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The Iranian Regime and its Ambitions

March 23, 2008
Dr. Eran Lerman
It is naive, or worse, to assume that Ahmadinejad can transform himself into an honest partner: Millions of people paid with their lives for past mistakes of a similar sort. A remarkable parade of high-level visitors has graced Israel’s shores over the last couple of weeks: first, and far from least, AJC’s Board of Governors; then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who brought no fewer than eight of her ministers with her, for a unique, unprecedented session of the Israeli and German governments.

Then U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney and Republican Senator (and presidential candidate) John McCain, accompanied by two other senators, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. More are coming, and Israel’s sixtieth year is fast turning into the busiest ever in terms of international guests paying their respects. Directly or indirectly, their visits undermine the delegitimization campaign launched against the Zionist idea. If Canada, France, and others hold firm, it may well be the Durban Conference, not Israel, which will end up being delegitimized. This is not a trivial matter at this point in time.

Surely, many if not all of these visitors came carrying a message to Ehud Olmert’s government about the need to sustain the “peace process” (in its present paltry state, it barely justifies capitalization) and to abstain from large-scale action in Gaza with all its consequences—as if Israel, and not Hamas, needed a polite lecture from its friends on these matters. But this company of callers does give Israel an opportunity, at a delicate moment, to address the one issue that continues to dominate all others in the minds of its leaders and people alike: namely, the Iranian regime and its nuclear ambitions.

We are talking about the regime, and not the Persian people as such: At this time of Purim, it is worth remembering that while some 2,500 years ago things did come to a pretty pass between the proud but exiled Jews and elements of the Persian imperial elite, for most of the intervening period there was little in the way of hostility and much in the way of common interests between the two peoples. (And from the late 1950s until 1979, there were common interests between Iran and Israel, as they faced together the challenge posed by Soviet-supported Arab radicalism.)

It is the revolutionary distortion of the Shi’a faith, as preached by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomieni and his successors, that has turned the regime in Tehran into a mortal enemy, not only of Israel but of the Jewish people (except, perhaps, those Jews whose blind hatred of Zionism threw them into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s arms).

This may be a good point in time to refocus our attentions on the regime’s nuclear program, for several reasons:

Indications are mounting that the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was simply wrong—not merely misguided in terms of presentation and reasoning—when it asserted that Iran had ceased work on nuclear weapon design.

It was not a very weighty matter to begin with: As the American intelligence community readily recognized, it is the acquisition of fissile material, rather than the tooling of bomb parts, that inhibits a military project. But if there is evidence that even on this matter there is no reason to acquit Iran, then the urgency of decisions and actions once again comes to the fore.
Moreover, the international community, as UNSCR 1803 indicated, is gathering around a denunciation of Iranian conduct. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) failed to give the Iranians a “clean bill of health,” much as its chairperson would have wanted to do so. Moreover, as Merkel said in Jerusalem this week, it now up to Iran to prove that it harbors no military intent, rather than up to the international community to prove that it does.

Some European leaders have openly questioned the NIE; France is solidly in support of a firm stand. Switzerland, alone in Europe (even the Austrians, stung by Jewish reactions, are showing some caution), has decided to reverse the global trend and make hay—and a quick franc—while the oily sun shines. This exception suddenly reminds us that this is, by now, unacceptable behavior in many other quarters.

(The Swiss foreign minister may be surprised to learn what this conduct has earned her country in terms of Arab anger: It is Iran, not Israel, which today unites much of the official Arab world in fear and loathing, and the attitude toward Tehran’s allies in Damascus, Lebanon, and Gaza reflects this new fault line.)

Even more significant, in terms of possible outcomes, has been the sad but not surprising results of the Majlis (parliamentary) elections in Iran. A situation has now emerged whereby effective political power in Iran is held in inverse proportion to the actual social base of the competing groups—and the violent radicals, the revolutionaries who are ridiculously referred to as “ultra-conservatives,” have won the day.

Their aggressive populism and messianic message, which almost by definition rule out any prospect of successful negotiations (yes, they will gladly sit at the table—but to gain time, not to compromise on the essence!) enabled them to consolidate power in the hands of President Ahmadinejad and his supporters. The “regular” radicals (or plain “conservatives,” in the media’s misguided categorization) came in second, indicating that their warning that Ahadinejad’s tactics would lead to a clash with the West did not frighten enough Iranians.

Third, reduced by deliberate policies that barred most of their candidates in advance, came the reformers, who probably have broad support in the public at large, but no prospect of translating it into power unless they choose to face violence (and they do not). Finally, there is the great disappointed mass of the people, who could care less about the revolution in general and grieve to see their country on its present course, but have no political or legal means to raise their voices.
There were hopes until recently (as discussed in a significant article in the New York Review of Books) that the Majlis elections would provide a setback to Ahmadinejad and his faction and thus an opportunity for the “Supreme Leader” and some “pragmatic” elements to change course and negotiate in good faith about the bomb. But not so with the existing team, which thrives on a strategy of defying America, despising the West, dominating the region—and wanting to destroy Israel.

It is naïve, or worse, to assume that Ahmadinejad can transform himself into an honest partner: Millions of people paid with their lives for past mistakes of a similar sort. It is now high time, even amidst the turmoil of the global markets (and perhaps because of what a nuclear Iran could mean in a fragile world economy) to look squarely at reality and to begin sorting out the options, unpleasant as some of them may be.

SOURCE:OMEDIA - Dr. Eran Lerman, Director, Israel/Middle East Office

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