Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iran-Israel conflict

Rouhani Begins to Play the West

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

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New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

Though Rouhani is often depicted in the West as a genuine moderate who represents a change in direction from the extreme Islamists that rule Iran, his attempt at a diplomatic opening made it clear that he is as obsessed with anti-Semitic delusions about the Jews as his boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As even the New York Times, whose editorial column has been transformed into a Rouhani fan page in the last two months, noted:

Numerous times during the question-and-answer session, Mr. Rouhani referred to unspecified “warmongering pressure groups” that he accused of confusing the White House at the behest of an unidentified country.

Mr. Rouhani apparently was referring to pro-Israel advocates of strong sanctions against Iran that have publicly praised Congress in recent days for advancing legislation that would greatly intensify the economic consequences on Iran unless it halts uranium enrichment. …

Mr. Rouhani never made any explicit reference to Israel at his news conference. But he said that the interests of “one foreign country” had been imposed on Congress, and that “even the interests of the U.S. are not considered in such actions.”

What Rouhani fails to understand is that opposition to Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the result of manipulation by the so-called “Israel Lobby” but a consensus position that has overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. While Israel is endangered by Iranian nukes, so is the entire West, as well as moderate Arab regimes.

This reliance on the Jewish boogeyman should be a tipoff, even to an Obama administration that urgently seeks an excuse to keep negotiating with Iran after numerous rebuffs and failures, that there is no difference between Rouhani and the rest of the regime.

Rouhani knows that even Obama wouldn’t retreat on the sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy without Tehran starting the process of dismantling its weapons project. But what he wants is to draw the Americans into another series of talks like the P5+1 multilateral negotiations that served only to buy the Iranians another year while the West achieved nothing. Having already participated in one of the earliest negotiating sessions with the West on the issue and successfully ensnaring his counterparts in a compromise agreement that was soon reneged upon, Rouhani knows the object of the game is that so long as Iran keeps talking about talking, the U.S. is hopelessly drawn into the trap.

President Obama may feel bound to test Rouhani’s sincerity, but if he is serious about keeping his word on the nuclear issue, he must set firm limits on the time he is willing to expend on such an experiment in spite of the temptation to keep the process going. As this process begins, the Obama foreign policy team should keep Rouhani’s provocations about Israel in mind. Far from being tangential to their goal of gaining an agreement, they are the tipoff that what will follow won’t be in the interests of the United States.

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Rouhani’s Words and the Truth About Iran

Last Friday’s speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t really tell us much that was new about the man touted by many in the West as a moderate, since it was hardly a surprise to know that he viewed Israel as a “wound” on the Islamic world. But the kerfuffle about the mistake in the translation of his remarks made by Iran’s state-run press service did tell us a lot about those who are so eager to protect that ruse and to heap abuse on those who seek to expose it. Now that Rouhani is sworn in, the impulse to avoid the truth about the nature of the regime and its nuclear program is a significant factor in the struggle to determine what, if anything, the United States will do about the Iranian nuclear threat. The need to preserve the pretense that Rouhani somehow offers a real opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the problem is influencing the way some discussed this incident as well as his subsequent actions.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be much reason to treat the discrepancy between the original translation issued by the semi-official ISNA press agency and its revised article as significant. In both, Rouhani was quoted as telling one of many mass anti-Israel rallies held around Iran last week that Israel was “a wound [or ‘sore’] that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” The only difference was that the incorrect version added the words “which must be removed.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying that it showed that “Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected.” When the correction was issued, many, especially among Israel’s critics on the left, crowed that this showed that Netanyahu and others, such as this site, were wrong about Rouhani and that the willingness to jump on the mistranslation illustrated all that was wrong with those urging Obama to take action on Iran. But none of those who made this point about the mistake took any notice of the fact that even without the added words, having Iran’s new president speaking this way about Israel to anti-Zionist mobs still makes Netanyahu’s point.

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Last Friday’s speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t really tell us much that was new about the man touted by many in the West as a moderate, since it was hardly a surprise to know that he viewed Israel as a “wound” on the Islamic world. But the kerfuffle about the mistake in the translation of his remarks made by Iran’s state-run press service did tell us a lot about those who are so eager to protect that ruse and to heap abuse on those who seek to expose it. Now that Rouhani is sworn in, the impulse to avoid the truth about the nature of the regime and its nuclear program is a significant factor in the struggle to determine what, if anything, the United States will do about the Iranian nuclear threat. The need to preserve the pretense that Rouhani somehow offers a real opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the problem is influencing the way some discussed this incident as well as his subsequent actions.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be much reason to treat the discrepancy between the original translation issued by the semi-official ISNA press agency and its revised article as significant. In both, Rouhani was quoted as telling one of many mass anti-Israel rallies held around Iran last week that Israel was “a wound [or ‘sore’] that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” The only difference was that the incorrect version added the words “which must be removed.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying that it showed that “Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected.” When the correction was issued, many, especially among Israel’s critics on the left, crowed that this showed that Netanyahu and others, such as this site, were wrong about Rouhani and that the willingness to jump on the mistranslation illustrated all that was wrong with those urging Obama to take action on Iran. But none of those who made this point about the mistake took any notice of the fact that even without the added words, having Iran’s new president speaking this way about Israel to anti-Zionist mobs still makes Netanyahu’s point.

