Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?

Summary: Here we look at the basis of the “Iran plans to commit genocide” meme.  It’s at best an exaggeration, and said only once by an Iranian leader. Through repetition of the story Americans believe it to be the official national policy of Iran (yes, propaganda works).  War hawks frequently draw analogies between Iran and NAZI Germany.  Historians will note the irony of this, as the key similarity is the use of the big lie (see Wikipedia) by the NAZIs and against Iran.  Fifth in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.


  1. Have Iran’s leaders, like the NAZI’s, openly and repeatedly pledged to burn Israel to a cinder?
  2. An offical denial from Iran
  3. Translation by Juan Cole
  4. Jonathan Steel gives an excellent summary of the situation
  5. The NYT explains that opinions differ about the shape of the world
  6. Another perspective: how are Jews treated in Iran?
  7. Other posts in this series
  8. For more information: other posts about Iran

(1)  Have Iran’s leaders pledged to burn Israel to a cinder?

What was said by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (President of Iran) at the World without Zionism Conference of the Islamic Student Associations, held in Tehran on 26 October 2005?  Here are two translations.  They differ in detail, but not in tone.  Looked at in context it’s obvious that this is not lurid threat of genocide.  Hitler was far more explicit.  Red emphasis added to the two key passages.

(a) Text of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Speech“, New York Times, 30 October 2005 — Excerpt:

This is a translation, by Nazila Fathi in The New York Times Tehran bureau … The text of the speech was posted online, in Persian, by the Iranian Student News Agency {their website}. Bracketed explanatory material is from Ms. Fathi.

… Many who are disappointed in the struggle between the Islamic world and the infidels have tried to spread the blame. They say it is not possible to have a world without the United States and Zionism.  But you know that this is a possible goal and slogan.

When our dear Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder the Iranian revolution] said that the regime must be removed, many of those who claimed to be politically well-informed said it was not possible. All the corrupt governments were in support of the regime when Imam Khomeini started his movement. All the Western and Eastern countries supported the regime even after the massacre of September 7 [1978] and said the removal of the regime was not possible. But our people resisted and it is 27 years now that we have survived without a regime dependant on the United States. The tyranny of the East and the West over the world must should end, but weak people who can see only what lies in front of them cannot believe this.

Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front. This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime [Israel] has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world.

Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world. …

(b)  Translation by The Middle East Media Research Institute — Excerpt:

The issue of this conference is very valuable. In this very grave war, many people are trying to scatter grains of desperation and hopelessness regarding the struggle between the Islamic world and the front of the infidels, and in their hearts they want to empty the Islamic world.

… They ask ‘Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?’ But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved …

When the dear Imam [Khomeini] said that the Shah’s regime must go, and that we demand a world without dependent governments, many people who claimed to have political and other knowledge asked, ‘Is it possible [that the Shah’s regime can be toppled]?’ That day, when Imam began his movement, all the powers supported [the Shah’s] corrupt regime … and said it was not possible. However, our nation stood firm, and by now we have, for 27 years, been living without a government dependent on America. Imam said: ‘The rule of the East [USSR] and of the West [US] should be ended.’ But the weak people who saw only the tiny world near them did not believe it.

Imam said: ‘This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.’ This sentence is very wise. The issue of Palestine is not an issue on which we can compromise.

Is it possible that an [Islamic] front allows another front [country] to arise in its own heart? This means defeat, and he who accepts the existence of this regime [Israel] in fact signs the defeat of the Islamic world.

In his battle against the World of Arrogance, our dear Imam set the regime occupying Qods [Jerusalem] as the target of his fight. I do not doubt that the new wave which has begun in our dear Palestine and which today we are also witnessing in the Islamic world is a wave of morality which has spread all over the Islamic world. Very soon, this stain of disgrace [Israel] will be purged from the center of the Islamic world – and this is attainable.

(2)  An official denial from Iran

Iran denies wanting Israel ‘wiped off map’“, Reuters, 21 February 2006 — Excerpt:

Iran’s foreign minister denied on Monday that Tehran wanted to see Israel “wiped off the map,” saying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been misunderstood.  “Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned,” Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference. “How is it possible to remove a country from the map? He is talking about the regime. We do not recognize legally this regime,” he said.

