Ahmadinejad at UN 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
In the Arab world, for the first three decades of Israeli statehood, there was no doubt and no debate as to whether Israel should be allowed to exist. The insistent consensus was that it should not, and that it was only a matter of time, and of Arab military victory, until it did not.
President Anwar Sadat changed that thinking at a stroke when he flew to Jerusalem in 1977, and parts of the Arab world - most notably Jordan - gradually changed with him.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public relations successes in the United States this week represent a further profoundly significant and troubling step in Iran's widening campaign to reverse this process, to revive the notion - in the Arab world, and now beyond - that Israel is not a fact that must grudgingly be acknowledged, but a short-term irritant that can be removed.
But his successes in New York went far beyond the assault on Israel. At the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he mounted a concerted assault on the post-World War II global hierarchy, and set up Iran as an alternative world leader, falsely depicting his regime as the exemplar of humane, fair-minded governance.
THE Iranian strategy against Israel is threefold: the pursuit of the nuclear program, the battering of Israel with missiles and terrorist attacks, and the delegitmization of Israel internationally, leading to intended gradual isolation.
1) His empty denials aside, Ahmadinejad's Iran is seeking a nuclear capability that, if allowed to reach fruition, spells destruction for Israel - and that stands whether Iran intends to fire nuclear devices at Israel, supply nuclear bombs to terror groups or other third parties for use against Israel, or remake the regional balance of power and destroy Israel psychologically and economically with the very threat of a resort to nuclear attack.
2) Meanwhile, via its support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad on two fronts, and Hizbullah on a third, Iran is both challenging Israel's daily well-being, and encouraging the notion that Israel's long assured military edge can be rendered irrelevant, and the country thus made vulnerable, by asymmetrical warfare.
3) This type of warfare, in turn, has proved devastatingly successful in harming Israel's international standing. Opening fire on Gaza and northern Israel from residential areas, the Iranian-sponsored terror groups and guerrilla armies draw Israeli retaliatory fire which inevitably causes civilian casualties. And no matter how articulate Israel's spokespeople, a talking head, trying desperately to explain who is the aggressor and who the victim, is hard-pressed to make an impression when speaking over fresh footage of civilian victims in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip.
The consequence in recent years has been widening international criticism of Israel's purported disproportionate response to unprovoked attack. Parts of Europe, significantly including the United Kingdom, have been largely won over to this misreading of our reality.
But America has largely refused to be misled, recognizing the depth of its alliance with democratic Israel, and identifying with the battle against Islamic extremist terrorism.
It is that alliance, that existential alliance, that Ahmadinejad sought to undermine in the United States this week. As this writer is certainly not the first to point out, Columbia University, by providing this ruthless and mendacious figure with the platform from which to rewrite history, essentially legitimized debate in the United States on the issue of whether Israel should be wiped off the map - of whether, that is, there is justification for the renewed momentum generated by Iran in the Arab world to seek Israel's destruction.
BUT AT the UN on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad widened his aim, underlining what Israel has so strenuously sought to convey to the international community: The ayatollahs' Iran is bent not only on the elimination of the Jewish state but on the global expansion of its brutal Islamist ideology.
There are some who still insist on dismissing little Ahmadinejad, with his scraggly beard and his tieless shirt, as a joke. How ridiculous he looked, they say, when asserting that women are prized in his country. How the Columbia audience jeered when he claimed that Iran has no homosexuals.
But Ahmadinejad's PR tour in the United States this week was anything but ridiculous, and he is anything but a fool. His risible rewriting of Middle East history both in his Columbia address and in his speech to the General Assembly, eliminating any notion of the Jewish historical rights in Palestine, will unfortunately have been widely swallowed; much of the rest of the world already regards Israel as an alien implant.
And his assault on the world order since World War II - his castigation of the selfish, domineering "big powers" as the cause of global injustice and inequality, his denunciation of the over-ready resort to violence, his critique of promiscuous Western society - was as potent and persuasive as his depiction of the Iranian way as a solution was dishonest.
Iran under Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs' regime stands for the export of a coercive perversion of Islam, in the name of which it kills and jails its domestic opponents and foments the indiscriminate killing of non-believers everywhere else. Democracy may not be the perfect means of managing life on this planet, but it is infinitely superior to the alternative represented - or rather misrepresented - by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
On Tuesday at the UN, the Iranian president sketched out a vision not merely of a world without Israel, but of a world without democracy. He came to the headquarters of an organization established to prevent war and promote equality and tolerance around the world, and he challenged its leadership to end its "obedience to Satan" or face calamity.
Then he headed off, job well done, to continue the effort to translate that threat into action.