Is there a significant difference between saying that Israel’s existence—and not, it should be noted, any specific policy of the Jewish state—is a “sore” or a “wound” on the Islamic world and saying that it is one that should be removed? What, after all, does one do with a sore or a wound except to seek means to remove it or to have it heal and thereby disappear? Indeed, ISNA’s mistake is understandable since the extra words about removal are merely the logical conclusion of the sentence that most of Rouhani’s audience, both in person and on Iranian television, understood even without him uttering the words.

As with previous attempts to parse statements issued by Rouhani’s less presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who also spoke at a similar rally elsewhere in Iran on the same day) or their boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the desire to avoid the obvious conclusion about the vicious hatred of Israel that is promoted by the Islamist regime is unpersuasive. This is a government whose leaders, both the alleged extremists and the alleged moderates, have always denounced Israel’s existence, and which has been a major source of financial support for the efforts of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that seek to translate that wish into action. As an article on the controversy that ran on the New York Times website noted:

Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the far more powerful cleric who rules Iran, have repeatedly predicted that Israel will cease to exist and openly support militant groups that are pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state. In some cases, they have even used language similar to what was falsely attributed to Mr. Rouhani on Friday. “The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off,” Iran’s supreme leader said in a speech last year. “And it definitely will be cut off.”

The fact is, Iran’s apologists would far rather play semantic games about Rouhani’s speech than deal with the reality of Iranian nuclear policy, which, in his inaugural address, the new president reaffirmed. Rouhani said yesterday that neither sanctions nor the threat of war would change the mind of the Iranian leadership on its drive for nuclear capability.

Nor is it really worth our time to play the game once perfected by Kremlinologists during the era of the Soviet Union and to wonder whether Rouhani’s cabinet will really be moderates. Though most appear to be retreads from the administration of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1990s, no one seems capable of showing us why the equally extreme Iran of that era should be regarded as somehow a model for a new period of mutual understanding.

Far more important is the news reported today by the Wall Street Journal that Iran’s nuclear program is also pursuing an alternate track to its uranium enrichment program that could lead to a bomb:

In recent months, U.S. and European officials say, the Tehran regime has made significant advances on the construction of a heavy water reactor in the northwestern city of Arak. A reactor like the one under construction is capable of using the uranium fuel to produce 40 megawatts of power. Spent fuel from it contains plutonium—which, like enriched uranium, can serve as the raw material for an explosive device. India and Pakistan have built plutonium-based bombs, as has North Korea.

The Arak facility, when completed, will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs’ worth of plutonium a year, said U.S. and U.N. officials.

In the face of these facts, the controversy over the translation of Rouhani’s words is exposed as a farce with little meaning. But the willingness of those who are hoping to defuse pressure on Obama to act on Iran to seize on any discrepancy in an already extreme statement by the Iranian leader shows just how much some in the West want to ignore the truth about him and the regime he is part of.

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Iran’s Fake Moderate Shows His True Colors

The constant refrain in the last two months from the foreign policy establishment has been to hail new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate. The winner of that country’s faux democratic election has been depicted in fawning profiles in venues like the New York Times as a pragmatist the West can do business with and someone who should be trusted to cut a deal that would end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though a close look at his biography betrays little that would lead one to believe that he is anything but an ardent believer in the Islamist ideology of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, it has become an article of faith among so-called “realists” that his election was a setback for the hard-liners in Iran that should serve as an opening for more negotiations with the West.

Since his election in a field in which he was supposedly the least fanatic, Rouhani has done nothing to disillusion his legions of Western fans, but while attending a solidarity event with Palestinians he dropped his façade of moderation just long enough to give us a glimpse of his real ideas. What he said was enough to show that the alleged distance between his view and his old friend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not very great after all. The New York Times wrote this earlier today in a story that was taken down from their Website later:

Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. Hassan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel — his country’s archenemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders.

“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA claimed later that they (and not Western editors) had mistranslated Rouhani’s quote and then issued corrections claiming he had merely called Israel a “sore” and had not said it should be removed–though one wonders what he thinks should be done with sores if they are not to be removed. The original Times story was then replaced with a tamer piece. But the argument that the alleged mistranslation should not be used to debunk Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate was undermined by the fact that, as even the revised Times story said, he had denounced Israel “in several books.” The entire affair demonstrates the classic definition of a gaffe: when someone tells the truth about themselves.

