Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday presented what he described as “an unprecedented offer to Iran.” The Jewish state, he said, seeks to share its environmental expertise with Iran to help resolve the country’s increasingly dire water crisis. The Israeli proposal highlights the abortive – and ultimately self-defeating – policies of the clerical regime, which sabotages its own self-interests by fueling a problem that threatens not only its grip on power, but also the country’s survival.
“Israel stands with the people of Iran. And that is why I want to help save countless Iranian lives,” said Netanyahu in a YouTube video, which he posted days after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted his latest call for Israel’s destruction. However, the prime minister continued, Tehran prevents Israelis from visiting the country, thereby inhibiting collaboration. Consequently, Israel will launch a Farsi-language website explaining how Iranians can “prevent environmental catastrophe.”
Netanyahu’s pitch is aimed at the growing frustration of the Iranian people. Since late December, Iran’s water crisis has served as a major trigger for nationwide protests. And for good reason: Drought has afflicted more than 90 percent of the country, major rivers have dried up, and millions have relocated from the countryside to urban areas following the desiccation of their agriculture. Unemployment has risen precipitously as a result. “Water shortages are acute; agricultural livelihoods no longer sufficient,” stated a 2017 report by the United Nations.
As Netanyahu noted, Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Department of the Environment, has said that failure to resolve the water crisis would require the relocation of 50 million Iranians to ensure their survival. Such a development would spur a massive refugee crisis that would dramatically destabilize the region, making Europe’s refugee crisis seem mild by comparison. Yet Kalantari summarily dismissed Netanyahu’s message, telling him to focus on his own problems.
This snub hardly marks the first time Tehran has rejected the advice of professionals who offer solutions to its existential predicament. In 2017, Tehran appointed Kaveh Madani – a world-renowned, Iranian-born, and Western-educated water expert – as the deputy head of the environment department, charging him with resolving the water crisis. But within months, Madani resigned and left the country after facing spurious charges of espionage. The allegations reflected the paranoid Islamist ideology of Tehran, which fears that Iranians with U.S. or European ties constitute Western agents who seek to subvert the regime from within.
Madani’s fate likely reflects another dynamic: Tehran remains loathe to admit that it harbors primary responsibility for the crisis. In the past, as Madani noted in a 2014 paper, the regime has blamed international sanctions, climate change, and other external factors, but these phenomena merely catalyzed the core, underlying problem: regime mismanagement of Iran’s water resources.
Rather than invest in updated irrigation systems and promote conservation, Iran has spent billions of dollars to finance wars of aggression against its neighbors. Unless Tehran prioritizes the survival of its own people over the endurance of its ideological ambitions, the regime itself risks suffering the same fate as the Iranians it continues to repress on the nation’s streets.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.