Sunday, October 30, 2005

More on Iran

This editorial, Contrived Fury, in the Arab News (published in Saudi Arabia - referral from The Religious Policeman) is an interesting comment on the Iranian President's call to "wipe Israel off the map."

The editorial points out that "Four years ago, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, regarded by the West as a moderate, called for the nuclear annihilation of Israel. The West did not blink an eye. Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iran has been consistently and vehemently anti-Israel. The rest of the world has known it and lived with it. It lived with the knowledge because it also knew that Iran was not in a position to wipe Israel off the map and that the words were mere rhetoric from those who wanted to give their people something other than their failures to think about. The rest of the world too has been happy to live with the knowledge that most Muslims and Arabs would prefer that Israel did not exist. But it does exist. It is a question of accepting reality."

As this editorial states, it is not as if the current Iranian President invented the Iranian threats against Israel. And it is interesting the evidence the editorial brings about Rafsanjani, who is the head of the "Expediency Council" in Iran. In a May 25, 2005 article about the upcoming Iranian elections (in which Ahmadinejad was elected), Neil Macfarquhar of the New York Times says, "Mr. Rafsanjani is a staunch supporter of Iran's developing its nuclear capacity for electric power, medical applications and other uses, but says he opposes nuclear weapons. That contrasts with a sermon at a Friday Prayer in 2001, however, in which he suggested that just one nuclear bomb could solve the problem of Israel's threatening the region with its own nuclear arsenal."

This New York Times article describes how western leaders seem to regard Rafsanjani -
Mr. Ahmadinejad's principal rival for power, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president who was defeated by Mr. Ahmadinejad in the election, continues to hold considerable power as leader of the nation's Expediency Council, which was created in 1988 to help resolve contentious legislative issues. The Europeans have been negotiating with envoys loyal to Mr. Rafsanjani for the last two years and hope that they or others like them will re-emerge in the future.

Indeed in the last few weeks, Iran's ruling clerics, who still hold most of the power, have moved to strip the presidency of some of its authority over international diplomacy and hand it over to the Expediency Council under Mr. Rafsanjani. If there is any hope in the West for a diplomatic solution, it thus rests with this turn of events.

Now, since Rafsanjani essentially said the same thing as Ahmadinejad, then why should we be getting particularly upset at what Ahmadinejad just said - it doesn't represent a change in what the Iranian government would like to do. Perhaps the problem is simply, as the Arab News editorial says, that negotiations with the Iranian government over their nuclear weapons development have reached a critical point, and this statement points out once again how radical and dangerous the Iranian regime is.

A few years ago, in the late 1990's, when I had a postdoctoral fellowship at the Society of Fellows at Columbia University, Salman Rushdie came to speak. Rushdie still had to travel secretly and was protected by guards everywhere he went. We were invited to hear him speak by special letters and had to put our names on a list in order to be allowed into the hall where he was speaking. We also were not supposed to tell anyone that we were going to hear him speak, since his visit to New York was supposed to be a secret. When entering the hall, we had to show identification and our bags were searched. His talk was actually a conversation with Edward Said, then professor at Columbia. I also heard him the next day, when he came to the Society of Fellows to speak to graduate students. I knew that he was there because when I tried to enter the building, several NYPD officers were there as the security for Rushdie, and I had to prove that I had a legitimate reason to enter the building.

One thing I remember Rushdie saying - that the Iranian regime tried to present itself as reasonable to people in the West, that on the surface there were people in the regime who tried to present Iran as a regime like any other, but that we should not believe them - the regime was still as radical as under Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the same regime that (probably) ordered the bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community organization building in Argentina. If Iran is today restrained from trying to act out its threats to Israel, that does not mean that given the opportunity, the regime would not try to destroy Israel.

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