… Mottaki also acknowledged the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany, despite Ahmadinejad saying in December that it was a myth. He told the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, speaking through an interpreter: “Our friends in Europe stress that such a crime has taken place and they have stated certain figures that were actually suffered. We have no argument about that, but what we are saying here is to put right such a horrific event, why should the Muslims pay a price?”

(3)  Translation by Juan Cole

Juan Cole (Prof History, U MI) on his website Informed Comment, originally written 23 April 2006

Ahmadinejad … made an analogy to Khomeini’s determination and success in getting rid of the Shah’s government, which Khomeini had said “must go” (az bain bayad berad). Then Ahmadinejad defined Zionism not as an Arabi-Israeli national struggle but as a Western plot to divide the world of Islam with Israel as the pivot of this plan.

The phrase he then used as I read it is “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).”

Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope– that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government.

Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that “Israel must be wiped off the map” with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.

… I should again underline that I personally despise everything Ahmadinejad stands for, not to mention the odious Khomeini, who had personal friends of mine killed so thoroughly that we have never recovered their bodies.

(4)  Jonathan Steel gives an excellent summary of the situation

Op-ed by Jonathan Steele in The Guardian, 1 June 2006 — Opening:

It is 50 years since the greatest misquotation of the cold war. At a Kremlin reception for western ambassadors in 1956, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced: “We will bury you.” Those four words were seized on by American hawks as proof of aggressive Soviet intent.

Doves who pointed out that the full quotation gave a less threatening message were drowned out. Khrushchev had actually said: “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.” It was a harmless boast about socialism’s eventual victory in the ideological competition with capitalism. He was not talking about war.

Now we face a similar propaganda distortion of remarks by Iran’s president. Ask anyone in Washington, London or Tel Aviv if they can cite any phrase uttered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the chances are high they will say he wants Israel “wiped off the map”.

Again it is four short words, though the distortion is worse than in the Khrushchev case. The remarks are not out of context. They are wrong, pure and simple. Ahmadinejad never said them. Farsi speakers have pointed out that he was mistranslated. The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished.

He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The “page of time” phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon. There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about.

But the propaganda damage was done, and western hawks bracket the Iranian president with Hitler as though he wants to exterminate Jews.

(5)  NYT explains that opinions differ about the shape of the world

Just How Far Did They Go, Those Words Against Israel?“, New York Times, 11 June 2006 – As usual with conservative propaganda, the NYT concludes that opinions differ about the shape of the world.  Conclusion:

When combined with Iran’s longstanding support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah of Lebanon, two groups that have killed numerous Israelis, and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s refusal to acknowledge the Holocaust, it is hard to argue that, from Israel’s point of view, Mr. Ahmadinejad poses no threat. Still, it is true that he has never specifically threatened war against Israel.

So did Iran’s president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so. Did that amount to a call for war? That remains an open question.

(6)  Another perspective: how are Jews treated in Iran?

(a)  Iran’s proud but discreet Jews“, BBC, 22 September 2006 — Excerpt:

Although Iran and Israel are bitter enemies, few know that Iran is home to the largest number of Jews anywhere in the Middle East outside Israel. About 25,000 Jews live in Iran and most are determined to remain no matter what the pressures – as proud of their Iranian culture as of their Jewish roots.

It is dawn in the Yusufabad synagogue in Tehran and Iranian Jews bring out the Torah and read the ancient text before making their way to work. It is not a sight you would expect in a revolutionary Islamic state, but there are synagogues dotted all over Iran where Jews discreetly practise their religion.

“Because of our long history here we are tolerated,” says Jewish community leader Unees Hammami, who organised the prayers. He says the father of Iran’s revolution, Imam Khomeini, recognised Jews as a religious minority that should be protected. As a result Jews have one representative in the Iranian parliament.

… Despite the offence Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has caused to Jews around the world, his office recently donated money for Tehran’s Jewish hospital. It is one of only four Jewish charity hospitals worldwide and is funded with money from the Jewish diaspora – something remarkable in Iran where even local aid organisations have difficulty receiving funds from abroad for fear of being accused of being foreign agents. Most of the patients and staff are Muslim these days, but director Ciamak Morsathegh is Jewish. “Anti-Semitism is not an eastern phenomenon, it’s not an Islamic or Iranian phenomenon – anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon,” he says, arguing that Jews in Iran even in their worst days never suffered as much as they did in Europe.

