How did 1938 turn out to be such a long year?

It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany and it’s racing to arm itself with atomic bombs,” Benjamin Netanyahu declared four years ago.

By 1942, Germany had snared itself in the disastrous Battle of Stalingrad — but let’s allow Netanyahu some latitude with his metaphor and assume that it’s still 1938 and that Iran’s race has merely suffered a few interruptions.

So, it’s still 1938 and Iran’s Hitler has come to Israel’s border to survey the nation he intends wiping off the map.

In anticipation of this historic moment, Aluf Benn wrote last month:

Netanyahu will have a one-time opportunity to stop the new Hitler and thwart the incitement to genocide. Ahmadinejad will pay his first visit to Lebanon and devote an entire day to a tour of the southern part of that country. He will visit sites where Hezbollah waged battles against Israel and, according to one report, he will also pop over to Fatima Gate, just beyond the border fence at Metula. The route is known, the range is close and it is possible to send a detail across the border to seize the president of Iran and bring him to trial in Israel as an inciter to genocide and Holocaust denier.

The media effect will be dramatic: Ahmadinejad in a glass cage in Jerusalem, with the simultaneous translation earphones, facing grim Israeli judges. In the spirit of the times, it will also be possible to have foreign observers join them (David Trimble of the Turkel commission was a leader of the “try the Iranian president” initiative ).

There are also operational advantages: Iran will hesitate to react to its president’s arrest by flinging missiles, out of fear for their leader’s life. It will also be possible to capture Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who will no doubt emerge from his hiding place and accompany Ahmadinejad. Israel will have high-ranking hostages it will be able to exchange for Gilad Shalit.

And if the world has any complaints, it will be reminded that the Americans invaded Panama in order to arrest its ruler Manuel Noriega – and only for dealing drugs, a far smaller offense than incitement to genocide.

Of course, the idea also has disadvantages. Ahmadinejad might be killed in the action and Iran would embark on a cruel war of revenge. The precedent of arresting leaders would endanger Israeli personages suspected abroad of crimes against humanity or murder (according to the Goldstone report and the flotilla report ). Ahmadinejad could be acquitted and make Israel look like a bully and Netanyahu a fool.

Nevertheless, how can Netanyahu refrain from an action to stop Hitler’s heir, when the year is already 1939, if not 1940? According to Netanyahu’s reasoning, if he refrains from acting history will condemn him for “not preventing a crime,” as with Margalit Har-Shefi, who didn’t stop Yigal Amir from assassinating Yitzhak Rabin.

Benn’s point was not to advocate a reckless course of action but to underline the difference between rousing rhetoric and statesmanship.

For all those inside and outside Israel who swallowed Netanyahu’s rhetoric however, this is a telling moment to reflect on the proposition that the clown from Tehran — provocative as he might be — can seriously be compared to Hitler. Anyone who still clings to this notion must now consider its corollary: that if Ahmadinejad is Hitler, then Netanyahu — through his inaction — turns out to be a Chamberlain not Churchill.

So how truly significant is it that Iran’s president is currently now enjoying all the honors of a visiting head of state (even though he isn’t one)?

Rhami Khouri puts the drama in perspective and says:

[Ahmadinejad’s] visit represents a blow to Washington’s strategy of bringing Lebanon firmly into its orbit.

For most Arab governments, the Iranian-Hizbullah connection represents everything they fear for their own incumbency: armed Shiite movements inside countries where mostly Sunni Muslim Arabs dominated public life; popular resistance movements that do battle according to their own strategic calculations; Iranian meddling in Arab affairs; and, Arab mass movements that connect with compatriots across the region in their common opposition to and defiance of conservative Arabs, Israel and the US itself.

So at some levels it is understandable why so many people in the region and abroad are making a lot of noise about the Iranian president’s visit to Lebanon. At another level, though, that of substance vs. symbolism, this is a pretty routine event that does not necessarily break new ground, but mainly reflects and emphasizes existing political realities that generate frenzied, nearly hysterical, reactions on both sides.

The irony is that by elevating his importance on the international stage while his real challenges come from home, no one serves Iran’s president as more effective publicists than do Israel and the United States.

As Meir Javedanfar notes:

Ahmadinejad has never been more unpopular in Iran, not only with the public but also his conservative allies and the clergy. By going to Lebanon, he is going to one of the last places where the Islamic Republic still has genuine support. When he speaks in Bint Jbeil, unlike in Iran, schools won’t be closed and civil servants won’t be threatened with dismissal unless they attend the president’s speech. People will voluntarily turn up because they genuinely support the Islamic republic and will pay respect to almost any senior Iranian politician.

