Friday, February 24, 2006

A Loose Cannon in Tehran

Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz:
After the crude declarations by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the Holocaust and the need for wiping Israel off the map, one of Israel's intelligence chiefs said wryly: "We've succeeded. Our best candidate was elected president of Iran."

Indeed, there has been no factor more inimical recently to Iran in Western public opinion than Ahmadinejad's statements. He has provided additional proof of the danger of a nuclear Iran. Many people are asking why the president of Iran came out with these statements, especially when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States and Europe are on the eve of a decision to bring up the issue of the Iranian atom before the United Nations Security Council.

What is spurring Ahmadinejad? Experts on Iran are saying that the crude declarations have been aimed at distracting public opinion at home from the economic troubles there. This is simplistic. Official sources in Turkey, who are knowledgeable about what happens in Iran, say that Ahmadinejad feels that the revolution that began with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's rise to power is sinking. The young generation, suffering from deep unemployment, is moving away from revolutionary values and looking outward. Ahmadinejad has decided, therefore, that a confrontation with the West will lead to the solidarity of the Iranian people and a return to the roots of the revolution.

In conversations with Iranians I have heard another explanation, suggesting Ahmadinejad is trying to create for himself the status of a major leader in the Muslim world. His declarations are aimed, first and foremost, at the Muslim world. The Iranians have concluded that the Arab public, even in countries that have made peace with Israel, is for the most part hostile to Israel, and Ahmadinejad is popular among this public. These Iranians say that in Iran, in fact, there is criticism of Ahmadinejad. It hasn't appeared in the press but is prevalent in political and academic circles. It has been expressed, inter alia in the statement: "Ahmadinejad has forgotten that he is no longer the mayor of Tehran and that he was elected president of Iran." READ MORE

The Iranians say Ahmadinejad lacks experience and that his approach to foreign affairs is extremely simplistic. In 2001, before he was elected president, Ahmadinejad came out with an embarrassing and tell-tale declaration related to former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Germany had complained about the arrest and trial of Iranians from the reform movement after they had spoken at a conference in Berlin. Because of this, the chancellor postponed his visit to Tehran. Ahmadinejad responded: "The German mentality is exactly the same mentality that existed during Hitler's era."

His statement was published in the Iranian press. At that time Ahmadinejad was one of the heads of the Islamic engineers' federation. His views and behavior did not change even when he was elected president. His crude and threatening declarations concerning Israel and the Jews in general are now repeating themselves. Iranian experts say that Ahmadinejad has full independence on domestic issues, but apparently he coordinates everything relating to sensitive foreign policy issues and atomic affairs with the Iranian leadership. Every move is very precisely worked out in Tehran.

From Israel's perspective, it makes no difference what exactly Ahmadinejad's motives have been. What is crucial is such a person is liable to have his finger on the trigger of nuclear weaponry in a religious, fanatic country. This regime makes declarations that have not been heard since Hitler's era. Had the shah of Iran tried to develop nuclear weapons, Israel would not have been pleased, but its reaction would, no doubt, have been entirely different.