Editor's Notes: Speaking his mind

Plain old common sense should have required Iran's president to hold his tongue.

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that it is not persuaded of the claimed peaceful intent behind Iran's nuclear program. The United States is fairly certain that Iran's nuclear drive is anything but peaceful, and is moving toward seeking UN Security Council sanctions against Teheran. European diplomats are engaged in last-ditch efforts to avoid an escalating crisis, imploring Iran to suspend the program.

Hardly the most propitious time, you might imagine, for Iran's president to come out with the most unambiguously vicious declaration in years of belligerent intent against another sovereign state - ours.

The plainest of common sense, you might reasonably believe, would require that, whatever his deeper intent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would hold his verbal fire until the nuclear cat-and-mouse game was resolved - ideally, from his point of view of course, with his country's successful attainment of nuclear self-sufficiency.

That more sober minds in the Iranian hierarchy feel that his "wipe Israel off the map" rhetoric was somewhat ill-timed is evident from the speed with which Teheran's official English-language translations of Ahmadinejad's address, to a Wednesday gathering of thousands of students, were edited to exclude some of the more fiery comments.

But the Iranian president is evidently quite unconcerned about showing his true face to the world. This was anything but a slip of the tongue.

The man was standing at a podium bearing a large poster blaring the title of the gathering, in English: "The world without Zionism."

He was stating, calmly and confidently, that such a world was indeed entirely within reach.

Speaking only a few hours before the Hadera suicide bombing, he was highlighting one of the principal tools to achieve this goal - Palestinian terrorism, thriving so happily amid Mahmoud Abbas's resolute inaction. His speech was nothing less than a rallying cry to the terror groups he sponsors.

He was bullying more moderate Arab leaders not to recognize the "Zionist regime," warning that they would "burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury."

And in an aspect of his talk rather overlooked in much of the reporting, he was also declaring that a world without the United States was attainable too - twin assertions which were enthusiastically endorsed by a local representative of Hamas, who also addressed the gathering.

There is no Western consensus about just how far Teheran now stands from obtaining nuclear weapons. There is absolute consensus that it is very close. And there is no doubt whatsoever that it has the missiles to deliver a nuclear warhead to Israel, and is working on missiles that would bring other Western targets into range.

Furthermore, Russia's determined disinclination to intervene in Iran's technological progress (indeed to assist in some aspects) - as underlined by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's display of studied unflappability in Jerusalem this week - leaves room for little optimism on the diplomatic front.

None of the Israeli and American experts with whom I have spoken in recent years about Iran's nuclear drive has told me unequivocally that it can be thwarted. But several have cited a would-be calming fallback position to the effect that, if Teheran were to go to nuclear, a rooted Iranian pragmatism and a fear of the consequences would nonetheless prevent it from actually using such weaponry. The rest of the world would have to find a way to live with an uncomfortable, but not impossible, reality.

Ahmadinejad's speech makes a mockery of such sanguine assessments.

During The Jerusalem Post's interview with IDF Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz earlier this month, I asked him whether Israel was reconciled to a nuclear Iran or whether it was developing a military resort as improbable but effective as the one used to stop Saddam Hussein's nuclear program at Osirak in 1981.

Unsurprisingly, Halutz wouldn't discuss any military options. A benign Iran self-evidently wouldn't require their use.

This week, in the boldest language imaginable, Ahmadinejad made plain that, where Israel is concerned, a nuclear Iran under his watch would be anything but benign.


THREE YEARS ago, I was invited to Oslo by members of the small local Jewish community, who were bitterly frustrated by what they considered to be the anti-Israel slant of Norwegian and international reporting from our region, and wanted an Israeli journalist to come and give some first-hand insights to local reporters and editors.

The main event organized during my trip was a discussion at the Oslo Journalists Club, where I faced off before a sizable audience against Ahmad Kamal, the Brussels bureau chief of al-Jazeera, who had flown in specially.

Kamal was somewhat hampered by a lack of fluent English, but even via a translator he won approving nods and sympathetic expressions from the assembled media when he noted that one of the imperatives behind al-Jazeera was to counter the pro-Israel bias at CNN. Not a soul in the crowded room did what every Jewish audience to whom I have recounted this anecdote has done on hearing this claim: laugh at the absurdity of it.

When it was my turn to speak, I told the Oslo crowd that, if anything, Israelis considered CNN, with its readiness to devote airtime to mothers of suicide bombers and its respectful hosting of PA spinmaster-in-chief Saeb Erekat, to be overly sympathetic to the Palestinians. And at this point, the Norwegian audience did laugh - genuinely believing such an assessment to be ridiculous. I told them that perhaps their alarm bells should be ringing, if their sense of an accurate narrative was plainly so at odds with that of one of the sides to the conflict itself, but I'm not sure how many minds were swayed.

I was prompted to recall my Oslo experience this week after reading reports that the BBC is closing down a series of foreign-language radio stations, aimed at listeners in Europe and Asia, in order to free up funding for a new Arabic television service.

Playing the Ahmad Kamal role, London-based Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan promptly wrote a column in the Guardian expressing the purported fear that this new BBC Arabic enterprise might prove to be a "weapon" in a new "propaganda offensive," created by Tony Blair at the behest of George W. Bush, to try and persuade Arab viewers of the wisdom of those two reviled leaders' policies or at least improve their image.

The BBC is regarded as a virtual enemy, over Iraq and much else, by a Blair government obligated to fund it. Its content overseers outlawed the use of the word "terrorism" to describe even the Islamist bombing assault on home territory in London this summer. The notion of this BBC serving as the US/UK's new propaganda tool in the Arab world is as laughable as… well, as laughable as Kamal's claim three years ago in Oslo of CNN's pro-Israel bias.

More likely, of course, is that it is the US, UK and Israel, rather than their critics, that should be alarmed by the emergence of what its BBC initiators openly acknowledge is an attempt to compete with al-Jazeera - a new service being planned, moreover, just as al-Jazeera gears up for the launch of its own English-language 24-hour news channel.

All of which rather begs the question: What of Israel's electronic media outreach efforts? How is the state broadcaster ensuring that the Israeli narrative is made accessible far and wide, in many and varied tongues?

The sorry truth is that the Israel Broadcasting Authority, though heavily funded by our nation of dutiful license payers, has yet to allocate serious resources for foreign-language programming. Quite the reverse. Years of cutbacks have led to the closure of some foreign-language departments and the drastic reduction of others. English-language TV and radio are now run by skeleton staffs, accustomed to being shunted around the schedules and the wavelengths at controllers' whims.

In another language department, the situation is so parlous that the unexpected incapacity of one broadcaster recently forced frantic "come home quick" calls to the other - yes, there are only two in that particular language service - who was away on holiday at the time. In the interim, broadcasts were simply suspended.