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Pence, Bibi

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo: Matti Stern/U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv)

Mistranslated or Not, Israeli PM's 'War With Iran' Tweet Sparks Grave Concerns

"Whether the prime minister's words were intentionally muddled or not, his provocative message needs no interpretation."

Jessica Corbett

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."

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."

"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."

The anti-war group CodePink also called for peace:

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:

"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."

"With the summit largely spurned by our Western European allies, the administration was forced to spin the event from an Iran-centric gathering to one focused on broader Middle East peace and security issues," NIAC said. "Just as there is little to misinterpret with regard to the prime minister's words, there is nothing subtle about the true intent of the Warsaw summit, and the guest list proves it."

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.


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