“Since they took over 30 years ago; when the regime acquired rocks, they stoned our women; when they acquired rope they hung our men; when they acquired guns they used them on our streets, when they acquired technology they spied on our children; does anyone doubt what this illegitimate regime would do if it acquired nuclear weapons?”
These words were delivered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s press conference convened after President Ahmadinejad’s speech at the opening of the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference by Roozbeh Farahanipour, a former law student in Tehran, who graduated with honors from Iranian prisons where he was tortured for his student activism. Now based in Los Angeles, the democracy advocate is pleading with President Obama to finally deploy sanctions that still might thwart the Mullahs from going nuclear.
Meanwhile in New York, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proved once again that no one does “chutzpah” better than he, and nowhere does he do it better than at the United Nations.
Last year, serial human rights abuser “Wipe Israel from the Map” Ahmadinejad keynoted the UN Human Rights Council’s Durban II Conference in Geneva. At another appearance at the General Assembly in New York, he flirted with Holocaust Denial and boasted about Tehran’s 9,000 nuclear centrifuges, making fissionable material in contravention of International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) rules and UN Security Council resolutions.
Now, given the spotlight as the only head of state to attend the opening session of the UN’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference, the irrepressible Iranian president castigates the “Zionist regime” with “acts of terror” and claims that the US and Israel have created “major terrorist networks” that threaten the world with nuclear blackmail.
Indeed, even before the opening gavel, came word of a significant victory for Iran. Egypt, Tehran’s historic Mideast archrival, which fears and loathes a nuclear Iran, has already telegraphed it will seek to spin the nuclear forum’s focus onto Israel. Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz told reporters last week that “Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone.” Egypt’s working paper was to urge NPT members to “renew their resolve to undertake, individually and collectively, all necessary measures aimed at . . . the accession by Israel to the Treaty as soon as possible as a non-nuclear weapon state.”
Worse still, there are hints that the US may follow up Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller demand last year that Israel go public about its defensive nuclear arsenal and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would break 40 years of US policy not to paint Israel as the Mideast’s atomic bad guy at the very moment Tehran is planning its nuclear breakout.
US emboldening Iran
Behind their public anti-Israel bluster, Arab leaders privately tell us they’re losing sleep not because of the Jewish state but because of the real-time nuclear threat unfolding next door in Iran - which, they fear, America lacks the resolve to stop.
Lee Smith in his new book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, argues that the key to understanding the Mideast mindset is captured by this Osama Bin Laden statement: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” Witnessing North Korea’s and Iran’s defiance of the US - as well as the Obama Administration’s hint it may join demands that Israel unilaterally surrender its nuclear deterrent -Egyptians, Saudis, Kuwaitis and other regional players may use anti-Israel rhetoric to hide their real purpose of distancing themselves from a weakened “American horse” and prepare to develop their own nuclear arsenals.
While Mideast proliferation is surely not the purpose of Obama’s new “soft diplomacy,” Washington’s delayed, watered down, and ineffective sanctions program, coupled with diplomatic signals more designed to pressure Israel than Iran, serve only to embolden, not rein in, Tehran.
Israel’s commitment not to threaten the region with nuclear attack or blackmail has been unwavering for over 40 years. In the 1960s, Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nasser pledged to secure “atomic weapons at any costs” and threatened to “drive Israel into the sea.” The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was the result. Rather than wait around to see if Nasser was serious about getting atomic weapons, Israel developed its own deterrent nuclear capacity, pledging never to be the first to introduce nukes in the region. It held fast to its “no first use” policy, even in 1973 when a combined Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Yom Kippur threatened its very survival.
Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, the “father” of Israel’s secret nuclear efforts told President Kennedy in 1963 that “Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.” Long before the election of Barak Obama, Peres personally told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Israel would be willing to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty within two years after the establishment of “regional peace.” Peres believes that it was Israel’s unstated but obvious nuclear capabilities that helped set the stage for the Jewish state’s historic peace with Egypt.
President Obama claims to be a “realist” about the Mideast, but his ambiguous policy about Israel and regional deterrence is anything but. In pursuit of a “new day,” he should stop wasting precious political time and capital debasing the deterrence of democratic Israel. Instead, to stop the volatile region from becoming an armed nuclear camp, President Obama must demonstrate to nervous Arab leaders and the rest of the world that Washington is still “the strong horse” with the will to thwart nuclear blackmail from the tyrants in Tehran.
Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Center