A deleted tweet from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignited fresh fears about his position on Iran, after his official Twitter account provided an English translation of his remarks to reporters on Wednesday while attending an American-led summit about the Middle East hosted in Warsaw, Poland.
The initial tweet, translated from Hebrew, had the prime minister saying: "What is important about this meeting, and it is not in secret, because there are many of those—is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran." An amended translation replaced "war" with "combating."
— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) February 13, 2019
While some Hebrew-speakers were quick to claim that the initial tweet sloppily translated Netanyahu's remarks, critics pointed to it as an example of his office revealing, in the words of journalist Mehdi Hasan, "what they've always wanted."
So basically they messed up and said ‘war’ with Iran, when what they wanted to say was ‘combating’ Iran, but what they’ve always wanted, regardless, is ‘war’ with Iran. :-) https://t.co/u5J0YaTs2K
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) February 13, 2019
You know how I say that Israel and Saudi Arabia (and NGOs that support them) want war with Iran? And how they always get made when we say this? Well, today, they said it. https://t.co/21OqJ7zzpF
— Joe Cirincione (@Cirincione) February 13, 2019
"The global community must consistently call out parties seeking to sow instability, and this includes by being vigilant about the very real machinations towards war that are being undertaken," the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) said in a statement.
Noting that "a war with Iran is fundamentally at odds with the security interests of the United States, Israel, the people of Iran, and the entire Middle East," the group declared: "Whether the prime minister's words were intentionally muddled or not, his provocative message needs no interpretation. It is clear through the prime minister's long-standing signaling that his intention is to build support for a confrontation with Iran."
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The anti-war group CodePink also called for peace:
— CODEPINK (@codepink) February 13, 2019
Amid demands for peace and arguments over the translation and the true intentions of Netanyahu's government, some critics also directed attention to a later comment from the prime minister. Debra Shushan of the nonprofit group Americans for Peace Now outlined that exchange with a reporter in a Twitter thread:
He clearly uses the word WAR (מלחמה), but his statement could be interpreted as "in order to advance the shared interest in war vs. Iran" OR "in order to advance the shared interest in fighting/combating Iran." You can see the clip here: https://t.co/zSQYkOxguC
— Debra Shushan(@ShushanAPN) February 13, 2019
"So...we shouldn't take this to mean Bibi is sitting with foreign ministers of Arab states and drawing up plans to attack Iran," Shushan concluded. "On the other hand, it's [a] ratcheting up of rhetoric vs. Iran by Netanyahu. How the Arab states implicated in Bibi's statements will react is important."
The controversy comes amid speculation about the purpose of the meeting in Poland of top officials from 65 different countries—which also featured President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani calling for regime change in Iran while speaking at a rally outside the summit on behalf of, as Robert Mackey of The Intercept put it, "a cult-like group of Iranian exiles who pay him to represent them."
While the Trump administration initially promoted its meeting as Iran-focused, "organizers have broadened the scope to include issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the fight against the Islamic State group," the Associated Press reported from Warsaw on Wednesday. "But Netanyahu and Gulf countries are eager to focus on Iran."
The meeting prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to call his own summit with representatives from Iran and Turkey, which is set to take place in Sochi on Thursday.