Iranians are in denial on Israel
The Islamic media insists that Ahmadinejad never called for the destruction of Israel. They are wrong
Addressing the Knesset last month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a number of hard-hitting statements. Those of you who pay attention to the Islamic media will know that, of these, the ones that have caused most consternation pertained to Iran.
Gordon Brown declared that the UK would "continue to lead, with the US and our European partners, in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons programme". Tehran, he said, must abandon its nuclear programme or face "growing isolation". He warned of further sanctions against Iran if its government did not heed this warning and condemned as abhorrent Iranian president Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
What precisely has caused outrage in the Islamic media, however, is not Dr Brown's posturing against Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government is in fact enjoying the merry game it has been playing so skilfully against the West - delay, procrastination, lying and half-lying. Meanwhile, its nuclear programme has proceeded apace, and if this programme is not really as advanced as Iranian propaganda would have us believe, the necessary research and development seems, nonetheless, to be moving in the right direction. More sanctions - if they come - will have little if any effect.
In any case, if Russia and China were prepared to veto sanctions against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, how much more likely are they to come to the rescue of Iran should the UN security council be asked to vote on this matter?
No. What caused outrage in the Islamic media was not the empty threat of punitive sanctions against Iran. It was Gordon Brown's reference to the Iranian ambition to wipe Israel "off the map".
This phrase first surfaced in the course of remarks alleged to have been made by the then newly-elected President Ahmadinejad at a "World without Zionism" conference held in the Iranian capital in October 2005. But did the president actually say that Israel should be "wiped off the map"?
Amongst experts in Farsi there is a sharp division of opinion as to whether he did. Appearing on a TV panel discussion earlier this year, I was confronted with an Iranian sympathiser who was adamant that the words were not used. What the Iranian president actually did (I was told) was merely to express the hope that in time Israel would somehow wither away: all President Ahmadinejad was calling for was regime change in Israel - perhaps the peaceful replacement of a Jewish state by a binational one. He most certainly does not (I was reassured) envisage the military destruction of the Jewish state - a prospect against which even Beijing and Moscow would rebel.
Well, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs has just published on its website an authoritative study - What Iranian Leaders Really Say About Doing Away with Israel - which sets the record straight. The author, Dr Joshua Teitelbaum, is a leading authority on the politics of the Gulf region, holding posts at both Tel Aviv and Stanford universities. The evidence he has assembled - which reproduces the original Farsi alongside the English translation - is chilling. For example:
"In the Middle East the global powers have created a black and filthy microbe called the Zionist regime" (Ahmadinejad, February 20, 2008, reported on his own website).
"The countdown has begun for the destruction of the Zionist regime" (the Speaker of the Iranian parliament, February 2008).
"Israel should be wiped off the face of the world" (these words appear, in Farsi and English, on a banner at the entrance to the offices of a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard).
As Dr Teitelbaum notes, what we are witnessing in Iran is the wholesale demonisation of the Jewish state, and demands that it be obliterated - literally - through an act of genocide. Make no mistake. With a range of 1,300 kilometres President Ahmadinejad's Shahab 3 missile, armed with a nuclear warhead, could easily strike at Israel. As former President Rafsanjani has said, "even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth, but would only do damage to the Islamic world".
It is the revelation of the truth of this intention that has caused such embarrassment and anger in Iran. But for us the message is unmistakable: prevention is always better than cure, and the physical destruction of Iran's nuclear capability now would, with all its inevitable repercussions, be preferable to an alternative that barely merits contemplation.