Like all the non-moderates whose views we were told he opposes, Rouhani is a purveyor of hatred of Israel. Considering that he is also a supporter of the country’s drive for nuclear weapons, you don’t have to be a hawk or a neocon or even the prime minister of Israel to connect the dots between his beliefs and the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to understand that the conviction that he offers a way out of the nuclear impasse is naive.

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The constant refrain in the last two months from the foreign policy establishment has been to hail new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate. The winner of that country’s faux democratic election has been depicted in fawning profiles in venues like the New York Times as a pragmatist the West can do business with and someone who should be trusted to cut a deal that would end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though a close look at his biography betrays little that would lead one to believe that he is anything but an ardent believer in the Islamist ideology of the regime’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, it has become an article of faith among so-called “realists” that his election was a setback for the hard-liners in Iran that should serve as an opening for more negotiations with the West.

Since his election in a field in which he was supposedly the least fanatic, Rouhani has done nothing to disillusion his legions of Western fans, but while attending a solidarity event with Palestinians he dropped his façade of moderation just long enough to give us a glimpse of his real ideas. What he said was enough to show that the alleged distance between his view and his old friend Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not very great after all. The New York Times wrote this earlier today in a story that was taken down from their Website later:

Ahead of his inauguration, Iran’s new president on Friday called Israel an “old wound” that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to the holy city of Jerusalem. Hassan Rouhani’s remarks about Israel — his country’s archenemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders.

“The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA claimed later that they (and not Western editors) had mistranslated Rouhani’s quote and then issued corrections claiming he had merely called Israel a “sore” and had not said it should be removed–though one wonders what he thinks should be done with sores if they are not to be removed. The original Times story was then replaced with a tamer piece. But the argument that the alleged mistranslation should not be used to debunk Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate was undermined by the fact that, as even the revised Times story said, he had denounced Israel “in several books.” The entire affair demonstrates the classic definition of a gaffe: when someone tells the truth about themselves.

Like all the non-moderates whose views we were told he opposes, Rouhani is a purveyor of hatred of Israel. Considering that he is also a supporter of the country’s drive for nuclear weapons, you don’t have to be a hawk or a neocon or even the prime minister of Israel to connect the dots between his beliefs and the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to understand that the conviction that he offers a way out of the nuclear impasse is naive.

Rouhani’s discussion of remove Israel is pertinent to the question of his country being allowed to possess nuclear weapons in that the existence of the Jewish state is a national obsession in Iran. As the Times notes:

Rouhani spoke at an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking “Al-Quds Day” — the Arabic word for Jerusalem.

Iran does not recognize Israel and has since the 1979 Islamic Revolution observed the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan as “Al-Quds Day.” Tehran says the occasion is meant to express support for Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims. …

Anti-Israeli rallies were held in cities and towns across Iran. In the capital, Tehran, tens of thousands took to the streets, chanting “Down with America” and “Death to Israel.” Some protesters also burned American and Israeli flags.

Outgoing President Ahmadinejad — who was known for vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric while in office, including calls that Israel be destroyed — spoke to the crowds after Friday prayers at the Tehran University campus in his last public speech before his term ends.

“You Zionists planted a wind but you will harvest a storm,” said Ahmadinejad. “A destructive storm is on the way and it will destroy Zionism.”

The later version of the Times story eliminated mention of Ahmadinejad. But their original piece made it clear just how central hatred for Israel and Jews is to the Islamist government’s agenda. It also illustrates the fact that for all of the public relations pabulum we’ve been fed about Rouhani, there is actually very little that separates him from a figure like Ahmadinejad, who is rightly viewed in the West as a fanatic. Though Rouhani might have been the least fanatic member of a hand-picked field of regime supporters who were allowed to run for president, on key issues like Israel and nukes, that is a distinction without a difference.

Though the post Rouhani is inheriting from Ahmadinejad has no real power over foreign policy or the nuclear program, Iran’s small cheering section here, as well as those who just don’t want the West to take action on the nuclear threat, have been inflating his election into a game-changing event. It wasn’t anything of the sort.

The Obama administration has been acting lately as if it is desperate for any excuse to keep talking with Iran even though it knows such negotiations are merely ruses designed to stall the West in order to give the regime’s nuclear program more time to get closer to a bomb. The president has repeatedly promised that he won’t let Iran go nuclear on his watch and many in Washington have hoped that Rouhani offered an opportunity for the president to avoid the necessity of taking action to redeem his pledge. But his verbal attack on Israel demonstrates that his pose of moderation won’t wash.

The Rouhani ruse has already been exploded as a lie. Rather than wasting another year on pointless talks that will achieve nothing, its time for President Obama to draw the only possible conclusion from this incident and tell the Iranians that he means business on the nuclear issue.

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