Iranian President Ahmadinejad at nuclear facility 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Until the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Israel had only two diplomatic missions in the
Arab-dominated Middle East: one of which, the embassy in Teheran, was evacuated
after the toppling of the Shah and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return
from exile. On Wednesday, Israel appeared to have lost its third
embassy in the Middle East in the past two weeks with the Foreign
Ministry decision to evacuate the mission in Amman due to concerns over
massive protests planned there over the weekend. The closure of the
embassy came on the heels of the emergency evacuation last week of the
embassy in Cairo and the expulsion of Israeli diplomats from the embassy
in Ankara the week before.
The long-term effects of these
closures, evacuations and expulsions are still unclear and while Israel
is partially responsible for the situation that led up to all three, it
can hardly be blamed for the radicalization that is sweeping across the
Arab and Muslim world.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan’s decision, for example, to slam and threaten Israel on a daily
basis is part of a calculated move on his part to boost his own standing
in the region on Israel’s back. An Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara
incident would not be able to change that.
But in the short
term, the more immediate effect is that when the Palestinians go to the
United Nations next week to make their unilateral declaration of
statehood, opposite them will be an Israel that is facing growing
The one country that stands to gain from all of this attention on
Israel, its neighbors and the Palestinians is Iran, which embarked this
week on a media campaign ahead of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s
arrival in New York where he will attend the United Nations General
In an NBC report that aired on The Today Show this week, which was
portrayed as one of the first-ever behind-the-scenes looks into
Ahmadinejad’s life as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, viewers
watched Ahmadinejad wake up at 5 a.m. for what is described as a
“Rocky-style” workout. They then got to see the president travel to one
of the poorer regions in Iran, where he met with a father who lost two
sons in the Iran-Iraq War and visited government-subsidized housing,
before returning to his office for meetings lasting as late as 2 a.m.
Lacking tough questions about human rights violations and the alleged
torture of protesters, the NBC report came under fire from Iranian
bloggers. On Radio Free Europe, Iranian journalist Golnaz Esfandiari
called the report “flattering” and a “great piece of propaganda” which
was strikingly similar to official press reports put out by the
president’s own office.
Israeli officials who watched the video were not surprised. One
government official explained that with the Palestinians’ bid for
statehood set to take center stage at the UN, the Iranians, after years
of being the focus of attention, have an opportunity to sit back and
enjoy the show.
“The world is busy with other troubles such the Palestinians, Libya,
Afghanistan and Iraq,” the official said. “Iran has major domestic
troubles both politically and economically, but for the most part it is
gaining from the shift in the world’s focus.”
Earlier this week, for example, Iran officially inaugurated the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the southwest of the country.
At the ceremony announcing the commencement of operations was Dr.
Fereydoun Abbasi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO),
who told the crowd that Bushehr would initially operate at about 40
percent capacity and was expected to reach full capacity by the end of
“The launch of Iran's first nuclear plant is a demonstration of
self-belief and perseverance to defend sovereignty,” Abbasi said.
He knows a thing or two about perseverance.
In November, Abbasi survived an alleged Mossad assassination attempt
when he jumped out of his car seconds before a magnetic bomb attached to
the side of it exploded. In another bombing that same morning, Majid
Shahriari, another scientist with the IAEO, was killed.
In another move that Israel believes is aimed at toying with the West,
Iran revealed that it had sent a letter to the European Union stating
that it is prepared to restart P5+1 negotiations over its nuclear
This comes ahead of a meeting next week at the International Atomic
Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna where again two anti-Israel
resolutions are expected to lead the agenda - one by Egypt, calling for
increased IAEA inspections throughout the Middle East, and one by a
number of Arab states calling on Israel to join a global anti-nuclear
Iran is understood to believe that with the US focused on Iraq,
Afghanistan and Libya and with Israel facing growing diplomatic
isolation, the chance for a military strike against its nuclear
facilities is currently at an unprecedented low. For that reason, the
Iranians feel that they can move forward, advance their nuclear program
and continue to enrich uranium at multiple facilities.
Israel’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program has not changed very much despite the clear escalation in activity.
Iran is continuing to stockpile enriched uranium and to master its
technology to the point that when it decides to make the bomb it will
take a very short time – likely anywhere from six months to a year – to