Iran’s insistence on spending a fortune on wars outside its borders rather than focus on boosting its economy was puzzling and defied logic, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said recently.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Times of Israel Persian, Steinitz posited that most Iranians recognize Israel as an economic powerhouse and are interested in establishing friendly ties with the Jewish state.
“Honestly, I don’t understand why Iranian taxpayers have to spend approximately one billion dollars every year on a Lebanese militia,” he said, referring to the Hezbollah terror organization, an Iranian Shiite proxy bent on Israel’s destruction, among other goals.
“I don’t understand it. It’s been going on and on and on for many years,” Steinitz said, in the December 20 interview, days before thousands of Iranians across the country took to the streets to protest against the regime.
Steinitz, a member of the influential security cabinet, said that Iran has been investing billions of dollars — directly and indirectly — in an attempt to create two strategic flanks to encompass almost the entire Middle East.
In the northern flank of this Shiite crescent, Iranian troops and proxy forces are present in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The southern flank consists of the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza that are backed by the Islamic Republic.
“I don’t understanding the Iranians. It will be a big headache for them as well,” said Steinitz, who was Jerusalem’s point main on Iran during the lead-up to the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world world powers.
“They are now involved in conflicts throughout the Middle East. It costs money, a lot of money. It cost lives of Iranians or their proxies. And I don’t believe that, at the end of the day, they’ll achieve something. They will not destroy the entire Arab world. They will not manage to hegemonize or take control of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt [or the] United Arab Emirates.”
Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Western powers argued that the resources Iran would get as a consequence of the nuclear agreement relief would be used to rebuild the country’s shattered economy.
“Instead, they’re investing billions of dollars in Syria, in Lebanon, Iraq and other places. This is very odd behavior,” Steinitz said.
“Officials in the United States and in Europe were confident that under the nuclear agreement, after economic sanctions were lifted, Iran would focus on fixing its internal problems, fixing its economy, and not on aggression all over the Middle East. They were wrong,” he added.
Some ascribe Iran’s erratic behavior to its supreme leader’s stated goal of exporting the Islamic Revolution. Not so Steinitz.
“I don’t think anyone is still really thinking about exporting the revolution. They are eager to be involved in conflicts, against Israel or the Sunni Arab world. The reason is not rational, but that’s the behavior,” he said.
“I really don’t understand why the Iranians need all these clashes, again and again and again. It’s coming at the expense of the Iranians and the Iranian economy, infrastructure, development. It doesn’t seem to me that what’s going on in Yemen or in Syria is connected to the situation in Iran,” he said.
Speaking to The Times of Israel Persian in his Knesset office, Steinitz, a former philosophy professor, praised the Iranian people as “very talented” and a “great nation.”
“Of course I expect the Iranian people one day to rise up and say, ‘Enough is enough, we want democracy, we want civil rights, we want to flourish, we want a strong economy, we want good ties with the world, we don’t want to destroy any other state — not the Jewish state and not any Arab state in the vicinity — and let’s be a great nation again,’” he said.
Most Iranians would like to reestablish the good relations between Israelis and Iranians. They know that Israel has now become a global hi-tech and R&D center
After decades of “brainwashing and incitement,” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, “surely there are some people in Iran that really hate Israel,” said Steinitz,.
“But I think that most Iranians have nothing against Israel or the Jewish people. I think that most Iranians would like to reestablish the good relations between Israelis and Iranians. They know that Israel has now become a global high-tech and R&D center, maybe the second most important global center after the United States of America.”
In biblical times, the Persian Empire was the “most friendly superpower” toward the Jewish people, he said, citing King Cyrus, who reigned between 559–530 BCE, and, according to the biblical account, allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile.
“Jews always had a positive approach to Persia, and I also think the reverse applies,” he said. “There is no real conflict between the Iranian people and the Israeli people.”
Regime change, however, “comes from within,” Steinitz stressed, indicating that Israel should not try to engineer a coup.
“This brutal regime is still very strong, as we see. But I believe that, at the end of the day, what happened in the Soviet Union and in many other brutal regimes around the world will take place in Iran as well, because this is a great nation with smart people. Most people in Iran are open-minded, I believe, and they understand that this regime causes them tremendous damage.”
Not to live in a democracy, but under a brutal regime is a “humiliation for most Iranians,” Steinitz said. “And one day, they will put an end to this.”
The Times of Israel Persian is currently the only Israel-based professional non-governmental and independent news outlet publishing, in Persian, daily news, analyses, and blogs on Israel, Israel-Iran related news and the Middle East.