You may have seen the award winning movie “Argo,” which tells the story of the US diplomats rescued from Tehran, Iran. For Major M., a deputy commander in the IDF Intelligence Corps, watching the film struck particularly close to home.
M. was born in one of the Jewish neighborhoods in Tehran, and currently serves as a Major in the IDF. Between these two periods lies an incredible life story: a difficult childhood in post-Islamic Revolution Iran, a difficult and intense journey to Israel and a successful military career. Thanks to his connection to the Iranian culture and language, M. has has pioneered the use of Persian in the IDF Intelligence Corps.
Jewish in Iran
M.’s story begins in a Jewish neighborhood in Tehran. He was the youngest child of four siblings, and his father was one of the leaders of the Jewish community. When he was two years old, the Islamic revolution took place in Iran. “Because of the revolution, the fear of the upcoming war with Iraq and the possibility of being recruited, my brother decided to move to Israel,” he says. “My whole family went to visit him there. We said our goodbyes and went back to Iran.”
The turning point for M. was at school. He studied in a Jewish school that was supervised by Muslim inspectors. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s famous quote, “Israel should be wiped off the map” was sprayed on his school wall. It bothered M. so much that one night he decided to scrape the quote off the wall. The next day, the principal beat him in front of the whole school as punishment for his “anti-Islamic” act. That was the last straw, and M. and his family realized that their lives could not go on in Iran. They decided to move to Israel, but this was harder than it seemed.
During that time, Jewish families could not leave Iran all together, even on vacation. Someone would have to stay behind–so M’s father remained in Tehran. The situation became like a scene from the movie “Argo”–M’s family members arrived at the airport separately in order to avoid suspicion. They couldn’t fly directly to Israel, so they had to stop in a different country on the way. “We didn’t feel safe the whole flight. We were able to calm down only after the plane landed,” M. says. From the airport, the family went directly to the Israeli embassy, and after two stressful weeks they finally boarded a plane to Israel.
Meanwhile, M’s father was still in Tehran, and being an important part of the Jewish community, he was able to help many Jews escape from Iran. For the course of a whole year, M’s father tried escaping himself. He even forged a passport with a fake name but was turned in and arrested. “They beat him up, and he only managed to get away by bribing them… He was very lucky,” M. says.
After this unfortanate experience, M’s father escaped to a neighboring country with a group of Bedouin traders, and after weeks of walking through the desert, camel riding, hiding in the back of vans and a series of flights, he finally made it to Israel.
The Persian Language in the IDF
Eventually, M. was recruited to the IDF and his first job was to translate intelligence material from Persian (the official language of Iran) into Hebrew. After a few years he became an officer, and for the past 15 years he has been a commander in departmants relevant to his skills.
In 2004, M. began conducting Persian language training in the IDF Intelligence Corps. Around that time, the importance of Persian intelligence was increasing, while the amount of soldiers who knew Persian was decreasing. Using his knowledge of the Persian language and culture, M. developed a six month training course that would teach 18-year-old soldiers who didn’t know a single word in Persian everything they needed to know. “It was revolutionary. There was no longer a limit of soldiers who knew Persian. We could train 10 soldiers or 100, or even more according to our needs.”
M. continued to command in other intelligence courses, until he finally became a commander in the course that he had created. “As someone who was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel, I feel great pride in training other officers who work to understand Iran,” M. says.
Major M. has one big dream for the future: “to someday be [Israel’s] military attache in Tehran.”
This article has been reprinted with the permission of the IDF Blog.