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A Clear Message In Plain Hebrew

Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu in front of Israeli and American flags
photo courtesy the U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

There was nothing subtle about the message Iran sent last week. In fact, you don’t even need to read Farsi to get it; you just have to know Hebrew.

“Israel must be wiped out” was reportedly inscribed in Hebrew on two ballistic missiles that Iran test-fired. The missiles hit targets about 870 miles away in the Sea of Oman, Iran’s state media reported, but were capable of travelling even farther. The head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division was quoted saying the test showed Iran was capable of hitting Israel, just in case, somehow, the message didn’t quite get through.

The missile test was not only a message for Israel, however. In a real sense, it was Iran’s way of telling the world: “Thanks for thawing that $100 billion in frozen assets to help fund our ‘defensive’ missile program.” Iran has maintained that its ballistic missile program falls within its right to self-defense, and so should not be restricted by the international community in any way.

Yet I can’t think of a single instance in history when a ballistic missile was genuinely fired for defensive purposes. You don’t use ballistic missiles to shoot down attacking planes, for example. You use them to deliver powerful payloads to distant cities – say, for instance, as distant as Tel Aviv is from the Iranian launching site near the Afghan border.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry, unsurprisingly, condemned the test in a statement. Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said, “The development of missiles with the capability of carrying nuclear warheads puts a big question mark over the intentions of Iran to fulfill its part in the nuclear deal,” CNN reported.

But Iran’s hard-liners were not the only ones delivering a message to Israel last week. At the same time, Vice President Joe Biden was in the country to tell the Israelis to accept the aid package that the Obama administration is offering as a partial offset to the Iranian threat. The current military aid package is due to expire in 2018, and talks have reportedly stalled over the amount that the next 10-year package will provide. Biden reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Israelis are not going to get a better deal from the next administration, although it isn’t clear how he would know what a president Hillary Clinton would do, let alone what might come out of an administration led by Donald Trump or another GOP candidate.

Biden did, however, want to assure Israelis that America will intervene if Iran steps out of line. “I want to reiterate, which I know people doubt here, if in fact they break the deal we will act,” he said. But, of course, Iran maintains that its ballistic missile program was never designed to carry nuclear warheads. Maybe they just want an attention-grabbing way of delivering lollipops.

In truth, the Iranian missile program makes no sense at all except in conjunction with an unstated but ongoing threat to eventually develop a payload worth deploying a missile to carry. So much for the Obama administration’s claim that its sanctions-busting deal with Iran will prevent this eventuality. The Israelis never believed it. American critics of the deal never believed it. And clearly the Iranians themselves never believed it.

The message is there in plain sight – as long as you read Hebrew.

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