Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Voice of Iran

by Elliott Abrams
June 27, 2012


Why is it significant that the vice president of Iran has used a United Nations forum to deliver an appalling anti-Semitic speech?

This happened yesterday in Geneva, as the New York Times reported. Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi blamed “Zionists” for the world’s drug trade, citing the Talmud and leaving his audience at the anti-drug conference in shock.

This event is significant because it reminds us that the assumptions behind the nuclear negotiations with Iran are questionable at best. Those assumptions include mirror-imaging, the belief that Iran’s regime will make the sorts of “rational” calculations the governments of the EU and United States would make in their place. Impose sanctions on Iran, reduce its income from oil sales, harm its economy, and surely the Supreme Leader and his advisers will react as we would, weighing almost mathematically the costs and benefits of the nuclear program.

Then comes Mr. Rahimi, teaching us that math may not be the best way to predict Iranian policy decisions. How do we factor in irrational hatred of Jews? How do we weigh a deep desire to destroy the Jewish state? How do we calculate the effect of beliefs that seem to us in the West to be preposterous, ludicrous, impossible? Or a better question: how do Israelis make those judgments? As many historians–most recently, Andrew Roberts in The Storm of War, his superb history of the Second World War–have reminded us, lucid calculations are often absent, statesmanship often pushed aside by ideological obsessions, hatred more powerful than rational calculations. Just because we think it irrational for Iranian officials to make such speeches, or wreck their economy to pursue nuclear weapons, or threaten Israel, does not mean that such things are not happening and will not happen. Sitting around conference tables they may appear unlikely or impossible, but the Rahimi speech may be a better guide to Iranian foreign policy than the words spoken at those sessions.

Post a Comment 13 Comments

  • Posted by Mohammad Alireza

    Mr. Rahimi is facing corruption charges and only represents the incomptetent and ignorant fanatics who have mistakenly gained a high office — he does NOT represent Iran and Iranians, and Mr. Abrams knows, this so please don’t use the words of a fool for your warmongering.

  • Posted by Omar Ibrahim

    This whole piece is based on the fallacious premise that to be anti Zionism and/or anti Israel is, automatically and ipso facto, to be anti Semite.
    This premise is not only intrinsically and fundamentally fallacious but, in the long run, could turn out to be extremely dangerous to Jews in the first place.

    The world wide , progressive forces arrayed against Zionism and a Zionist Israel, namely: anti colonialism, anti imperialism, anti racism, pro civil and political rights for all, pro Palestinian inalienable rights in their homeland, pro Human Rights as in universally recognized covenants etc etc ARE NOT anti Semite movements nor could they objectively be anti Semite and truthful to their own convictions and principles .

    To market and propagate the fallacious equation that:
    anti Zionist=anti Israel=anti Semite threatens to ,ultimately, decriminalize and legalize anti Semitism .
    When this equation equates the presently widely recognized colonialist nature and identity of the Zionist movement and the aggressive , expansionist and racist acts, policies and practices of its outgrowth, Israel, it will tend to decriminalize and justify, both consciously and subconsciously, the racist and fundamentally evil anti Semite movement in public consciousness.
    Short term this equation may serve both Zionism and Zionist Israel, long term it may be a curse for Jews in particular by decriminalizing anti Semitism.

  • Posted by EthanP

    It is exactly this kind of irrational hate that led to my Email rebuttle to Mr. Waltz’s article supporting Irans obtaining nuclear weapons. The Iranian regimes behaviour does not allow for trust. The assumption that they will ever behave in a rational manner. Is suicidal. This is NOT something we can be wrong about.
    Remember that Nazi Germany and Militarist Japan were both willing to risk national destruction to achive their national aims. To assume that the Iranian Mulahs, religeous fanatics all, will behave rationally is insane.
    First let them behave in a rational manner. Then we shall see.

  • Posted by fereydoun

    I guess Mr.Rahimi has said what he had to say.At a time when the country is under pressure from each and every other country in the world,attacking Zionism is the option that attacts attention among small crowds here and there.

  • Posted by JT

    Omar Ibrahim’s comment is disingenuous at best. He ignores Mr. Abrams’s central point and the thrust of the New York Times article reporting on VP Rahimi’s speech. Under the guise of attacking Zionism, he made risible claims about the 1,500+ year old Talmud and age-old Jewish traditions and beliefs, all of which pre-date modern political Zionism by centuries. He said he was attacking Zionism; in fact, he was attacking Judaism. This is an illustration of how anti-Zionism has become a convenient cover for anti-Semites like VP Rahimi and Mr. Ibrahim to hide behind.

