A ground-breaking documentary about one of the most explosive conflicts in the world.
For the first time on the record, an Israeli official implicitly accepts the responsibility for the assassination of Iranian scientists, damaging Iranian nuclear centrifuges with a computer virus and destroying Iran’s military and nuclear facilities in the past few years.
These events are not the only incidents uncovered. The film provides an overview of the relationship between the two nations from the time when Persian King Cyrus the Great provided refuge to Jewish people fleeing Babylon in 2500 BC to the secret dealings between the state of Israel and Iran before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
This is the story of two strong nations with historic ties, and a conflict, which, no matter what the outcome is, will shape the future of the Middle East and the world. With remarkable archive footage we show how historically, Jews in Iran were regarded as second-class citizens. Although there were prominent Jewish artists and scholars, the majority were poor and lived in ghettos.
But during the Pahlavi Empire in the 20th Century this changed. King Reza Pahlavi and later his son, Mohammed Reza, the Shah, publicly praised Cyrus and tried to build a modern, more inclusive kingdom. Once he became king in 1941, the young Shah pursued a neutral foreign policy, which he believed would serve Iran’s national interests. He was sure that co-operating with Israel would strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East and the world.
But that meant a delicate balancing act to avoid confrontation with Iran’s religious leaders. They strongly opposed Zionism, the idea that a Jewish state should be created in the biblical land of Israel in the Middle East. Ayatollah Kashani led the protests against the creation of Israel at the time. Despite religious opposition, Iran opened an embassy in Israel after its creation in 1948. But in a sign of the extreme sensitivities, in official correspondence it was never officially called the Iranian Embassy in Israel. Instead it was referred to as the second Iranian Embassy in Switzerland.
Iran voted against Israel’s membership of the UN in 1950. In diplomatic terms, Iran gave Israel de facto and not de jour recognition. The Shah’s policy also served the interests of an isolated Israel. Israel’s Arab neighbours had always regarded it as an enemy. The Shah hugely admired the progress Israel had made in a short time and wanted to learn from it. In 1958, some Iranian government representatives paid an unofficial visit to Israel to negotiate various aspects of Iran-Israel relations. The main subject under discussion was oil.
From 1958 to 1979, Iran was the main supplier of oil to Israel – which Arab states had boycotted. Iran also used Israel as a base from which to export oil to the rest of the world. Both countries deliberately remained quiet about their relationship.
The 60’s and 70’s were also the golden age for Jewish Iranians, who comprised the largest Jewish community outside of Israel and Turkey in the Middle East. The 100,000 Jews living in Iran prospered in the Pahlavi era and contributed to all aspects of Iranian life. We see how Israel’s victories over Arab armies and the annexation of Arab lands made it even more difficult for the Shah to maintain the relationship.
The religious opposition in Iran became more vocal against Israel and sympathised with their Palestinian brethren. Ayatollah Khomeini led the protests from exile. The Shah had to take a public stand. He condemned Israel’s aggressive policies, threatening that Israel could be subject to international sanctions – like the apartheid states of Rhodesia and South Africa. Iran also voted in favour of a United Nations resolution in 1975, which determined that Zionism was a form of racism and racial discrimination.
But privately the Shah remained in awe of Israel’s military equipment. Iran was one of the biggest markets for Israeli arms. It’s hard to predict what the future may hold for Iran and Israel. How the public war of words will play alongside the parallel secret world. Israel and Iran have the confidence to claim that whatever they do – they are acting on God’s behalf.