A common problem that Israel faces on the international stage is that when many people frame the conflict, they do so in narratives friendly to the Palestinian position. Often, these narratives are based on myths of Arab attachment to the land of Palestine or exaggerations of Palestinian suffering. A similar adoption of dangerous narratives that undermine western interests can be seen in the case of the overthrow of Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953 and the reinstitution of the Shah at that time. In the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs, Ray Takeyh has an article on what actually took place in Iran between the time Mosaddeq assumed the premiership and the time we was overthrown.
A summary of the prevailing narrative surrounding the overthrow of Mosaddeq is as follows:
- Mosaddeq nationalized Iran's hydrocarbon resources.
- Britain perceived Iran's hydrocarbons as belonging to Britain and thus categorized Mosaddeq's nationalization as theft.
- Britain, with assistance from the United States, organized a coup from among the Iranian military to reinstall the Shah who would restore Britain's rightful property.
The first element in the narrative is accurate. The second element is partly true: the British did resent losing possession of Iran's hydrocarbon resources. However, Britain was prepared to compromise with the Mosaddeq regime, although one might argue that Britain had no right to any role in Iran's hydrocarbon production whatsoever.
The third part is more complicated. Britain did exert pressure on Iran in order to effect leverage in its negotiations over hydrocarbons, such as by cutting Iran off from exporting to the global oil market. However, Britain and the United States did not organize the forces that implemented the coup. Rather, partially affected by Britain's pressure tactics, Iran hit economic hard times leading to discontent among all sectors of the population, including the military and the clerical establishment. Mosaddeq responded to this discontent with authoritarianism. Eventually, the shah stepped in and used his constitutional authority to dismiss Mosaddeq, to which Mosaddeq responded by having the agents delivering the notice of dismissal arrested. It was at this point that the military, with the full support of the clerical establishment that now rails against American meddling, stepped in and removed Mosaddeq by force.
Just as apologizing and accepting an exaggerated share of the blame for America's role in the ousting Mosaddeq strengthens the hand of those who wish us ill, so does apologizing and accepting an exaggerated amount of responsibility for Israeli actions undertaken during wartime strengthen the hand of those who would wish Israel ill. A case in point is the story of what happened in Lydda, at the site of present-day Lod, during Israel's War of Independence. According to My Promised Land by Ha'aretz editorial board member Ari Shavit, what took place was a massacre. However, Martin Kramer investigated the sources Shavit cited and concluded that the events in Lydda were not as clear-cut (h/t EoZ).
In Shavit's telling, the Palmach battalion that conquered Lydda
- quickly occupied the center of the city
- used the small mosque as a detention center which they subsequently fired a tank shell on killing the unarmed detainees inside
- soldiers went through the city with machine guns shooting anything that moved killing 200 people
- took a group of eight Arabs to bury the corpses after subduing Lydda and killed those eight after they buried those who died in the battle
However, Kramer's investigation reveals information at odds with Shavit's account. Among Kramer's findings:
- On the night after the Palmach began its incursion into Lydda, it still had not penetrated the city limits where the small mosque was located
- According to the battalion commander, the small mosque was a source of fire upon his troops
- As the soldiers went through the streets of Lydda, they encountered hostile fire and took whatever defensive measures were deemed necessary
- At least one Arab who participated in burying the dead from the battle gave an interview about doing so afterwards.
If Shavit's account was accurate, it would be something we would need to account for and it would be a major propaganda boost to those who attack our legitimacy. However, with compelling, even if not definitive, evidence that Shavit's conclusion is not accurate, we should not apologize as if Shavit's allegations are true.
Update: Initially this post omitted the 'not' from the final sentence "... that Shavit's conclusion is not accurate, we should not apologize as if ..." The correction reflects what I intended to say.