Misreading the Iranian regime

When Jeffrey Goldberg, during his May, 2015 interview of President Obama in The Atlantic, commented that he doesn’t believe that the Iranian regime with which the administration is negotiating can be counted on to be entirely rational, the president responded with: “The fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival.
It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the Supreme Leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations…”
This may be true if the anti-Semitism in question is one of a multitude of disparate strands which, taken together, help define a governing body. But when the anti-Semitism in question is a central organizing principle of a regime, we are in an entirely different realm.
As early as 1963, long before establishing the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini proclaimed to his supporters, “I know that you do not want to be under the boot of the Jews,” In September of 1977 the Ayatollah stated, “The Jews have grasped the world with both hands and are devouring it with an insatiable appetite…”
Upon the death of Khomeini in 1989, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei assumed the role of Supreme Leader, and Akbar Rafsanjani ascended to the presidency of the Islamic State. The new president was touted by the Western media as not simply a religious fundamentalist, but as a successful businessman and “moderate” – the kind of man who would favor expediency and rapprochement with the West rather than adventurism and incendiary rhetoric.
But in a speech in 2001, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported that Rafsanjani stated, “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those Israel possesses now…..the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything, however it will only harm the Islamic world.
It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.” Ayatollah Khamenei’s attacks are at least as virulent as his predecessor. Just last year, he twittered: “This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal # Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated. 7/23/14 HandsOffAlAksa.”
Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, heralded by the media as yet another “moderate” is far savvier in the field of public relations than his predecessor, the crude, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose vitriolic anti-Semitism has been widely reported upon. Because Rouhani exudes a quiet and dignified public persona and does not swing from the rafters denying the Holocaust, while advocating Israel’s destruction each and every week, his brand of anti-Semitism, while less graphic, is every bit as virulent.
But his dissimulations shouldn’t fool anyone – especially an American president. When asked about the truth of the Holocaust in September of 2013, the German newspaper, FAZ, reported that Rouhani stated, “I’m not a historian. I’m a politician.”
In that same year, when Rouhani was again asked about the Holocaust, Rick Gladstone of the New York Times reported that he responded with, “A group of Jewish people were killed.” There is, however, a perverse logic to Iran’s consistent Holocaust denial. As the eminent political scientist Mathias Kuntzel observes, the regime cannot on the one hand argue that the Jews control the world’s finances, markets and media and concomitantly claim that the Holocaust indeed occurred. Why would those in control of so much permit a genocide of their own people?
The Iran Daily Star and Reuters quoted Rouhani in regard to the nuclear negotiations with the West: “Unfortunately, a pressure group in the US which is a warmongering group and against constructive talks is pursuing interests of a foreign county…these interests have been imposed on the US Congress.”
We have seen in the last century that when anti-Semitism is a central element of a governing authority, President Obama’s belief in “rational” decision making and a regime’s “interest in survival” cannot be relied upon. With the German army nearing collapse in 1945, additional manpower was desperately needed to protect the fatherland.
Yet, the Germans refused to reassign to the front, the more than one hundred thousand military personnel comprising SS and Gestapo units and their support systems from their daily routine of completing the final solution.
The business of the Holocaust had to be continued because the elimination of the Jews was essential to a meaningful victory. Anti-Semitism was core Nazi ideology. As we have seen, the same is true of Iran. The president should take heed of the words of the late, great social scientist, Raymond Aron: “It is a denial of the lessons of the last century, and this one for that matter, that men [regimes] will sacrifice their passions for their interests.”