneer in environmental conservation died in prison shortly after his arrest. Later during a show trial, six were accused of being spies for US intelligence in large part due to their affiliation with Kaplan’s charity. Not a word from Thomas Kaplan or Panthera.
Ironically, this passage about its Iran cheetah program from 2017, has been removed from the website:
Collaborating with Iran’s government and other partners, Panthera is working to enhance law enforcement to protect cheetahs and their prey, collect critical ecological data, and mitigate conflict and other threats to cheetahs and their prey.
The page devoted to cheetahs no longer contains any reference to Iran.
In closing, Thomas Kaplan reminds me of the narrator of The Great Gatsby, who describes so memorably the heedless cruelty of the novel’s villain, Tom Buchanan:
“They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
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.