Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined his agenda for his trip to New York for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations this month. Netanyahu will hope to remind both his American ally and the international community of the nuclear threat from Iran and, as the New York Times reports, restated a four point plan that would take the world back from the brink of a confrontation:
Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran must stop enriching uranium, remove enriched uranium from the country, close its nuclear plant near Qum and stop what he called “the plutonium track.”
“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office.
Netanyahu’s right that these are exactly the measures needed to ensure that Iran really is stopped from developing a nuclear weapon but the chances of this argument getting much of a hearing next week are slim and none. Even if Netanyahu brings cartoon characters in costume with him to the U.N. podium to illustrate the imminent danger of Iran’s growing stockpile of refined uranium as well as their plutonium alternative in a follow-up to the cartoon red line straight out of Wiley Coyote’s Acme catalogue that he drew last year, it’s almost certain he will be overshadowed by the appearance of the West’s great hope for peace with Iran: the Islamic regime’s new President Hassan Rouhani. Though evidence of Rouhani’s alleged moderation is still lacking, the contrast with his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so great that many in the media and official Washington are starting to speak of him as an Iranian version of Bobby Kennedy. With Rouhanimania in full bloom in New York, the Israeli insistence on telling the truth about Tehran’s intentions and the need for the West to not get suckered into another round of dead-end negotiations with the Iranians will make Netanyahu appear to be a party-pooper.
Full credit should be given to Iran for doing everything possible to feed the Rouhanimania of a Western foreign policy establishment and media eager to help President Obama back down from his repeated promises to stop Iran. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the real boss of Iran, Supreme Leader Grant Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed Rouhani’s outreach by saying it was time for “heroic leniency.” The regime also freed 11 political prisoners in an effort to weaken the critique of Iran’s appalling human rights policy.
But the main centerpiece of the Iranian charm offensive remains Rouhani, a veteran Islamist who was one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s foot soldiers and later served as part of the country’s security apparatus when it began sponsoring international terrorism such as the attack on the Jewish communal building in Buenos Aires, Argentina that took the lives of 85 persons. Rouhani has exchanged letters with President Obama and has become the almost obsessive focus of many in the West on the idea that Iran is about to change its policies. As I wrote yesterday, Rouhani’s statements about accepting Syria’s wishes about its future and offer of closing one of its nuclear facilities are being interpreted as signs that his presidency can provide a reset of relations with Iran.
While prisoner release and nuclear reactor shutdowns would be welcome, those who buy into Rouhanimania need to understand whom it is they are dealing with and put his strategy into the context of Iran’s long-term goals.
Permitting Rouhani to run in the fake presidential election that Iran held was a masterstroke by Khameini. Though a rigid Islamist tyrant, he seems to have a grasp of international public opinion. Allowing Ahmadinejad to become the public face of Iran around the world was a terrible mistake. The former Iranian president’s public embrace of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial made it easier for Westerners to understand just how brutal the Islamist state really is. Removing him from the picture and replacing him with someone that can be represented as a moderate who desires peace changes nothing of substance in Tehran but it is just the excuse to embark on a new round of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration desired.
As long as Rouhani surrenders nothing of value to the West — including its right to pursue nuclear capability — he will serve a useful purpose for a regime that has suffered from the international sanctions applied against it in recent years. But those who buy into Rouhanimania need to understand that his goal is the lifting of those sanctions, not stepping back Iran’s sponsoring of international terrorism, ceasing its military intervention in the Syrian civil war or giving up its nuclear options. Moreover, as long as he keeps the West engaged in diplomacy there is no chance the U.S. or Israel will be able to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before it is too late.
It may be too much to hope for the U.S. to see through this charade but these are points to remember as we watch Rouhani become everyone’s favorite Iranian in the UN media crush.