… But there are legal problems for Jews in Iran – if one member of a Jewish family converts to Islam he can inherit all the family’s property. Jews cannot become army officers and the headmasters of the Jewish schools in Tehran are all Muslim, though there is no law that says this should be so.

… Seven years ago a group of Jews in the southern city of Shiraz was accused of spying for Israel – eventually they were all released. But today many Iranian Jews travel to and from Iran’s enemy Israel.

In one of Tehran’s six remaining kosher butcher’s shops, everyone has relatives in Israel. In between chopping up meat, butcher Hersel Gabriel tells me how he expected problems when he came back from Israel, but in fact the immigration officer didn’t say anything to him. “Whatever they say abroad is lies – we are comfortable in Iran – if you’re not political and don’t bother them then they won’t bother you,” he explains. His customer, middle-aged housewife Giti agrees, saying she can easily talk to her two sons in Tel Aviv on the telephone and visit them. “It’s not a problem coming and going; I went to Israel once through Turkey and once through Cyprus and it was not problem at all,” she says.

(b) What Iran’s Jews Say“, Roger Cohen (NYT journalist), op-ed in the New York Times, 22 February 2009 — Excerpt:

I’d visited the bright-eyed Sedighpoor, 61, the previous day at his dusty little shop. He’d sold me, with some reluctance, a bracelet of mother-of-pearl adorned with Persian miniatures. “The father buys, the son sells,” he muttered, before inviting me to the service. Accepting, I inquired how he felt about the chants of “Death to Israel”  —  “Marg bar Esraeel”  —  that punctuate life in Iran.

“Let them say ‘Death to Israel,’ ” he said. “I’ve been in this store 43 years and never had a problem. I’ve visited my relatives in Israel, but when I see something like the attack on Gaza, I demonstrate, too, as an Iranian.”

The Middle East is an uncomfortable neighborhood for minorities, people whose very existence rebukes warring labels of religious and national identity. Yet perhaps 25,000 Jews live on in Iran, the largest such community, along with Turkey’s, in the Muslim Middle East. There are more than a dozen synagogues in Tehran; here in Esfahan a handful caters to about 1,200 Jews, descendants  of an almost 3,000-year-old community.

Over the decades since Israel’s creation in 1948, and the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the number of Iranian Jews has dwindled from about 100,000. But the exodus has been far less complete than from Arab countries, where some 800,000 Jews resided  when modern Israel came into being.

In Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Iraq  —  countries where more than 485,000 Jews lived before 1948  —  fewer than 2,000 remain. The Arab Jew has perished. The Persian Jew has fared better.

(7)  Other posts in this series

  1. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)?, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran, including aid to terrorists
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
  3. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
  4. About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
  5. Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
  6. What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?, 6 January 2012 — US intelligence officials are clear:  not as much as the news media implies
  7. What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
  8. What happens when a nation gets nukes?  Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
  9. What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
  10. Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
  11. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012 — Insights about today from Cold War strategist Colin Grey
  12. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  13. Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
  14. Is Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Terrorism?, 19 January 2012

(8)  For more information

For links to all posts about Iran see the FM Reference Page Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?

Some other posts about Iran:

  1. Is Pakistan’s Musharraf like the Shah of Iran? (if so, bad news for us) , 8 November 2007
  2. War with Iran , 9 November 2007 — Why Iran is not necessarily our enemy.
  3. Is Iran dangerous, or a paper tiger? , 13 November 2007
  4. Iran – a key state to watch as the new world order evolves, 3 March 2009
  5. More about Iran, things you know that might not be so, 3 October 2009
  6. The CIA’s forecast about the Iranian Revolution – and the revolution prediction tool, 6 January 2010
  7. Stratfor thinks about the unthinkable: a U.S.-Iranian deal, 6 March 2010

9 thoughts on “Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?”

  1. Rather than fuelling the US propaganda machine ask yourself have America’s leaders vowed to destroy Islam, any government with Islamic touch, invade, declare war upon and start bombing any country, impose American “values” on every nation in the word that is linked to their own economic interests in whatever way and which does not bend over when America burps.

    1. I believe that is clearly not the case.

      (1) States act for reasons. I see no benefit to the strategy you describe, hostility to Islam.
      (2) Some of our most important and closest allies are Islamic (eg, the Gulf States, the Saudi Princes). As are many others, such as Indonesia.
      (3) No major US leaders have vowed to destroy Israel.

