Tehran’s Trump Trepidation and the Jewish Legal Concept of ‘Marit Ayin’
Speaking to governors at the White House on Monday, US President Donald Trump announced a sharp increase in the military budget. According to some assessments, the allocation in question could reach wartime levels.
If so, rightly so.
Americans may not feel it on a day-to-day basis, but their country is the target of global jihadists, some of whom have been committing small-scale killing sprees on US soil, while others are training in the Middle East and honing their skills to execute operations on a grander, more 9/11-type scale.
Still, though Trump, like many other leaders and lay people, seems to consider the group Islamic State to be the world’s bogey man, as al-Qaida used to be viewed, the greater danger is posed by the regime in Tehran and its proxies.
For one thing, unlike the Sunni rogues who like to decapitate people on YouTube, Shiite Iran is an actual country with all that entails, including a place at the proverbial and literal table. What should have been its lowly station in the overall hierarchy of things was lifted to great prominence when the Obama administration and five other governments – those of Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — groveled before its leaders, begging them to agree to a deal to retard their race to a nuclear weapon.
The disastrous end result of this mass genuflection was the acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program through the infusion of billions of dollars into its coffers. Even more unfathomable was what the ultimate agreement — called, oddly, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – included: a clause handing over the responsibility for monitoring activity at Iran’s nuclear facilities to members of its parliament. It would be funny if it weren’t so horrifying. Indeed, the Iranian regime was chuckling, while Israel and others in the West who opposed the JCPOA winced and braced for fallout.
When Trump won the US presidential election in November, however, the ayatollahs suddenly stopped laughing. Touted by all Democrats and many Republicans as crazy, unpredictable and a loose cannon, the real estate mogul and reality TV star who took to Twitter and other platforms to bash his detractors made Tehran extremely nervous. The shift from a White House and State Department characterized by appeasement to America’s enemies – refusing even to name them as Islamists – to an administration headed by someone who declared that it would be necessary to perform extreme vetting of Muslims entering the United States could not have been sharper.
In the lead-up to and since Trump’s inauguration on January 20, Iranian officialdom has been scrambling to figure out the best strategy for dealing with the new leader of the free world – one about whom many Americans continue to say he cannot be trusted with his finger on the nuclear button, due to his volatility and personal petulance.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, for example, was used to belittling former US Secretary of State John Kerry with utter impunity during nuclear negotiations. Today, he and his fellow honchoes have good reason to fear that under Trump and top diplomat Rex Tillerson, such behavior will not fly. What they must now be fretting over is the possibility that it is they who will be kneeling down before an American official and not the other way around.
According to the concept of “marit ayin” in Jewish law, certain permissible actions are prohibited when engaging in them might cause observers to mistake them for violations. The same principle – in reverse – is now going on between Tehran and Washington.
It is sufficient for Trump at this point to be perceived as someone capable of bombing Iran on a whim to make the ayatollahs wary. Ironically, it is his enemies at home who have been persuading the powers-that-be in Iran that they have something concrete to worry about. No wonder they have been alternately saber-rattling and toning down their rhetoric, depending on the day and New York Times headline. Indeed, they seem unable to make up their minds which tactic will serve them in safer stead.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went so far as to pen a letter to Trump on Sunday, urging him to make good on his promise to overhaul America’s “corrupt” political system. In flowery language, Ahmadinejad – who spent his terms in office threatening to wipe Israel off the map and calling the US the “Great Satan” — tried to appeal to Trump on their ostensible shared interests and values. Now there’s a hoot.
What both men surely know is that among the countless differences between them, one that stands out is that the previous Iranian puppet manipulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is a has-been who’s lucky he wasn’t sentenced to death, while Trump is just getting started – by increasing the defense budget.
For this alone, his election will have been worth it.
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.