He was named Jamshid Daizadeh when he was born in Tehran in 1940. But after moving to New York 15 years later to live with a sister and attend high school, he tired of hearing his name mispronounced. So Jamshid Daizadeh became Jim Daniels.
More than a half-century later, concern for his native land — and for the fate of Israel and the United States — have made him a fierce opponent of nuclear weapons development in Iran.
“My passion is Israel and Judaism,” Daniels reflected as he sat in an armchair in his large Short Hills living room. “Israel is what drives me, and I am involved because Iran is a threat to Israel.”
While Jewish activity has always been an important consideration, as a younger man Daniels devoted most of his time to building his career with Warner Lambert, orchestrating the opening and development of new plants in the pharmaceutical giant’s international division.
But now in retirement, as he and his wife, Diana, enjoy their six children and two grandchildren, he devotes much of his energies to the Jewish community. He calls it “giveback time.”
Daniels chairs the Stop Iran Task Force at the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and is a member of the national council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
When he left Iran in 1955, “there was relative freedom for the Jews,” he said. “The shah was a dictator, but I’d call him a ‘benevolent dictator.’ His regime was corrupt but his heart was in the right place. He was trying to Westernize the country.”
In these and other matters, Daniels is happy to air positions some may find controversial.
“The world is not ready for democracy,” he said. “That is why there is such a mess in the Middle East. We have to pick and choose among dictators who can run their countries and are friendly to us. Dictators are oppressive. But the shah was friendly to Jews and had a great relationship with Israel. I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of the shah, but he was one of the dictators we had as a friend.”
When clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the shah in 1979, “it was a disaster. It was terrible for the Jews and terrible for Israel,” Daniels said.
“Iran now is dangerous. Iran wants to be the dominant force in the Middle East like it used to be. People like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are fanatics,” he said.
‘Hit and run’
Daniels said he is “trying to create a sense of urgency” around the possibility of a nuclear Iran. “A year or two years from now might be too late. Things are being done very slowly. Creating these sanctions has taken so long and the development of Iranian nuclear weapons is nearing completion,” he said.
Despite the beefed-up measures passed overwhelmingly June 24 in both houses of Congress, Daniels believes more should be done. “It is not enough to have sanctions,” he said. “It is the enforcement of sanctions that is important, and we are not paying enough attention to that.”
And if sanctions fail, said Daniels, “it may be necessary to have a military blockade.” But he fears that military action “is not a good story for Israel. If Israel feels Iran is very close to creating nuclear bombs, it has to make a costly decision: Is it better to destroy the facilities in Iran and pay a high price for that with counterattacks from Hizbullah and Hamas — which have enough power and enough rockets to create a real mess — or should they just live with a nuclear armed Iran” which “could give dirty bombs to Al-Qaida and all of these terrorist organizations?”
Should that moment come, Daniels said, he is anxious to ensure that “not everything is blamed on Israel. We have to remember Israel is not the true target of Iran; America is the ‘big Satan.’”
He fears the United States could become embroiled in a war against Iran, even as it is bogged down in the battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will mean a bigger mess,” he said. “But the question is, do we lie down and play dead?”
If it does come down to an American military response in Iran, Daniels said, he advocates a “hit-and-run” approach.
The United States “should try to destroy the nuclear facilities and get out. Israel cannot handle it by itself. Israel is basically like a sprinter in wars. It doesn’t have staying power. There is a limit to the armaments it has. It is a small country.”
Daniels said the Iranians have “spread their facilities out under mountains and in bunkers. Israel does not have the power by itself. It can do first strikes, but it needs the U.S. government.”
Is such a scenario inevitable?
“I hope not,” he said. “But we are reaching that point. We have to be ready for it, but I am not smart enough to say what is inevitable.”