iran missile - AP - April 18 2011
A Yasser missile is displayed during Iranian army parade, marking national Army Day, April 18, 2011. Photo by AP
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Illustration by Amos Biderman.
Illustration by Amos Biderman.

The U.S. State Department officially reversed its position on the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahideen-e Khalq just a few days before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad landed in New York last week to address the UN General Assembly. A State Department spokeswoman announced that the group would be removed from the list of foreign terror organizations at the end of this month.

Had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu been standing in Ahmadinejad's place at the podium, he would have asked that the lights be dimmed, then played NBC's February 9 broadcast about the group. The television station cited senior figures in the American defense establishment saying that Israel had armed and trained MEK members, who then assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists. Afterward, Netanyahu (that is, Ahmadinejad ) would have drawn a straight line connecting Israel, the United States and an Iranian opposition group that seeks to overturn the regime - which, he would have added, was democratically elected.

For a very long time, the MEK, which seeks to undermine the rule of the ayatollahs, has been trying to convince the American government to take it off the official list of terrorist organizations. Former President George Bush overruled conservative advisors and senior intelligence officials who supported the move, as the Republican leader paid greater heed to advisors who warned that the Iranians might retaliate against American targets. Now, at the height of his reelection campaign, Democratic President Barack Obama has moved to legitimize a group whose aim is to overthrow the regime in Tehran.

Israeli Prof. David Menashri, an expert on Iran, is not enthusiastic about the U.S. decision. He said the group has not been popular with the Iranian public, aside from during a brief period following the fall of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. While it is one of the few opposition groups that has managed to create centers of influence in Iran, Iranians have not forgotten that it sided with Saddam Hussein when Iraq invaded Iran 22 years ago.

Menashri said he can't discern any recent changes in the MEK's character, and wondered how the change in the American government's view of it meshes with Washington's claim that it is ready to begin a dialogue with the Iranian regime. This move, he cautioned, will provide ammunition to those Iranians who say the United States is using the nuclear issue to overthrow their regime.

The headline that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman supplied to Haaretz in an interview on the eve of this week's Sukkot holiday gives the ayatollahs additional ammunition. It's interesting that Lieberman thinks Ahmadinejad can expect to face what he called "an Iranian-style Tahrir revolution," referring to the demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The authors of the Race for Iran website (www.RaceForIran.com ), who participated in a brief meeting with Ahmadinejad during his New York visit, write that the Iranian leader said Netanyahu was using the nuclear issue to distract people from the rising influence of the Muslim Arab street in Arab countries - a development, he said, that has eroded the value of Israel's military superiority.

If Lieberman claims to know that the upcoming Iranian elections will produce a Tahrir revolution there, he is presumably basing himself on something. But what interest does Israel have in headlines that embroil its foreign minister in internal Iranian affairs? Doesn't Lieberman's hopeful prediction, like the legitimization of the MEK, strengthen the Iranian conspiracy theory which holds that America and Israel are cooking up a revolution there? And if the bastards who are trying to destroy Israel are really about to disappear from the world stage before Iran reaches Netanyahu's red line, why frighten the world's children with an atomic bomb?

Grading Eli Zeira

In early July, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to close the case against former Military Intelligence chief Eli Zeira, the person responsible for the so-called "conception" that led to Israel being surprised in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Weinstein did not absolve Zeira of blame for exposing Egyptian Ashraf Marwan as an Israeli agent by accusing him of having been a double agent who misled his Mossad handlers. In his opinion, Weinstein underscored that this was "one of the gravest security offenses ever committed by a senior member of the top tier of the intelligence and defense establishments." However, he said, the long period of time that had passed since the probe was launched, along with Zeira's advanced age, justify sparing him an indictment.

Only three months have passed, and Zeira has struck again. In an interview broadcast on Channel 1 television on the eve of the Yom Kippur holiday, Zeira made use of the central thesis of Yigal Kipnis' book "1973, The Road to War," which quite correctly placed most of the blame for the war's outbreak at Prime Minister Golda Meir's door. Zeira claimed in this interview that he had not been let in on the secret of Egypt's peace overtures at that time and the cost of rejecting them.

Prof. Uri Bar-Joseph, author of another book about the Yom Kippur War, "The Watchman Fell Asleep," angrily rejected Zeira's claim. Bar-Joseph insisted that Zeira was present throughout the April 18, 1973 meeting at Meir's home in which it was decided to reject the Egyptian offer and head toward war. He based himself on a protocol of the meeting that author Hanoch Bartov found among material from the office of the army's chief of staff, and which Bartov cited in his book "Dado."

In the Yom Kippur eve interview, Zeira also argued that he didn't know "in real time" about a meeting in Herzliya between Meir and Jordan's King Hussein 10 days before the war broke out. Zeira said he was only told about the meeting "after the fact."

Kipnis, who interviewed Zeira at length for his book, wrote that "the meeting was filmed and broadcast via closed circuit to another room, where three intelligence officers, among them the head of MI's Jordanian branch, watched and listened to it" (similar descriptions appear in Avi Shlaim's biography of King Hussein and in Aryeh Shalev's book "Success and Failure in Advance Warning" ).

But if Zeira is telling the truth, what grade does the head of MI deserve for not having known about ongoing diplomatic discussions between Egypt and the United States, and for learning only "after the fact" that his subordinates had observed a meeting between an Arab king and the Israeli prime minister?