  • Posted by Jay T.

    More name-calling from Tehran, consistent with its strategy of incitement, while the biggest news of the day goes unheeded- word out of India purporting to confirm a Pakistani connection to the attacks in Mumbai, in which a Jewish target with ties to Israel was attacked by militants with links to a potential nuclear-proliferator Islamic republic.

    Imagine that Tel Aviv is attacked from Lebanon- as Nasrallah said last year, ‘the next war with Israel will start in Tel Aviv,’ and Hezbollah has ‘many surprises’- and Lashkar-e-Taiba takes credit for nuclear-tipped rockets surreptitiously provided by Iran? ‘26/11’ was not an isolated event- note the diamond market attacks in Mumbai last July.

    A far-fetched scenario, but consider that Iran’s delivery methods are limited to its proxies and to a naval attack off the coast. The threat of an ICBM is countered by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system, and a naval attack by the assurance of thermonuclear retaliation (against relatively liberal Tehranians while the regime evacuates).

    Iran is a hegemonic actor- and, according to Benny Gantz, a rational one- with regionwide designs, but Israel might consider that its greatest enlightenment occurred under such conditions- namely the Second Temple, courtesy of Cyrus the Great, and the Babylonian Talmud.

  • Posted by Defender of Truth

    @ Omar Ibrahim: Your comment is laughable. It IS anti-semitism, and here is why. First, your comments are underlined by the belief that Israel is “Palestinian homeland.” That itself is anti-Jewish — not just anti-Zionism — because it denies the fact that Israel (including the West Bank) is the Jewish homeland. Now, if you want to say that because Palestinians have been living there for centuries, they deserve a state of their own (which they already do, btw, and it’s called Jordan — they just don’t have political control of Jordan), that is a different argument. Second, the fact that you (and people like you) continue to claim that Israel is some racist, human rights-violating state, while systematically ignoring the racism and human rights violations of Arab/Muslim countries, demonstrates your anti-Semitism. Israel is actually the one country in the Middle East where citizens, including Arabs and Christians, do enjoy full civil and human rights. Yet you single it out and claim it this horrible place for civil and human rights. The only explanation for your ignoring the facts and the atrocious human rights records of Arab countries is because Israel is a Jewish state. Hence you are anti-Jewish.

  • Posted by Nathaniel

    We need to pay attention to the writing of the Islamists towards the return of the Mahdi to really realize what their objectives are.

  • Posted by Daniel Straus

    @Omar Ibrahim, you didn’t read any of the coverage or the speech itself. At several points he uses the Talmud and Moses as evidence for his broader claims.

  • Posted by hass

    Israel’s interior minister Eli Yishai recently declared that Israel is for the “White man”. What can we conclude from that? huh?

  • Posted by Davka

    Except that Eli Yishai didn’t say that, he was repeating what he heard Africans say on TV.

  • Posted by Jay Pierce

    Mr. Rahimi does represent the people of Iran. He is among the “decision makers” of the country. To suggest this group is under the control of the good people of that country is to ignore the child with a gun because he is a child. The level of intelligence, sense of justice is of no consequence. All that is need to fire the weapon is the intent to pull the trigger and the energy to do it. It seems Iran has both.

  • Posted by Darkman

    Mr. Ibrahim: To the contrary, anti-Zionism IS anti-Semitic. It’s one thing to honestly criticize Israeli policies. But the anti-Zionist, by definition, is against the very notion of Jews having ANY right to self-determination, in any place, at any time.

    Of all the national liberation movements arising in the 19th & 20th centuries, to single out only the Zionist one as undeserved & illegitimate is pure anti-Semitism.

    And “progressives” are quite experienced at abandoning their principles. After all, the Left side of the spectrum is the one which expounds a multitude of “relativisms,” so as to hold the Western world to one standard & the non-West to another, while in the same breath crowing about “equality.” Progressivism sounds nice & couches itself in amenable rhetoric, but at its core is contradictory & infected by rotten, discredited Marxist notions, which are inherently ANTI-humanistic, ANTI-individual, ANTI-people.

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