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A Loose Cannon--or Firing in Formation?

11.09.2005 | POLITICS

On October 26, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a conference entitled The World Without Zionism in Tehran that "Israel must be wiped off the map."

Ahmadinejad's bellicose speech has spawned strong reactions and numerous commentaries. Most observers have asserted that Ahmadinejad's words are the result of his inexperience and that they do not reflect the views of the fundamentalist regime or his faction. One of the more extreme examples of the dominant view is expressed by Columbia University Professor Gary Sick, who said: "Ahmadinejad's role has been very substantially reduced... He's been in office for a hundred days. He's done nothing. I think people are looking around and saying 'This guy is a disaster'. I think they [the regime] are going to isolate him and quarantine him."

In this article, I evidence which proves that the dominant explanation is false. I show that Ahmadinejad's words are the expression of the actual consensus of the ruling faction of the regime. In other words, Ahmadinejad's words are not the mere utterance of one inexperienced person. Rather, Ahmadinejad expressed the views of the Young Conservative sub-faction and the consensus of the hard-line faction which control virtually all the main levers of power in Iran. This is not mere academic exercise. If the dominant explanation is correct, one may not be too concerned about the off-the-cuff remarks of one man. However, if my analysis is correct, we should expect a more confrontational foreign policy by the regime.

The next question is: why are the hardliners pursuing a more confrontational policy at this juncture? In my next article I will argue that there is a rationale behind the position of Ahmadinejad and the hard-liners. The "new" aggressive policy is intended to serve both their domestic and foreign policy goals. The unusually strong reaction by EU, UN Security Council, Russia, and even Venezuela, were not expected. However, these reactions may or may not undermine the main intended goals of the regime or their pursuit of the more aggressive policy. But first, we need to establish whether Ahmadinejad's bellicose words reflected his own views or those of the ruling faction in Iran.

If Ahmadinejad's words were out of line with the policy of the regime, other members of the oligarchy would have immediately made clear that Ahmadinejad did not speak for the regime. Ahmadinejad, himself, might have been compelled to retract his remarks by the Supreme Leader and/or other members of the oligarchy.

If other members of his sub-faction (Young Conservatives) and his faction (hard-liners) publically state that what Ahmadinejad said is what their "Imam Khomeini" had said and that in fact the destruction of Israel is the policy of the fundamentalist regime, that would show that Ahmadinejad correctly reflected the policy consensus of the ruling faction in the oligarchy. In addition, if we observe other official statements repeat the same words and demands, then one can conclude that Ahmadinejad's words reflect the official policy of the regime.

On Friday the 28th, two days after his initial remarks, Ahmadinejad said: "My words are the Iranian nation's words...Westerners are free to comment, but their reaction is invalid. These people have a lot of nerve and they think that the whole world has to submit to them."

On Sunday 30th, Ahmadinejad added: "We only repeated the words of the last 27 years which were the stances of the Imam, and the supreme leader [Ali Khamanehi] and Islamic nation. It was very clear." He went on and repeated his earlier words such as: "Today under the pretext of Gaza pullout, they want to force a few countries to recognize this country. The ones who do that must know that they are standing in front of Islamic nations and that is an unforgivable crime."

The official news agency, IRNA, writes that the slogans at the official rally organized by the regime were: "Our President, Thanks Thanks," "Good Job Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad Hezbollah, President Hezbollah."

Gen. Rahim Safavi, the Supreme Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said: "The words of the president were the words of our nation...Americans and Israelis have made a psychological war against our nation to overcome their defeats in the Gaza Strip and Iraq. Zionists and Americans want to overthrow the Islamic Republic and they have said this, therefore repeating the words of Imam Khomeini and the nation by the president is unbearable for them...Our nation confirms the words of their president and this means that all the Islamic nations should in unity in an economic and cultural struggle for the Palestinian nation work together. This does not mean that they should use military methods, and we hope that 1.5 billion Muslims in a wise process expel a few hundred thousand Zionists from Palestine."

Supreme Leader Ali Khamanehi attacked the negative reaction against Ahmadinejad's remarks and said: "...leaders of the west and Europe should be ashamed of being so much under the influence of Zionists."

