Iran just wants to get along

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, is angry. For some reason Iran’s Arab neighbors, not to mention many U.S. politicians and journalists, think his country is an aggressor, unworthy of international investment and entry into the global community of nations.

It’s enough to make you want to arrest an American businessman on phony espionage charges. But Zarif is a man of reason. So he has taken to the pages of The Washington Post to make his case that despite Iran’s ballistic missile tests, and its supreme leader’s threatening speeches, and its support for Syria’s dictator his country really just wants peace and harmony.

It all comes down to a simple misunderstanding, according to Zarif. During the nuclear negotiations, he writes, “my country insisted at every turn our defenses were not on the table.”

Zarif says this goes back to the Iran-Iraq war and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons. Zarif writes that the West was “actively preventing Iran from getting access to the most rudimentary defensive necessities.”

This sentence is mainly false. While the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Iran following the Iranian revolution in 1979 after the revolutionaries took U.S. diplomats hostage, the Reagan administration also secretly armed Iran with anti-tank missiles that it provided to the regime through the Israelis. Those arms were traded for the release of hostages taken in Lebanon by Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah.

Zarif was a student in the U.S. when this story broke. It was known as the Iran-Contra scandal because the profits of the arms sale to Iran went to fund the Nicaraguan rebels known as the Contras.

Zarif in his op-ed uses the history of the Iran-Iraq war to justify what he calls the development of his country’s “indigenous defense capabilities.” But this is misleading, because Iran keeps testing ballistic missiles, which can deliver a nuclear warhead. They are not a defensive weapon like the missiles the U.S. sold Iran through the Israelis.

Speaking of Israel, the Jewish state is particularly concerned about Iran’s ballistic missiles because some of them were inscribed with Hebrew words promising to wipe Israel off the Earth. That doesn’t sound very defensive, does it?

But this is not even the most galling element of Zarif’s op-ed. After rehashing the history of the Iran-Iraq war and complaining about how U.S. presidents for 37 years have stated that “all options are on the table” when it comes to countering Iranian aggression, Zarif writes, “The words ‘never again’ resonate with Iranians, too.”

“Never again” is of course most associated with preventing another Holocaust against the Jews. It is the title of Martin Gilbert’s history of that crime. Zarif is the front man of a regime that not only threatens to wipe out the world’s only Jewish state but also actively denies the Holocaust. In June, Iran will host a competition where it will give a $50,000 award to the cartoonist who best mocks the Nazi genocide. An earlier winner of the contest was a cartoon that depicted Hitler and Anne Frank in bed with the fuhrer saying, “Put that in your diary.”

This is the Iran that Zarif complains is unfairly demonized in the West. It’s enough to make one appreciate the bluntness of Iran’s fanatical leaders at home. At least there they say what they actually mean.

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about politics and foreign affairs.