Washington Watch: Whose side is Ahmadinejad on?

The Iranian president’s rhetoric on Palestinian statehood makes him the most effective spokesman for the Israeli Right.

By DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD
August 31, 2011 21:48
4 minute read.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad UN 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

After reading an article by the Scripps Howard News Service suggesting that “if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not on Israel’s payroll, he should be,” one reader responded: “Don’t forget to mention that Ahmadinejad is Jewish and possibly an undercover agent for Isreal [sic].”

Some double agent; Ahmadinejad continues to be an outspoken booster for Palestinian statehood – perhaps a bit too outspoken, as when he declared last week that the creation of a Palestinian state would be “the first step” in the eradication of the Jewish state.

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That’s not the message Palestinians are trying to send as they prepare to ask for UN recognition next month, stressing their desire to live alongside Israel in peace.

The last thing they need now is the world’s most outspoken anti-Semite and Holocaust denier repeating his desire to wipe Israel off the map on their behalf.

But that’s what they got last Friday, when Ahmadinejad observed Al-Quds Day, which marks the Palestinian loss of Jerusalem, by declaring that “recognition of a Palestinian state is the first step in the liberation of the entire Palestine.” And to Israel, he said, “There is no room for you in the region.”

A less-than-appreciative Palestinian spokesman told Ahmadinejad that the only ones he was helping were the PA’s opponents.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh told WAFA (the Palestinian news agency) that the Iranian leader’s words “only serve goals of the right-wing forces in Israel who oppose our bid for the United Nations and question Palestinian intentions and our commitment to the two-state solution on the 1967 borders.”

No kidding.

Ahmadinejad’s incendiary polemics are fodder for the rejectionist Right in Israel that opposes the two-state approach. That faction sees Iran’s political, financial and military backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and assorted Palestinian terror groups as compelling evidence that a Palestinian state in the West Bank, like Gaza to the south and Lebanon to the north, will inevitably be an Iranian outpost for launching war on Israel.

That viewpoint is well represented in the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, who himself is none too fond of the idea of Palestinian statehood. He has only reluctantly endorsed the concept, though he’s said he’d like to see it phased in over an extended period.

Abu Rudeineh said Ahmadinejad “does not serve the peace process in the region,” and only helps those who question the “sincerity of our intentions.”

Abu Rudeineh’s claim of sincere Palestinian intentions rings hollow in view of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent – and repeated – refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, demands for a full right of return to pre-1967 Israel, plus, as a precondition for negotiations, a total settlement freeze and commitment to return to the 1949 armistice lines.

Many of Israel’s friends hope Ahmadinejad’s vituperative attacks and Holocaust denial will give some UN members second thoughts about backing Palestinian statehood, or at least dampen their enthusiasm.

Not likely, especially given the almost universal perception that Netanyahu has demonstrated little interest in advancing the peace process.

Ahmadinejad may embarrass Abbas and his crowd, who neither need nor want his support, but he fortifies those in Israel who say here’s more evidence the whole world is against us, so how can you ask us to make any concessions? In the background, often with Iranian encouragement, are rising voices out of Egypt and Jordan that want to rip up those countries’ peace treaties with Israel.

Abu Rudeineh sees a conspiracy lurking; he said recent revelations of “commercial and economic agreements between Israeli and Iranian companies” were evidence of the “common goals” of the Iranian president and the “Netanyahu-Lieberman government.”

Other conspiracy theorists go even further. The Daily Telegraph said an investigation by its reporters revealed Ahmadinejad’s virulent anti-Semitism was really “an overcompensation” to conceal “an astonishing secret, his own Jewish past.” The rival Guardian two days later declared, “Ahmadinejad has no Jewish roots.”

Like many bullies, he threatens from afar and lets proxies do his fighting, including Hezbollah, Hamas and a slew of Palestinian terror groups armed and financed by Iran.

Ahmadinejad may be ready to fight to the last Palestinian, but there is little doubt his country is building nuclear weapons and is expanding its conventional military arsenal at a rapid pace that worries all civilized countries.

Israel takes the threat seriously, and for more than 20 years has considered Iran its primary existential threat.

The constant flow of incendiary rhetoric and weapons announcements out of Tehran have made it easier for Israel to convince taxpayers to increase defense spending and persuade its friends abroad that the threat is very real.

Ahmadinejad’s blather plays well among the diehards at home and in the Arab world, but it’s most effective among Israeli hardliners and rejectionists.

He reinforces their message that peace negotiations are a dangerous dead end. That may be political good news for the Israeli Right, but a strategic disaster for a war-weary country that badly needs to break the current negotiating stalemate.

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