Commentary Magazine


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.

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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