(photo credit: AP)
The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran
By Yossi Melman and Meir Javedanfar
Carrol & Graff
285 pages; $25.95
Yossi Melman, a veteran Haaretz investigative journalist, and Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born political analyst, have provided both a detailed study of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a comprehensive survey of the Iranian nuclear program.
The book's first three chapters center on the life of the man considered to be today's greatest threat to Israel and the West. Ahmadinejad is largely absent from the second part which, beginning with the efforts of the shah, gives a detailed account of the Iranian nuclear endeavor.
Ahmadinejad, who was elected president in 2005 and is expected to serve until 2009, was born in the village of Aradan on October 28, 1956. His father was a blacksmith, and his parents were materially troubled and extremely religious. He was taken as a young child to one of the poorest neighborhoods of Teheran, where he showed outstanding industry and ambition. Devoted to his family, modest in his personal life (in contrast to many of his corrupt political rivals) and an excellent student, in 1975 he enrolled at the University of Science and Technology close to his family home in Narmak. There he was a founder and active member of the Islamic Student Union, and his anti-shah activities put him in contact with Lebanese Shi'ite militants. Some claim Ahmadinejad was directly involved in seizing the US Embassy in Teheran in September 1979. The authors, however, say that it's impossible to substantiate this claim. In much the same way they say the accusation as to his not having actively participated in the Iran-Iraq war is also not provable. So too with another accusation in regard to his planning the 1989 murder of Iranian dissidents in Vienna.
Ahmadinejad's rise to the top came after he occupied a series of government posts. At one point he was governor-general of the province of Ardebil, at another a popular teacher at his old school, the University of Science and Technology. In his next post, as mayor of Teheran, he was widely admired as a hard-working problem solver. He also built many monuments commemorating the Iranian soldiers who had fallen in the war with Iraq.
One of the major reasons for Ahmadinejad's success as mayor was his attack on corruption. The authors point to the major deterioration in Teheran's quality of life in the years after the Shah. There were major increases in noise and air pollution, traffic congestion and crime. The inability to refurbish their aircraft made Iranian airlines among the most unsafe in the world. The country's medical services deteriorated. Bureaucracy worsened. Despite the regime's preaching of puritanical virtues, the streets of the capital filled with tens of thousands of prostitutes from poor urban families. Surprisingly, this major exporter of oil and gas lacks refining capacity, and has known fuel shortages.
It is generally considered that Ahmadinejad hasn't done a good job in confronting the nation's internal challenges, and that his focus on foreign relations is an effort to divert attention from this.
Part of this obsession with foreign affairs has been his denial of the Holocaust, and his repeated statements about wiping Israel off the map. Though there have been repeated clarifications from various spokesmen and defenders, it is clear that he is obsessed by Israel and the Jews, and will do whatever he can to eliminate the Jewish state. As he has gone from success to success with incredible determination, the threat he presents is clearly one which should be taken seriously.
In this connection a most troubling chapter of the book deals with Ahmadinejad's close relations with the messianic teacher Mohammed Taghi Mesbah Yazid. The doctrine that speaks of a great war between Gog and Magog preceding the coming of the 12th Mahdi and the subsequent Islamic conquest of the world is one Ahmadinejad apparently subscribes to. Violent global conflict is thus for him not something to be avoided, but rather to be welcomed and induced. Yazid's doctrine suggests extraordinary human efforts might hasten the catastrophic events connected with the appearance of the Mahdi.
The second part of the book tells the story of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. One of the principal villains of the piece is IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei; it seems his Nobel Prize is something similar in value to that given to Yasser Arafat. ElBaradei was slow to waken to the Iranian danger, delayed reporting the extent of violations, and enabled Iran to continue working toward building nuclear weapons.
Iran was also considerably helped in this by China, Russia and Pakistan. Here we see that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is not the work of one extreme individual, but rather a central goal of the ayatollahs' regime; Iranian leaders were determined to acquire the Bomb long before Ahmadinejad came to power. The president is thus not an exception, but merely the most vocal exponent of what the Iranian leadership as a whole wants. His grandiose pronouncements, his defiance of and hatred for the West, his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, do however set him apart as the most extreme and dangerous of the nation's leaders.
The authors offer a detailed analysis of how Iran might be prevented from attaining nuclear devices. Diplomatic pressure through UN sanctions has been one tack, but former US representative John Bolton believes it is already too late for this. Regime change has been the great American hope, and the recent riots over gas rationing in Teheran may provide a bit of substance to this hope. But even this, given the weakness of the Iranian internal opposition, seems an unrealistic goal. The authors' analysis of military options is detailed and informative, if somewhat ambiguous. They don't claim to have a definitive answer, though their work certainly underlines the urgency of dealing with the Iranian threat and its most provocative exponent before disaster comes to Israel and the world.
The writer's most recent book is Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General.