Eye on the Middle East Jan/Feb 2014
“Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region.” Or so Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani assured United Nations members in September 2013. His words may have impressed many, but they did not impress Israel.
Rouhani wanted to contrast himself to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who consistently threatened Israel and America with genocide. Elected to the presidency in June 2013, Rouhani offered to “engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks” over the Iranian nuclear program that prompted the West to impose economic sanctions on his country.
Some world leaders labeled his speech a “second ray of hope” that demonstrated “energy and determination” and made a “good day for all committed to political and diplomatic solutions.” U.S. President Barack Obama was even moved to telephone Rouhani. It was the highest level of contact between the United States and Iran since 1979.
Israel, however, was not moved. Unlike the pundits and leaders who focused on Rouhani’s rhetoric, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on Iran’s actions. Thus, when he later took to the UN podium, he called Rouhani a “loyal servant of the regime” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Netanyahu accused Rouhani of paying “lip service to peace, democracy and tolerance,” while offering “meaningless concessions in exchange for lifting sanctions” and retaining “sufficient nuclear material…to race to the bomb at a time it chooses to do so.”
When Iran secretly built underground nuclear facilities, heavy-water reactors, advanced centrifuges, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, it could not have been with the intent to produce electricity, he said. In addition, he used Rouhani’s own words to point out the Iranian’s deception. Rouhani had bragged to the Iranians, “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan.” Netanyahu called Isfahan “indispensable” to Iran’s nuclear program.
Unlike most experts on Middle Eastern policy, Netanyahu understands the Shi’ite principle of taqiyya, which permits a Muslim to lie to enemies, infidels, and non-Muslims with impunity and religious sanction. Rouhani used this principle before his election.
In an interview on Iranian state television, he proudly declared that he and the regime utterly flouted a 2003 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in which it promised to suspend all uranium enrichment and certain other nuclear activities. All Iran did, he said, was merely suspend “ten centrifuges” in the Natanz enrichment facility. “And not a total suspension. Just reduced the yield.” Rouhani admitted that under his watch in 2004, Iran developed yellowcake (a type of uranium concentrate powder) and 3,000 centrifuges.
Netanyahu encouraged the world body to continue strong sanctions, along with considering military action against Iran, because a nuclear Iran endangers not only Israel but the world.
Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution told FOX News he did not like the speech. He said Netanyahu cannot know what Rouhani is thinking and said Israel “would be foolish” to take action quickly. O’Hanlon preferred to “give it a little bit of time.”
The New York Times was more condemning. It called the speech “aggressive, combative, sarcastic and sabotaging diplomacy.” It also said, “It could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress were so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat.”
Less than a month after Rouhani’s speech, Iran met for two days with representatives from the so-called P5+1: United States, Russia, China, France, and United Kingdom (all of whom have permanent seats on the UN Security Council), plus Germany. His goal: to persuade them to lift sanctions.
No one wanted to hear the truth about Hitler in 1938 either. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from signing the Munich Pact, boasting he had achieved “peace in our time.” Yet, within months, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Netanyahu no doubt had this in mind when he courageously told the world he will not allow the same thing to happen to Israel.