Analysis: The NAM meeting's chilling message

Though many countries have unflattering opinions of Iranian policy, Iran is too big to ignore.

Leaders at Non-Aligned Movement NAM in Tehran 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Leaders at Non-Aligned Movement NAM in Tehran 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy blasted Syria’s government at the Non-Aligned Movement Conference in Tehran on Thursday, his comments prompted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to storm out.
But when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei slammed Israel, labeling it a state of “bloodthirsty Zionist wolves” that controls the world media, nobody moved.
The silence of the world in the face of these charges is chilling.
It must also be emboldening for the Iranians. They can trade in virulent anti-Semitism and the representatives of the world sit in their seats quietly, listening politely as the words are translated from Farsi to their native languages.
Nobody walks out. Nobody heckles. Nobody protests.
Granted, nobody in Israel is expecting much of Bangladesh, Cuba or South Africa. But how about those countries with whom Israel has strong ties, such as India, Colombia and Thailand? Why did they sit still, and what does that say?
Only UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he “strongly rejects” threats by one UN state to destroy another and the denial of historical facts, such as the Holocaust. But these words were far outweighed by his very presence at the parley.
It is obviously oversimplistic to say that the attendance of representatives from 120 countries at the NAM Conference was a vote of confidence in Iran or its polices.
It was certainly not. But still, their presence in Tehran at this time – no matter the reason – emboldens Iran.
Their presence makes Iran look – and feel – like a respected member of the family of nations at a time when the goal of Israel, the US and the West is to make them look and feel isolated, like a pariah state.
The argument the world is using in trying to dissuade Israel from any type of military action is that all it is asking is to give diplomacy a chance.
“The sanctions are biting,” this argument runs. “Iran is feeling the heat, it is feeling isolated. Just give us more time.”
Isolated? Really? The attendance of two kings, 27 presidents, numerous foreign ministers and the UN secretary-general does not send a message of isolation – not to Iran, not to its people and not to the rest of the world.
In fact, Israel should be so isolated.
When was the last time Israel played host to such a delegation of world leaders? The glum answer: Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral.
No, the participation of the world in this conference is not meaningless. It sends messages.
One of the messages is that Iran is too big and important to ignore.
Even though many of the countries surely have unflattering opinions of Iranian policy, they deemed it necessary to attend Tehran’s party. They play the game as if nothing has happened – as if Iran is not relentlessly marching toward nuclear weapons, as if its leadership does not speak of destroying Israel, as if nothing has changed or is different.
There is a message in that for Israel as well. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went very public with his call on Ban to boycott the meeting, he laid down a marker: Who is it going to be, them or us? Ban – and other friendly countries who sent high-level representatives – chose them, and that overlooking of Israel is a sobering message that could, down the line, have an impact on Israel’s decision regarding what action to take vis-a-vis Iran.
Netanyahu announced on Thursday, to a certain degree as a result of the conference, that he would be going to the UN in September to “speak the truth” about Iran. And it is certain that he will give a strong and impassioned speech there. It is equally certain, however, that it won’t matter much.
Netanyahu gave a powerful speech about Iran at the UN in 2010, waving blueprints from Auschwitz-Birkenau and transcripts from the Wannsee Conference as he passionately challenged the world to stop the Holocaust-denying Iran. And he did so again last year when – even though the focus of his speech was the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition – he also talked about the Iranian threat.
Nobody is listening. And that needs to worry not only us, but also those who are pressing Israel not to take action because Iran is “isolated” and diplomacy needs more time.
Had at least some countries stayed away from the NAM Conference, had the UN secretary-general boycotted the meeting and said, “My place at this time is not in Tehran,” Israel’s leadership may have been able to conclude that the diplomatic front was indeed working, and that Iran was indeed isolated.
But today? Today, after kings and leaders and princes beat a path to Tehran’s door? Today, that argument will be much more difficult to make in Jerusalem.