By going to Lebanon, Ahmadinejad will primarily be using the occasion to try to strengthen his support back home with the public, and with the Revolutionary Guards, whose support is important to him. He will also be trying to outshine his rivals such as Ali Larijani and Hashemi Rafsanjani by using the trip to say that he is the true face of Iran abroad, and not them.

This development will also benefit supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who is most probably very concerned about Ahmadinejad’s flagging popularity.

What is important to note is that such a visit did not take place when Khatami was president. If anyone deserves to be in southern Lebanon, it is him, and not Ahmadinejad. Israel evacuated southern Lebanon in May 2000 on Khatami’s watch, not Ahmadinejad’s.

However, Khamenei did not send Khatami to southern Lebanon because he was not worried about his unpopularity. In fact, compared with Ahmadinejad, he was far more popular. The opposite is true about Ahmadinejad and this is why Khamenei, for the sake of his regime, is sending him there.

The RealNews Network has an interesting report on Ahmadinejad’s posture as an anti-capitalist.

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12 thoughts on “How did 1938 turn out to be such a long year?

  1. vince j

    I find sureal the dehumanisation of Ahmadinejad .
    In his latest speech at UN, where the clowns from the US walked away staging their pathetic pantimime, Ahmadinejad pointed out that 9/11 had many ununswered questions and that people around the globe suspect the US’s involvment.
    Archtects and engineeres for 9/11 truth have an excellent footage of the North Tower literaly exploding and the detonation charges are clearly visible. Check their site and watch this video.
    Brazil and Trukey managed through diplomacy to have atomic energy exchange between Iran and the rest of the world that was almost the same of that of the US.
    Instead accepting it as good will, the US, its Murdoch media, went on to impose sanction against Iran nuclear program.
    Iran is a signatory of the NPT. Therefore it has the right to develop nuclear energy. Iran has complied with inspections and it obligations as a signatory on the NPT.
    Check on youtube the propper translation of Ahmadinejad speech and compare to the rubish it has been said about him.
    Meanwhile, the US is invading and occupying, torturing, still practicing redition, killing inocent civilians, Obama now claims the right to assassinate anyone anywhere (American citizens included) without due process, the US continuously destroy democracies (Most recently in Honduras, is silence over israel international crimes… and the list goes on and on and on…
    I would love to see a repot on Ahmadinejad where his word are not taking out of context or are distorted for media spectacle.
    Obama is a War Crminal you know?!

  2. vince j

    Asia Times on line has an excellent article about Ahmadinejad visit to Lebanon

    “Ahmadinejad bears a message for Israel
    By Kaveh L Afrasiabi “

  3. Norman

    If Israeli forces disrupt the visit, who knows where it will end? Can’t believe it would happen, but on the other hand, sure is a tempting target. Are the Israeli’s mad enough to try? Probably. Bush thought he could win in Iraq, so, seems the crazies are out of the asylum now, wait & see.

  4. David Marchesi

    I can’t quite understand how commentators can assert that Ahmadminejad is “unpopular ” in Iran without fear of contradiction. Contradiction would, one can infer, indicate that one would be charged with being pro-Ahmadinejad.When practically no leader in the Western democracies can prove his/her popularity ( huge abstentionism; voting fraud, as in Dubya’s case; massive lobbying from the money powers etc , etc) who are we to judge whether Rafsanjani or another is more “popular” than the current president? Where are the commentators’ sources for his opinion ? In fact, in all reason, how could anyone estimate the popularity of any politician in Iran ? Is the Supreme Leader “popular” ?The point about the head of state is also a little trivial – for example, foreigners always give the British PM vastly more political attention than they do Her Majesty, who is considered a figurehead, and almost no one could name the Italian head of state, whereas Berlusconi (also a “clown” ?) is widely known and would receive a high degree of fawning from politicians in small states who were seeking Italian support. Finally, since the last,obscure Israeli President left under a cloud, Shimon Peres may be an elder statesman and the ceremonial figure of Israel, but Mr Netanyahu is effectively “head of state”.As for Iran’s ambitions in the area, it is, I thought, generally conceded that Ahmadinejad’s rivals could not be expected to overturn current policies and throw the country into the arms of the US and Israel; so what’s the point of all this superficial analysis ?

  5. Lysander

    I was going to add a comment regarding Ahmadinejad’s “unpopularity” in Iran but Vince and David already nailed it. To this fate I await any evidence to show iran’s elections were anything other than a confirmation of Ahmadinejad’s rule. There is a conceit in the west that if a figure is hated here, heist also be hated at home.

  6. Observer

    Ahmedenijad’s pro Palestinian rights speeches are good — but it has been suggested that he holds that stance simply because he knows it taps into populist sentiments.

