Unabridged response to letters from William F. Katz
John Hauptman’s rambling and emotive response (PHYSICS TODAY, April 2011, page 10) to my brief comments (December 2010, page 8) about Iran–Israel relations in light of Toni Feder’s news item (August 2010, page 22) underscores my original point: PHYSICS TODAY should steer clear of politics, since such discussions can easily lead to unsubstantiated opinions on topics far beyond its purview.
In his letter, a “shocked” Hauptman suggests that PHYSICS TODAY has entered the “warmongering business,” including “promoting national hatreds.” Hauptman then defends the Iranian regime with a quote from the New York Times that Iran “has never specifically threatened war against Israel.” He claims that the Iranian government is instead only defending itself against threats “brazenly” made by Israel. In his view, Jews are safe and happy in Iran, with Tehran synagogues “lively and full.” By contrast, he says, Israel makes a “public threat” and “wants Iran crippled like Iraq.” Perhaps Hauptman’s oddest claim is that the nuclear nonproliferation organization the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, together with unnamed “neo-conservative groups,” was complicit in the murder of Iranian physicist Masoud Alimohammadi, and perhaps a second physicist as well.
Those bizarre allegations have no facts to support them. I hesitate to prolong this lengthy conversation, but since Hauptman has now issued blatant falsehoods, I believe I must respond to his comments.
‣ Hauptman claims that Iran has not stated as a goal the annihilation of Israel and that it is not true that the Iranian government “clamors for war.” As “proof,” he translates a sentence from the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 2005 anti-Israel speech. It is true that Iranian clerics and political leaders generally attempt to tread carefully when wording edicts intended for international consumption; they use phrases such as “the Zionist entity must vanish from the page of time” instead of “we will wipe them off the map.” However, this one worn example is superseded almost daily by combative, linguistically unambiguous threats. For instance, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated that Israel is a “stinking corpse” that must be “wiped out” and “annihilated.”1 The Iranian regime hosts conferences on Holocaust denial and “the end of Zionism.” Banners saying “Death to Israel” in Farsi are hung on buses, missiles, and public buildings.2 If you put together those statements with Iran’s stated aims to build a nuclear arsenal and missile delivery system, not to mention its support of worldwide terror networks, then imagining that the Iranians are merely defending themselves would take a lot of work.
‣ Hauptman is “not aware of ‘thousands of American deaths for which Iran is directly responsible.’ ” He must not be trying very hard. The US State Department lists Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.3 Iran is the chief supporter of Hezbollah, providing funding, arms, training, and intelligence. The regime also partners with Sunni terror organizations, including Al Qaeda in the Sudan. Iran planned and directed the torturing and killing of American hostages in Lebanon between 1982 and 1991; the 1983 Beirut bomb attacks on the US embassy, followed by almost 30 years of embassy, truck, and air bombings; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia; the USS Cole attack in Yemen in 2000; and attacks in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 2000–10. More recently, Iran has become a chief supplier of sophisticated weaponry for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used to kill soldiers—ours and other nations’—in Iraq and Afghanistan.4
An exact total of Americans killed by Middle East–based terrorists is hard to compute because news reports are incomplete regarding numbers and nationalities. One source can be found at the Jewish Virtual Library.5 Excluding the 9/11 attacks, in which 2977 people were killed, the estimates of casualties are approximately 750 Americans killed and 1600 wounded. However, that low-ball figure does not include military deaths from IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq—a whopping 60–70% of the 5413 American soldiers killed there by the time of publication. The most lethal IEDs in those theaters are recognized as coming from Iran.6
Taken together, the data easily suggest thousands of American deaths as the result of Iran’s proxy war against America.7
‣ Jews, says Hauptman, are safe and happy in Iran. He conspicuously fails to mention that the 30 000 Jews living in Iran are the remainder of the 100 000–150 000 who lived there before 1948. In other words, most of the community has fled, chiefly to Israel, including a massive surge during and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Hauptman also ignores the Iranian Jews who are now variously rounded up and charged with espionage, shot, or thrown in Evin prison for life. As for not accepting “bribes” to move to Israel, sadly, that tiny minority community, like the Christian Copts in Egypt, must be extremely careful not to draw attention to itself, lest government-sanctioned retribution ensue.
‣ Hauptman suggests that the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control and its website Iran Watch may have been involved in the murder of Alimohammadi and another physicist. That Alimohammadi was an outspoken critic of the Mullah regime leads his friends and colleagues to suspect he was murdered by agents of the Iranian government.8 The Wisconsin Project is a nonpartisan organization and has never published any type of “hitlist.” The Iran Watch website does publish a list of Iran’s suspect entities thought to be contributing to Iran’s weapons programs (http://www.iranwatch.org/suspect/enduser-list.asp). However, to call it a “hitlist” and to then segue into the supposed evils of Israel (“the Israeli government wants Iran crippled like Iraq”) is odd and irresponsible of Hauptman. Outside of Hauptman’s imagination, there is no reason to suspect that the Wisconsin Project organization or any “neo-conservative” cabal was responsible for the motorcycle drive-by murder in Tehran. Nor is there any evidence of Israeli complicity in this murder, or even any motivation for Israeli action (particularly as the Israeli government encourages SESAME and other cooperative scientific exchanges). It was frankly irresponsible of PHYSICS TODAY to allow such claims into print without adequate fact checking.
The report on the plight of Iranian scientists would have been more evenhanded had Feder also covered the rationale for the sanctions against Iran. Instead, the ensuing exchange, especially Hauptman’s exceedingly odd letter, has led to much spilled ink. I strongly recommend that in the future PHYSICS TODAY stick more closely to science.