  2. Awww… #6 makes me feel all warm inside. Jews are treated almost as equal citizens in Iran! How enlightened.

    Based upon your evidence, I must agree with you that the threat could perhaps be overblown. I guess we won’t really know until it happens, or doesn’t. I also vehemently agree with you that a US war of choice on Iran (as opposed to another tanker war), would be disastrous.

    1. Are you familar with how Jews were treated in Europe until a few generations ago? Not just NAZI Germany; not just the 19th century pogroms in Russia; not just the oppressions during the Middle Ages. Jews role in France has been problematic even in modern times (eg, Dreyfus Affair, 1894).

    1. Agreed. Iran treats Jews worse than they now are treated in the “West”, but better than they were treated. More relevantly to this series of articles, Jews in Iran are treated far better than one would expect reading western propaganda about the genocidal anti-Jew Iranians.

  3. “Most of the patients and staff are Muslim these days, but director Ciamak Morsathegh is Jewish. Anti-Semitism is not an eastern phenomenon, it’s not an Islamic or Iranian phenomenon – anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon,” he says, arguing that Jews in Iran even in their worst days never suffered as much as they did in Europe.”

    That echoes something a retired IDF officer – now living here in Maryland – told me about Israel, & why he left: “All the reasonable people have left the country.” Another told me that: “Israel is now ruled by crooks & gangsters.” Clearly not all is peachy in Israel either. And despite those two comments, there’s still more dissent to be read in Haaretz than here in US media.

    It brings up a theme echoed throughout the history of Islam, which was traditionally protective of Judaism. It is politicized (i.e., Roman) Christianity that’s been power hungry against any & all. Crusades? Inquisition? Antisemitism? All Christian.

    If this whole Islamic/Jewish competition is simply a playground for those playing a Great Game, then what is it over? The original Great Game was over access to India (between Russia/England). All the recent mid-east wars stink of the Brits again, but if so, who are they playing against? Did it simply grow from rivalry between Churchill & Stalin? Or is one of the old players now against everyone?

    Or are there completely different players taking over the game? Oil brokers vs finance brokers? Or something new (distributed fraud), against everyone? “The old fraud is dead … uh … LONG LIVE THE NEW FRAUD! Yeah! That’s it!”

    Whomever is behind all the propaganda, the rest of the stakeholders certainly seem to be accepting the board rules issued via propaganda.

    ps: > The Arab Jew has perished. The Persian Jew has fared better.

    Another reason the most die-hard Zionists want to drive Jews out of Iran? By any means? In a world that evolved via recombination, someone wants to recreate uniformity? It just doesn’t make any sense. Unless gangsters want “ownership” of those protected in their protection racket. At the root of every ideology, lurks a pathology. If Israel succeeds in driving Jews out of Iran, would Turkey be next? And after that, the USA? Then what? Hope for something, anything, to extend gangster rule?

    This is why cults like the idea of Black Holes. Once totally isolated, utopia is supposedly reached (and no one ever makes it out to disagree). It’s also why the pathology around EVERY cult’s propaganda, even our own, sounds the same. Because it is. It’s simply the universal cult of stupid, intellectually dishonest self-fraud. Always our worst parasite & enemy.

    We should have refused requests from big-oil & big-Brits, and left Mosaddegh in power. Then none of this would have ever happened.

  4. Unlike many American Jews, every native Israeli I have met seriously believes that the surrounding Arab (and Persian) powers would attack them again if they ever had the means to do so successfully.

    They know Israel’s strategy involved (1) open hostility (2) the United States, and (3) nuclear deterrence. They know this is provocative, and that reinforces the belief that the Arabs/Persians would attack them. They refer to the “fact” that the conflict so deep that it’s too late to turn back. And I’ve found that this always ends the discussion… although peace was made with the Germans after far, far worse… but If I say that I am told that I “just don’t understand”.

    Anyways, a more correct translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech unfortunately won’t not sway this logic in the least, though it’s absolutely right to correct that propaganda.

    If I was running the show for the US, I’d be most worried about Israeli actions. What’s rational for Israel may well be to provoke a US-Iran war, as the only way to remain the only nuclear power in the region. Whereas Iran probably does not want such a war.

  5. Pingback: Bibi’s Pyrrhic Victory | Robert Hall

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