Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gubu meets Iranian Minister

Last Friday I attended an event at the Irish Institute of European Affairs where Deputy Iranian foreign Minister Dr Mahdi Safari (pictured) gave a talk focusing on Iran's position on various Middle Eastern issues ranging from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine to the Iranian nuclear issue. You can read the full text of his speech here. Afterward the floor was opened up to a Q & A session.

I asked the first question which was as follows. I asked the minister if he could tell us here today that when Israelis or conservative Americans claim that it is the stated objective of the Iranian government to annihilate the state of Israel, that they are wrong. I clarified by asking if he could confirm that to quote Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth is inaccurate. He responded as follows. He claimed that Iran does not want to destroy Israel. He claimed that Iran wants to see Zionism come to an end the same way the Soviet Union came to an end. He added that Iran has never attacked Israel and has no intentions to. There were some follow up questions along this line.

When asked about Ahmadinejad's holocaust denial remarks he claimed that the Iranian President has never denied the holocaust, that he just disputed the number killed. On the nuclear issue he reminded the audience that Iran has opposed nuclear weapons in the Middle East since the revolution. He insisted that nuclear weapons have no part in Iranian foreign policy. He further claimed that the ultimate ruler of Iran, the supreme ayatollah Khameini actually issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons insisting that they were un-Islamic.

The above answers were intriguing but none of them surprised me. I will concede that I wish these official positions were circulated more widely in the western media and that if they were it might reduce tensions significantly. However I do not find these answers acceptable. They do not alleviate Israels legitimate concerns as I will now explain. Firstly, the Nazis claimed at first that they did not want to wipe out the Jews but only to strip them of their power and influence. Whether premeditated or not it did not turn out that way. The more the war began to go increasingly against Germany the more they took it out on the Jews leading to the Holocaust. The Iranians are saying pretty much what the Nazis said in the early days. Given Jewish history it is hardly surprising that Mr Safari's watering down of Ahmadinejad's comments is not good enough for Israelis. Secondly, disputing the number killed in the concentration camps shows a cold indifference to world wide Jewry and their completely appropriate determination to prevent a repeat of these events, no matter what form it comes in. Thirdly and perhaps most crucially, Dr Safari's claims that Iran's nuclear ambitions are peaceful is simply not good enough given the realities of my first and second points. Even if Ayatollah Khameini is truthful about Iran's peaceful intentions it is too great a risk that some collection of individuals within the Iranian regime might do a deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon and next thing you know there is an explosion in Tel Aviv resulting in the deaths of six million Jews in another holocaust. Israel will not allow Iran to get this far.

Israel will bomb Iran if it feels it has the potential to reach the stage where it could carry out what ahmadinejad has threatened to do. This is an unchangeable reality. I never got the opportunity to make this point clear to Dr Safari but if I could of, I simply would have pleaded with him. For God's sake, no, for all our sakes, just give up the nuclear programme.

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