Iran's New Anti-Israel 'Rage'

October 28, 2005
New York Post
Amir Taheri

The new president of the Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has radically changed a key aspect of Iran's regional policy by committing his administration to the destruction of Israel. In a speech Wednesday, Ahmadinejad described Israel as "a stain of shame that has sullied the purity of Islam," and promised that it would be "cleansed very soon." All nations that establish ties with Israel, he warned, would burn "in the fires of our Islamic rage."

Ahmadinejad was not simply carried away by his rhetoric: He was inaugurating "A World Without Zionism" — a week of special events in thousands of mosques, schools, factories, offices and public squares, dedicated to mobilizing popular energies against the Jewish state.

Smaller versions of the exercise took place in Syria and Lebanon, countries where Iran exerts much political influence — and, more surprisingly, in Afghanistan, where a group of newly-elected members of Parliament joined the Iranian ambassador in a special "Death to Israel" ceremony.

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhl-Allah and Yasser Hurryiah, a leader of the Syrian Ba'ath Party, spoke at an Iranian-sponsored event and endorsed Tehran's new tough line on Israel. Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Lebanese branch of the Hezbollah movement, reflected Tehran's new policy in a message of his own in which, for the first time, he called for the liberation of "the whole of Palestine."

For the next week or so, special registers will remain open in thousands of schools across Iran to enable "volunteers for martyrdom" to put down their names for the coming "Holy War." The Iranian branch of Hezbollah claims it has enrolled 11,300 would-be suicide-martyrs for operations against the United States and its allies, especially Israel and Britain.

Hostility to Israel has been a key ingredient of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy since its inception in 1979. But the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini was always careful not to promise anything on Israel that he couldn't deliver. And while his regime could make life difficult for the Jewish state (largely by recruiting, training, arming and financing Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas), total destruction required the full participation of Israel's Arab neighbors, especially Egypt and Syria.

Khomeini's anti-Israeli stance was largely opportunistic — a means of wooing the Arabs who, being mostly Sunnis, regarded the ayatollah's Shiite revolution with suspicion.

He also knew that Israel's presence represented a kind of insurance for Iran's own security. For, had Israel not been there to become the focus of Arab rage, Iran might have gotten that role. After all, many Arab dictators, including Iraq's Saddam Hussein, often spoke of dismembering Iran and "liberating" the Iranian province of Khuzestan (which they dubbed "Arabistan").

In the 1980s, Saddam's eight-year-long war against Iran (with the support of all Arab states except Syria and Lebanon) helped further tone down the new regime's hostility toward Israel. And when it was revealed that Israel had been shipping urgently needed anti-tank missiles to Iran to stop Iraqi armored attacks in 1985-86, many in Tehran wondered whether Iran and Israel did not, after all, face the same enemies.

But with the war's end in 1988, the mullahs reverted to their original anti-Israel posture. For years, the Islamic Republic waged a proxy war against Israel via the Lebanese Hezbollah and several Tehran-financed radical Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad.

Yet Ahmadinejad has gone several steps further — presenting the destruction of Israel as a major goal of his government. Why?

One reason may be his desire to distance himself as far as possible from his predecessor, Muhammad Khatami, and from Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful mullah-cum-businessman who still heads a key faction within the regime.

Ahmadinejad has criticized the "softness" of Khatami and his mentor Rafsanjani, which led to "a decline in revolutionary spirit." Thus the new stand on Israel may be part of a package of measures to revive the regime's original radical message.

Another reason may be Ahmadinejad's belief that Israel is preparing to attack Iran's nuclear sites as part of a broader U.S. plan against the Islamic Republic. He may thus be trying to mobilize Iranian and Arab public opinion for the coming showdown.

But the real reason for Ahmadinejad's Jihadist outburst may well be his deep conviction that it is the historic mission of the Islamic Republic to lead the Muslim world in a "war of civilization" against the West led by the United States. One of the first battlegrounds of such a war would be Israel.

Since his election in June, Ahmadinejad and his "strategic advisers" have used a bellicose terminology as part of their program to put Iran on a war footing. In the past few weeks, the regime has been massively militarized with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ahmadinejad's main power-base, seizing control of almost all levers of power.

According to Gen. Salehi, one of Ahmadinejad's military advisers, a clash between the Islamic Republic and the United States has become inevitable. "We must be prepared," Salehi says. "The Americans will run away, leaving their illegitimate child [i.e., Israel] behind. And then Muslims would know what to do."

The war talk has given the Iranian economy the jitters, prompting the biggest crash ever of the Tehran Stock Exchange.

Remarkably, the new foreign policy aimed at provoking war with Israel and America has never been properly debated in the parliament, or even within the Cabinet. Some of Iran's senior diplomats, speaking anonymously, say they, too, have not been consulted.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.