If we were to take Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at his word, the Islamic Republic is not, and never has, pursued the development of nuclear weapons. Nor is Iran providing financial, material and logistic support to Shi’ite terrorists who have murdered American troops and civilians in Iraq; to Bashar Assad’s military in Syria; to Hezbollah in Lebanon; and to the Taliban in Afghanistan. And Iran has no interest in fueling sectarian tensions across the Middle East. In Rouhani’s telling, Iran is a peace-loving nation.
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“We’ve had disputes with certain countries, but we would want to see a better future, and achieve peace with everyone,” Rouhani told Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, in Davos.
If only this were true. It would lead to a new geopolitical equilibrium, one less turbulent than the current landscape of civil war, terrorism and sectarian battles. It would create an environment in which Sunnis and Shi’ites would stop killing one another en masse. And while there would be understandable tensions, there would be no open warfare.
Unfortunately, Iran’s heavy hand can be felt across the region, including here in Israel where until their 2011 falling-out over Syria, Hamas was receiving a reported $20 million a month from Iran. The mullahs of the Islamic Republic are funding terrorist organizations, stirring up sectarian discontent and, most ominously, developing nuclear weapons. If they succeed, they will spark a nuclear arms race among the Gulf states, Egypt and others, and leverage Iran’s pernicious influence throughout the region, essentially insulating the Islamic Republic from any geopolitical repercussions resulting from its actions.
There were those in Davos who spoke truth to Rouhani’s lies.
“While Rouhani condemns the killing of innocents, dozens of innocent people were executed in Iran in the last few days,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said. “While Rouhani talks about no foreign involvement in Syria, Iran arms Assad and orders Hezbollah to massacre innocent people there.
While Rouhani talks about peace in the Middle East, he refuses, even today, to recognize Israel, and his regime calls for its destruction.”
President Shimon Peres noted what Rouhani refrained from saying.
“He did not support peace in the Middle East,” Peres said at a press conference. “He is the only leader I know who didn’t say clearly the time has come to make peace between Israel and the Arabs. He excluded the reference to peace and when he was asked if his vision included all countries [in the Middle East], he said it included only the ones that Iran will accept.”
Peres was referring to Rouhani’s declaration that he wants relations with all Middle East countries and that “there are no exceptions; we wish for a better future and to have beneficial relations with all that we recognize.”
There is a tendency among moderates, particularly of the Western variety, to believe fundamentalist political leaders such as Rouhani when they say they want peace. The reason for this is simple: Moderates believe that everyone sees the world the same way they do. For moderates it is self-evident that at the most human level people yearn for peace. This, however, is not true for those motivated by an extremist ideology – in the case of Iran, by an apocalyptic and reactionary reading of Islam in which redemption is achieved through religious dominance and the spreading of God’s word – by force if necessary – to non-believers.
The inability to understand such an irrational message is particularly pronounced at a venue such as Davos’s World Economic Forum. Businessmen, entrepreneurs and technocrats tend to be a decidedly optimistic, rational, constructive and moderate bunch that believes people are, like themselves, interested in bettering the world through education and economic development. They are liable to be susceptible to Rouhani’s charm defensive.
We hope they will have the sense to heed the warnings of Netanyahu and Peres.