THE ROVING EYE But it's so cold in Alaska
By Pepe Escobar
"This is our proposal: give a part of your own land in Europe, the United
States, Canada or Alaska to [the Jews] so that the Jews can establish their
- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, December 14
"I called it [Iran] part of the 'axis of evil' for a reason. It's a real
- US President George Bush, December 14
A DVD is making a splash in Iran. No, it's not the new, pirated King Kong.
It shows Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad telling an ayatollah how he was
miraculously enveloped by a
green aura when he delivered his fiery speech at the recent United Nations
General Assembly in New York. He added that for half an hour the array of world
leaders, in awe, didn't even blink.
President George W Bush was not as enlightened - and the audience definitely
not in awe - when in 2002 he told the UN to behave, otherwise he would invade
"axis of evil" member Iraq by himself (which he did).
Vienna will feel like Alaska next Wednesday when Iran resumes negotiations on
its turbulent nuclear dossier with the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany). It's
all got to do with Israel. First, the "tumor" should be "wiped off the map".
Then, it should be moved to Europe. Now, expunged from the "myth" of the
Holocaust, it should be relocated perhaps to Alaska.
Ahmadinejad, former Revolutionary Guard, former mayor of Tehran, current
president of the Islamic Republic, couldn't be topped by any screenwriter in
his capacity to provoke widespread horror movie reaction in the Christian West
for his remarks about Israel. It's the third time he's done it since his
election in June.
And once again, all over the Muslim world, the silence is as thunderous as the
new digital King Kong's roar.
What is he really up to?
Not exactly a tactician or a strategist, Ahmadinejad self-consciously bills
himself as a man of the people (Asia Times Online
Travels in Ahmadinejadland, September 15).
When he says that Europeans "have created a myth in the name of the Holocaust
and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets", he is basically
expressing a popular consensus from Cairo to Baghdad, from Ramallah to Karachi,
according to which Israel always invokes the victimhood of the Holocaust as a
smokescreen for its occupation and activities in Palestine.
Ahmadinejad is capable of producing rhetoric that Arab potentates congregating
in Mecca for a conference or in Dubai for a polo match cannot; otherwise they
would lose precious American protection in the form of investment/aid dollars
and/or weapons sales.
The man-of-the-people president doesn't need any favors from the so-called (by
the Iranian revolutionaries) "Great Satan". And although a Persian, he's above
all a pious Muslim, so he'd rather be in sync with the vast masses of the Arab
lumpen proletariat. Moreover, everything he says about Israel is standard
practice since the 1979 Islamic revolution. It's exactly what Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini thought and expressed. And it's exactly how the Supreme
Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sees it.
Once again this week, meeting with the head of Hamas' politburo, Khaled Mishaal
Sayyed, Khamenei reiterated that the only way for Palestinians to liberate
their land was through armed resistance.
Ahmadinejad clearly does not care about Western public opinion - an alien
concept to his mindset. He instinctively knows that the message that sticks in
the minds of the disenfranchised Muslim masses is when he stresses that the
West has invaded Muslim lands and plundered their wealth. For all their
conceptual divergence and mutual hatred, al-Qaeda (which considers Shi'ites
apostates) would be saying exactly the same thing.
Many secularists and reformists in Tehran believe that the
Ahmadinejad-does-Israel show fits in a much bigger picture conformed by a
select group of advisors very close to the supreme leader. These include former
Revolutionary Guard and current secretary of the Supreme Council on National
Security - SCNS - (and thus Iran's top nuclear negotiator) Ali Larijani, his
elder brother Ardeshir (a foreign affairs specialist) and one of Ahmadinejad's
mentors, Hashemi Samare'i.
The target audience is predominantly internal rather than external. It is
possible events could go this way: breaking the ultimate taboo - at least in
the West - of criticizing Israel is just a first step, after which the Islamic
Republic will retreat into its shell, scrap the nuclear dialogue with both the
UN and the EU-3, thus getting no concessions, and leave the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether and essentially go nuclear all the way.
It's illuminating to see how this plays inside Iran. The official news agency
IRNA totally ignored the latest allusions to Israel, concentrating on
Ahmadinejad's pledge that Iran would not give up its natural right to nuclear
technology. In an all too obvious reference to the US, the president insisted
that "those who have built and continue to build nuclear weapons do not have
the right to block Iran's access to nuclear technology".
