(by the Editors, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday, which also happened to be Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The timing is apt because when it comes to Iran and Israel, the hardest thing for some people to see or hear is what Iranian leaders say in front of the world’s nose.
“Iran has been around for the last seven, 10 thousand years. They [the Israelis] have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told reporters and editors in New York on Monday.
“We do believe that they have found themselves at a dead end and they are seeking new adventures in order to escape this dead end. Iran will not be damaged with foreign bombs. We don’t even count them as any part of any equation for Iran. During a historical phase, they [the Israelis] represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated.”
Note that word – “eliminated.” When Iranians talk about Israel, this intention of a final solution keeps coming up. In October 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad, quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini, said Israel “must be wiped off the map.” Lest anyone miss the point, the Iranian President said in June 2008 that Israel “has reached the end of its function and will soon disappear off the geographical domain.”
He has company among Iranian leaders. In a televised speech in February, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut,” adding that “from now on, in any place, if any nation or any group that confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear of expressing this.”
Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the armed forces, added in May that “the Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.”
This pledge of erasing an entire state goes back to the earliest days of the Iranian revolution. “One of our major points is that Israel must be destroyed,” Ayatollah Khomeini said in the 1980s.
Former Iranian President Akbar Rafsanjani—often described as a moderate in Western media accounts – had this to say in 2001: “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.”
So for Iran it is “not irrational” to contemplate the deaths of millions of Muslims in exchange for the end of Israel because millions of other Muslims will survive, but the Jewish state will not.
The world’s civilized nations typically denounce such statements, as the U.S. State Department denounced Mr. Ahamadinejad’s on Monday. But denouncing them is not the same as taking them seriously. Sometimes the greatest challenge for a civilized society is comprehending that not everyone behaves in civilized or rational fashion, that barbarians can still appear at the gate.
Thus we hear in U.S. and European policy circles that Israel is overreacting to such publicly stated intentions because Iran would never act on them and, in any case, Israel has its own nuclear deterrent. But no one believes Israel would launch a nuclear first-strike to wipe out Tehran, and an Israeli counterstrike would be too late to protect Israel from being “eliminated.”
The tragic lesson of history is that sometimes barbarians mean what they say. Sometimes regimes do want to eliminate entire nations or races, and they will do so if they have the means and opportunity and face a timorous or disbelieving world.
No one knows that more acutely than Israeli leaders, whose state was founded in the wake of such a genocide. The question faced by Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and other Israelis is whether they can afford to allow another regime pledged to Jewish “annihilation” to acquire the means to accomplish it. The answer, in our view, is as obvious as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s stated intentions.
In his U.N. speech Tuesday, President Obama took a tougher-than-usual election-season line against Iran, stating that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” But the cold reality is that after nearly four years of failed diplomacy and half-hearted sanctions that he opposed until Congress forced his hand, neither Iran nor Israel believe him.
Someone should put Orwell on the President’s reading list before it’s too late.
Published Sept. 25, 2012 at The Wall Street Journal. Reprinted here September 27, 2012 for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.