    Even Ilan Pappe has spoken against some of his more intentionally ambiguous speeches, calling them unhelpful.

    Ultimately, Ahmedenijad’s a politician — and I have yet to see a politician who I trusted at any deeper level.

  7. Paul Woodward

    If the power being wielded by Khamenei/Ahmadinejad/IRG derived simply from a popular mandate, would it really be necessary to give a 19-year jail sentence to Hossein Derakhshan for the “crime” of blogging? Would it be necessary to hold in detention without charge or trial, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, solely because she is willing to work in the defense of others? Emadoddin Baghi, a human rights activist, has just been jailed for “spreading propaganda.”

    Popular governments can withstand all sorts of attacks barring armed insurrection without the need to engage in repression.

    The irony here is that those who have constructed a grossly distorted image of Iran, presenting it as a “threat to civilization” and all the other absurd claims, have in the process made it easier for the Iranian government to ruthlessly clamp down on dissent.

    If we can see the ways in which Israel and its supporters have demonized Ahmadinejad, that doesn’t mean everything critical of Iran should be treated as fiction or inconsequential. We don’t have to become Iran apologists.

  8. Observer

    Yes, very balanced response there Paul. If I read you correctly, I agree with you entirely.

    Whilst I totally reject the world’s scapegoating of Iran as the ‘new third reich’, I still don’t buy into the idea that Ahmedenijad is fully supported by his people. I wouldn’t support him, not because I believe all the war drum beating anti Iranian rhetoric, but simply because I wouldn’t trust any politician.

  9. Lysander

    None of us has said that Iran is a model democracy. Only that an election fraud that would have to be extraordinarily wide in scale has not been supported by much in the way of convincing evidence. Out of thousands upon thousands of election workers and thousands more observers for the opposition candidates, none have come out to say the results they counted were different from the government announced results. (The government has published online the results of each and every ballot box) None have said that men with guns seized the ballot boxes. None have alleged any fraud at all.

    For anyone still in doubt, here is a very long but also very thorough accounting of Iran’s elections by Eric Brill.

    As to Paul’s other points, bear in mind that the most powerful country in the world has made it its policy to overthrow the government of Iran by any and all practical means. That same country has managed to overthrow popular governments in Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and, lest we forget, in Iran itself. In each of those events, deals were made with local political figures and mass protests were organized.

    Now I certainly can’t say for sure that is what happened in Iran. And certainly those individuals Paul mentioned could be guilty of nothing more than speaking their minds, but given that the US;

    1) Openly announces its wish to overthrow Iran’s government.

    2) Has placed sanctions on Iran with the stated intent of turning the public against the government.

    3) Has donated vast sums for “democracy promotion”

    4) Has carried out coups and color revolutions against numerous nations in the past, including Iran

    That it is not unreasonable for Iran’s government to suspect a hidden hand in innocent work.

    That said, I’m not going to excuse all of Iran’s actions. But the context is critical.

  10. Paul Woodward

    I think it’s an oversimplification to say that “American policy” is to overthrow the government in Iran. The policy is being set and modified by each administration and the Obama administration has indicated that it is open to accommodations with the current regime. At the same time, there are ambiguities in the administration’s approach because there are obviously those (Ross et al) who are more inclined to push in the direction of regime change — which is not to imply that have a plausible strategy for accomplishing that goal. Tehran and Washington mirror each other in as much as neither can clearly discern the intentions of their adversary.

    While I agree that American/Western animosity towards Iran helps sustain a high sense of vulnerability inside the Iranian government, I don’t think it follows from that that it’s going to interpret most forms of dissent as resulting from foreign agitation. On the contrary, foreign hostility provides a very convenient excuse for suppression and the delegitimization of dissent.

    The strength of the reform movement in Iran is a reflection of the fact that Iran is already a much more liberal country than any of its neighbors.

    As for the absence of whistleblowers revealing election fraud, I’m not sure that that says as much about the prevalence of fraud as it does about the risks involved in whistleblowing.

  11. Azam Houle

    “The strength of the reform movement in Iran is a reflection of the fact that Iran is already a much more liberal country than any of its neighbors.”

    I agree. The reformists hold parliamentary seats and had the office of president 1997-2005.

    “While I agree that American/Western animosity towards Iran helps sustain a high sense of vulnerability inside the Iranian government, I don’t think it follows from that that it’s going to interpret most forms of dissent as resulting from foreign agitation. On the contrary, foreign hostility provides a very convenient excuse for suppression and the delegitimization of dissent.”

    Yes, but turning your statement around a bit, absent the foreign agitation, dissent has a much more likelihood of becoming political discussion/dialogue/discord than “dissent”.

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