And then he made a connection between the American-supported Shah regime in
Iran, the post-revolution American embargo and nuclear sovereignty that any
peasant could understand. "There should not be any excuse for not selling
aircraft spare parts to other countries. When in the past a murderer regime
ruled Iran, those who imposed sanctions against us today gave that regime
everything. But when the Islamic revolution became triumphant and freedom and
independence of the people were fulfilled, they imposed sanctions on the
nation. Now what assurances exist that they will not do the same thing
regarding nuclear fuel?"
Plane crashes happen all the time in Iran - the most recent only 10 days ago
when an aging US-made military transport plane hit a tall building in Tehran
and killed 115 people. Iranian government officials say the main reason for the
crashes is the American-imposed embargo, which makes it very hard to buy spare
Get me to the Mahdi on time
The problem is not only that Ahmadinejad seems to be impervious to subtlety and
always means what he says. The problem, as secular, educated liberal
professionals in Tehran pointed out to this correspondent this summer, is that
he basically echoes the teachings of his master, ultra-powerful,
ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who boasts that he could convert all
of America to Shi'ism.
It all comes back to the belief in the Mahdi - the 12th hidden (since 941)
Shi'ite imam who will come to save the world from injustice and widespread
corruption. If you believe in the Mahdi, the time is now. There are fascinating
parallels with the Christian fundamentalist vision of Armageddon, according to
which a vengeful Christ will terminate every unbeliever on judgment day,
including Jews (thus the Christian fundamentalist belief that ultimately every
good Jew is either dead or converted).
Further embarrassed by the president's lack of diplomatic skills, since June
secularists and reformists in Iran have been recoiling in horror at the sight
of the new breed in power - these disciples of Yazdi for whom realpolitik is in
practice just a detail. For them, what really matters is to prepare for the
arrival of the Mahdi. The new breed in power sees itself as incorruptible, thus
But they have a lot of internal enemies. The perennial Ali Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani, chairman of the all-powerful Expediency Council, former president
Mohammad Khatami (whose "dialogue of civilizations" is now dead and buried) and
the respected former secretary of the SCNS, Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, as well
as other influential ayatollahs, are rumored to want to send Ahmadinejad to
somewhere like Alaska (a virtually impossible scenario as he is fully supported
by the supreme leader).
This does not remove the fact that even billions of dollars of public relations
could not have handed such a prize to Israel's hardliners. A possible writing
on the (West Bank) wall can be read in these words by Raanan Gissin, spokesman
for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Thank God Israel has the means to end
the extremist regime in Iran." Gissin obviously was quick to deny that Israel
had any specific plans to attack Iran's suspected nuclear sites, just like the
lethal air strike against the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981.
It's so cold in Alaska
But the plans are on the table, and were dutifully leaked by the Israeli
military to the London Sunday Times, one of Rupert Murdoch's papers and a
staunch ally of Israel. The Israeli Army has already received orders from
Sharon (special forces commandos are already on "G" readiness, maximum alert)
to strike Iran in late March - after the alleged discovery of presumed secret
uranium enrichment sites camouflaged into civilian structures, according to the
Not even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) knows about these sites.
Israel supposedly got this piece of information from a base in Bush-liberated
Iraqi Kurdistan and from espionage inside Iran. The head of the foreign policy
department of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad, obviously denied
everything. But Sharon's spokesman Gissin once again left the door open; an
attack would be launched only "after all diplomatic options had been exhausted"
(echoes of the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq).
In early March, IAEA chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad ElBaradei
should deliver a crucial report on Iran. He has said on the record that most
major issues have been resolved and he hoped to close the dossier in the next
few months. But in parallel, Israel's "point of no return" has already been
moved from 2010 to 2008 and now 2006; this means, according to the Israelis,
the point after which Iran will have the required technical know-how to enrich
enough uranium to build a nuclear warhead is two to four years.
As Iraq was not enough, the escalating rhetorical war between Iran and Israel
may be leading to a "hellish military confrontation" for the whole Middle East,
as a recent editorial of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi put it. As much as
the paper emphasized that the "international community could not be allowed to
be dragged by Israel into a new war in the Middle East, exacerbating violence
and terrorism and threatening oil supplies", it seems Israeli hardliners are
very much intent on proving that the Iranian desert in March can be as cold as