Neil Wilson: Ahmadinejad's sabre-rattling aims to realise an Islamist dream
Neil Wilson, Chairman of Merseyside Conservative Future and a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, reflects on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's continued provocations.
There is often a temptation to refer to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as mad. He isn’t mad however; when it comes to Israel, he says what millions of Arabs think – and he knows it.
Over recent weeks, Ahmadinejad has once again referred to Israel in the most unflattering terms. This time he chose to call the Middle East’s model democracy a “dead fish”, a “stinking corpse” and a “false regime” before reiterating his desire that Israel should “be wiped off the face of the world”. He then played up to the petty bigotry of anti-Israeli Europeans, arguing that the destruction of Israel would benefit Europe as we currently bear “the political and economic burden of this false regime”. Really?
Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, outgoing speaker of the Iranian Parliament joined in, saying that Israel’s 60th birthday had been “a black day for humanity, freedom, and human rights”, perhaps before going off to a stoning. All this sabre-rattling, for now at least, has a dual purpose - to unite the Arabic world behind Iran and realise the dream of the early Islamists.
Four years ago, Haddad Adel told al-Hayat, a London-based Arabic paper that: "Iran's relations with the Arab states are given top priority in our foreign policy”.
Iran’s frequent reaching out to other Muslim nations has been explained in the past as the understandable action of a predominantly Shiite nation in a region dominated by Sunni Muslims. To counter their potential for alienation, the Islamic Republic has long paid lip service to issues long regarded as Sunni, namely opposing American involvement in the region and providing vocal support for the Palestinians.
Ahmadinejad, since he came to power in 2005 however has attempted to transcend the sectarianism of the Muslim world that became apparent in Iraq, by upping the ante in the war of words against Israel. He seeks to create a pan-Islamic front, united behind Iran’s potential nuclear arsenal. And what better a way to cement relations than a good-old fashioned bit of Israel bashing?
The creation of such a front would fulfill the aim of the men who influenced Ayatollah Khomeini. The long-standing tradition of co-operation between Sunni and Shia Islamists was the brainchild of Navvab Safavi. Executed in 1955 by Iran’s then secular authorities, his rage against the West and his hatred of democracy inspired the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
The tactics adopted by Iran to achieve this aim appear to be working well; less than one in four respondents in a poll by Zogby International of major Muslim states thought that Iran should be pressured to halt its nuclear program. Do these multitudes of Arabs believe that Israel “should be wiped off the face of the world”? Possibly, however it’s also highly likely that the backing for Iran’s position stems from Ahmadinejad’s description of the Holocaust as “a myth”; another popular belief in the Middle East. His irrational, populist rants have clearly hit home.
Arab governments in general seem more than happy to let Iran bear the brunt of international criticism however, without raising their heads too far above the parapet. In this respect at least, it appears that the realisation of Iran’s dream could be some way in the distance.
An Islamist-inspired pact would be catastrophic for the region. Its counterpart of sorts would be the United Nations, an organisation that has constantly failed to deal with any international crisis of note for at least the last decade. This situation could have the potential to be fatal for Israel.
Ahmadinejad’s overtures to the region’s Muslims by making threats against Israel are unacceptable, but can they be stopped? The clearest way to reduce the risk to Israel is to remove Iran’s nuclear capability, so we must keep the option of military action on the table.