A Step Too Far
by JAHANGIR SALEHIAN in London
25 Mar 2010 01:32
One prominent member of the Green Movement told me, "What Makan has done is very suspicious to every Iranian." He even went so far as to allege that, "It is possible that he was recruited one way or another by the Iranian government when he was in prison in Iran."
Before analyzing what this trip could mean to the Green Movement, it is worth assessing a few significant points.
First, Makan is in fact Neda's fiancé. Some journalists have insisted that Makan's relationship with Neda ended before Neda's death. But according to the latest information released by Neda's family, Makan was Neda's fiancé and they had plans to get married.
Second, Makan has not been active in the Green Movement in any way. Although he stepped forward after Neda's tragic death and spoke with the BBC and other media, he has remained silent about the Green Movement. So it is important to note that he is not involved with the resistance movement inside or outside Iran. But that said, his trip to Israel has immense political side effects regardless of his personal politics.
It is not clear why Makan chose to journey to Israel, let alone meet with a top Israeli power. Neda's mother, Hajar Rostami Motlagh, has made public her futile attempts to dissuade her once-to-be son in law. According to a report, she told him, "If Neda were alive, she would not have gone to Israel. I don't see why you should." Motlagh accused Makan of "misusing Neda's name" and "wrongly calling himself a representative of the Iranian nation." She added, "Makan had no right in doing so... and I told him you ruined your image by going to Israel as Israel does not have any respect (or place) among Iranians....please let Neda's soul be at peace."
Makan introduced himself to Peres as a representative of the Iranian nation. For a man so silent on political and post-election issues, it is not clear how he could establish himself as ambassador to the entire Iranian nation. Especially while visiting Israel, a move seemingly designed to incite his compatriots given the sensitivity to Israel held by many Iranians, both reformist and hardliner. Until Makan comes out and explains his motives and the details of his trip to Israel, a great many important questions about his trip, not to mention its potential consequences, remain unanswered.
A few non-Jewish Iranians daring to travel to Israel returned to face IRI's wrath, most notably the famous blogger Hossein Derakhshan. While Derakhshan did not meet Shimon Peres or other ranking Israelis, it is widely believed that his trip to Israel was one of the factors behind his detention upon his return to Iran. He has been in prison without a court hearing ever since, and according to his brother, "Our family does not even know of any official charge against him."
Knowing the efforts of the Iranian government to cast doubt over Neda's death, it is hard to believe that Makan went to Israel to raise positive publicity for the Iranian Green Movement, or on behalf of the Iranian people. One can only assume that he was aware of two facts: first, that Neda's name and image are internationally iconic for opposition movement. Second, Israel is not a good place to discuss issues of freedom and human right abuses occurring in Iran unless you are siding with the enemy of your own country. Taking these points into account, the task of deciphering a conceivable explanation for what impelled Makan to Israel, except for perhaps the insanity of hubris, becomes ever more difficult.
One factor present from the outset may have been Israel itself. It is widely known that some in Israel became extremely engaged when Neda's clip became an internet magnet. They were asking for anyone who could provide a channel of contact with Makan in hopes to speak with him, and even mentioned their desire to invite Makan to Israel.
Even if Makan is politically naïve, the Israelis are not. But what does Israel gain by arranging a meeting between Makan and President Peres? There is a strong possibility that Tel Aviv, aware of Neda's iconic status with the opposition, has tried to damage the Green Movement's image by hosting Makan in Israel. There is no previous example of Israel as a destination for an Iranian political activist of any affiliation. On the other hand, there is talk of Israel's fear of the Green Movement as a distracting element that has put Iran's nuclear issue on a back burner in terms of exerting international pressure. The opposition may have created a hold-your-breath-and-see-what-happens moment when it looked as though the government could be overthrown without international involvement, which would have changed the game dramatically. It may have been this sort of pause, or inaction, that Israel saw as a setback, and the Green Movement as an obstacle to Israeli tactics already set in motion. So any move that could damage the Green Movement is then incorporated into Israel's strategy. Hence, damaging Neda's image by inviting his fiancé to meet with the Israeli president strengthens the Iranian government's ability to prove its own long propagated scenario that Neda's death was a "sinister show" right from the beginning.
At the outset, several stories emerged from the Iranian government to explain Neda's death. Iranian hardliners attempted to depict it as a plot perpetrated by enemy secret services determined to provoke Iranians to rise up against their government. The Iranian regime also tried to make people believe that Dr. Arash Hejazi, who tried to save her, was the one who killed her. Then a foreign correspondent in Tehran was accused of staging her death to make a documentary. But it is hard to imagine what could play better into the hands of the Iranian government to promote its version of the story than Makan's trip.
In my view, if new Israeli settlement construction announcements coinciding with Joe Biden's trip to Israel or Netanyahu's trip to Washington gave a strong implication of Israel's out-of-touch approach, the same can be said about Makan's trip to Israel. It is not only bad timing on Makan's part, but it is a combination of stupidity and other factors and on the Israeli part; it is a move unwelcome by all. If in 1991 with the war with Iraq over Kuwait, and again in the 2003 Iraq war, Israel was not welcomed to participate, the same can be said about Israelis lecturing Iranians on human rights. If it was his own hubris that drove Makan to Israel, it was Israel's hubris that invited him.
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