The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohammad Ali Jaafari, made headlines on July 25 with his announcement that Iran “will surely strike” Israel with missiles in the event of an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities. His comments ensued on a July 17 AP report that Iran was blocking access by IAEA inspectors to expanded uranium-enrichment operations at Natanz. The possibility of Iran diverting low-enriched uranium from IAEA-monitored storage there is considered a key indicator that warhead development may be in progress. Less remarked by Western media is the consistency of Jaafari’s warning with the long series of threats against Israel from Iranian officials.
Regular army commander Ataollah Salehi proclaimed in a TV interview in May 2009 that in the event of an Israeli strike, Iran would not need “more than 11 days to wipe Israel out of existence.” In July 2008 a senior cleric in Ayatollah Khamenei’s circle, Mojtaba Zolnour, promised to destroy Israel and 32 U.S. military bases in the region if Iran’s facilities were attacked. Guard Commander Jaafari himself swore in February 2008, after the assassination of Imad Mugniyah, that “the cancerous bacterium called Israel” would vanish soon. In November 2006, Manouchehr Mottaki, then Iran’s foreign minister, called on an OIC gathering to destroy Israel and restore the people of “occupied Palestine” to power. At his October 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously said Israel must be “wiped off the map” and that “anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”
Jaafari’s appointment as Guard commander demonstrated another pattern that was repeated on Friday with Ahmadinejad’s choice for the office of first vice-president. In 2007, Jaafari, a hard-liner and protégé of Khamenei, replaced a predecessor who had not taken a sufficiently tough stance against Israel and the U.S. Ahmadinejad’s recent pick for first vice-president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, offended hard-liners on the Guardian Council in 2008 when he made friendly comments about Israel. Ahmadinejad was forced to dismiss him on July 24, after a week of holding out against Khamenei’s demands.
The same Iranian patterns continue in spite of the Obama administration’s rejection of preconditions and the proclamation of a new era in relations. Tehran has at least noticed the Obama rhetoric. The mullah’s regime found time in June to send a letter to the IAEA complaining that U.S. protestations have so far been meaningless:
A certain country is publicizing that there is a drastic change in its foreign policy, pursuant to the world’s concern about the creation of conflicts and war in all over the world [sic]. There was an announcement of change and compensation of the past mistakes. Today, having listened to the US statement, we are witnessing that there is no change in policies and actions vis-à-vis the IAEA.
There seems to be a lot of that going around.