Commentary Magazine


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.

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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