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Source: The Guardian

Nov 14, 2023

Former foreign minister urges Iran not to get lured into war with Israel

Mohammad Javad Zarif says Israel wants to expand Gaza conflict in order to drag the US into the fighting

By Patrick Wintour

The former Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is urging his country not to become embroiled in a direct war with Israel or the US.

The best way to defend the Palestinian people was to avoid giving the west a reason to claim they are acting as a proxy of Iran, Zarif said, adding that Israel was trying to lure Iran into such a battle.

In two interventions that have led to charges of betrayal, and in a passionate defence of his views, Zarif said the Iranian people accepted the idea of defending what is right, but that this did not mean mobilising the army.

Referencing the cost of Iran’s military interventions, he claimed that the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, “seeks to drag Iran to the Gaza battlefield, while they have no proof of Iran’s involvement in the al-Aqsa storm,” he said, using Hamas’s name for the 7 October attacks in which the militant group killed approximately 1,200 people in southern Israel, leading to Israel’s military invasion of Gaza.

“If such an event happens, ordinary people are the first victims in any war. I personally think that the people are tired of paying the cost. There is also no need for us to incur the cost.”

In two lengthy interventions, one to the Bar Association and another on the Telegram channel, he said he had gone public due to the non-stop barrage of letters calling on Iran to join the war.

At one point, in exasperation he said: “If they drag Iran into the middle of the war, nothing will happen to any of the government officials. The bomb will fall on the people of Iran.

“So far, who has been harmed by the sanctions?” he asked, referring to sanctions imposed by the west in response to Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. “Those who earn a few million dollars a day or poor people?”

Apart from the economic cost, he said, the entry of Iran and Hezbollah into the war would be just what Israel wanted because Israel also wanted to drag the US into the conflict on the Israeli side.

He accused Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, of “trying to somehow drag the war out and bring America in”. He said this knowledge of Israel’s intention was the reasoning behind the relatively non-escalatory words of the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, since the conflict began.

Asked if he thought the process of normalisation between Israel and the Arab states would end, he said: “The process of normalisation may slow down, but it is unlikely to stop.” During Donald Trump’s presidency, the UAE and Bahrain signed bilateral normalisation agreements with Israel, and Saudi Arabia had been expected to follow suit before the outbreak of the Gaza war.

He said he was proposing that Iran announce its readiness to sign a nonaggression pact with the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

He dismissed the announcements made at the weekend by the 57 strong Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, saying: “What has been published so far is the continuation of traditional positions. It is unlikely to have any impact.”

Iran and other members of the so-called axis of resistance – an umbrella term for anti-Israeli actors such as Syria and Hezbollah – had been demanding more concrete actions.

Zarif, often attacked by Iranian hardliners, has praised the diplomats for abandoning the policy of scaling the walls of foreign embassies and instead engaging with regional countries that used to be Iran’s enemies.

He claimed Israel had to engineer two contradictory positions, one that projected invincibility and the other that it was a victim of oppression.

He added: “If we describe the detained Israelis as prisoners, then we must describe the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as prisoners as well.

“We cannot consider armed settlers who kill Palestinians as civilians because they do not wear military uniforms.

Imagine if the Iraqis lived in the Iranian cities that they occupied, would we have to take care of their rights?”

Since Israel were occupiers, he said, they had only duties not rights.

Zarif repeated the Iranian view that a referendum should be held in Israel to decide its future. “If all the Jews who are in Palestine today and all the Palestinians in the territories and in the diaspora participate in the referendum, the result will be in favour of Palestine,” he said.

Zarif has been forced to defend himself from a deluge of criticism, saying: “In the past few days, in several conversations, I tried to express Israel’s bellicose goals and crimes against humanity, and the rights of the Palestinian people against the occupation and oppression of 70 years, and to answer various questions.

“Unfortunately, some of the answers were handpicked and torn apart without paying attention to the questions. And in some cases, they became the basis of political games.

“Today, human, Islamic and national solidarity in supporting Palestine and exposing Israel’s aggression, war crimes and genocide is the most important priority. I hope factionalism, polarisation and poisoning of society will end.”

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