Meanwhile, the "International Qods [Jerusalem] Day" rally is the main official program of the regime, where the regime announces its policies as the "Statement of Marchers." The Statement of the Marchers repeats exactly what Ahmadinejad had said on October 26th. The statement explicitly threatens the governments of Arab and Muslim countries that have recognized Israel "with instability and violence" and calls them "traitors." It adds that they do not "accept anything less than the destruction of Israel."

The official news agency IRNA editorialized: "The racist actions of the Zionists in the genocide of the Muslim Palestinians is exactly what Mr. Ahmadinejad pointed to and comes from the racist and oppressive mentality of global Zionism and the struggle against it has its roots in Islamic history and it dates hundreds of years. For this reason the president emphasized that the issue of Palestine is the central issue of the world of Islam."

Shahaboldin Sadr, the head of the Medical Association told ISNA: "Th sentence that the president said was also said by the late Imam that this cancerous tumor should be eliminated from the body of the Islamic world."

Although the demand for the destruction of Israel goes back to 1979, President Khatami (1997-2005) had toned down vitriolic attacks on Israel and the United States. Nevertheless, slogans "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" remained the official slogans at the official Friday Prayers. Moreover, during parades, the regime hung banners on the missiles which read "Death to Israel" and "Death to American." Before Khatami, President Rafsanjani used different language when addressing Iranian and Western audiences.

HamidReza Taraghi, a member of the Central Committee of Motalefeh Party told ISNA: "The speech of the president showed that the strategy of the new government is not like the strategy of the previous government [Khatami's administration] and is an aggressively offensive [tahajomi] strategy and our nation will no longer allow Europeans and Americans to use bombs and bullets instead of logic."

Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, Chairman of the Experts Council, declared in his Friday prayer sermon on the 28th: "The silence of the Islamic countries against the crimes of the regime occupying Jerusalem in the Palestinian lands is shameful and haram [forbidden according to Shariah]...Unfortunately, this shamelessness has reached such an extent that some of the these countries have normalized their relations with Israel...The normalization of relations between Islamic countries and the criminal Israeli regime means support for oppression of this regime against Palestinians."

In his October 26 speech then, Ahmadinejad did not say that Iran will use nuclear weapons to destroy Israel. Rather he said that Iran will help Palestinians and other Muslims to destroy Israel through armed struggle (e.g., suicide bombs, rocket attacks by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Lebanese Hezbollah). This has been the official policy of the fundamentalist regime for the past 27 years. In the past 27 years, the fundamentalist regime has provided funds, training and arms to Islamic fundamentalist forces that have killed Israelis, Americans and others. Moreover, threatening or condemning governments of Arab or Muslim-majority countries that have recognized Israel is also not new.

What is new is the perception around the world that the fundamentalist regime has had a covert nuclear weapons program, and that the completion of nuclear weapons would provide the fundamentalist regime the capability to destroy another country.

Ahmadinejad's words on October 26 accurately reflect the long-standing policies of the fundamentalist regime. From Ayatollah Khomeini to Supreme Leader Ali Khamanehi, those words have been spoken publicly. In this article, I presented a small number of the much larger body of support that many members of the oligarchy have provided Ahmadinejad and his position.

A close reading of the text of Ahmadinejad's speech shows that he had chosen his words very carefully (and arguably purposefully). Not only Ahmadinejad did not retract a single word of his speech, but he succeeded in gathering the main figures in the Islamic Republic to support him and condemn his critiques. Many non-fundamentalists legitimately regard Ahmadinejad's bellicose words to be reprehensible. But this does not mean that those words were chosen without a rationale behind them nor that they may not serve the interests of the Young Conservatives or the hard-line faction.

For example, attacking the U.S. Embassy and taking its diplomats hostage by Khomeini and his fundamentalist student supporters were reprehensible acts and against international law. Those actions, however, helped Khomeini get rid of prime minister Bazargan, impose the fundamentalist constitution on a reluctant nation, get rid of president Bani Sadr, and consolidate power in his own hands. Taking and holding the hostages were against the national interests of Iran and the interests of the Iranian people. By placing their own interests above the national interests, fundamentalists were able to consolidate their power.

Instead of dismissing fundamentalists as idiots or their actions as amateurish, we should attempt to analyze and understand the motives behind their actions. This could help those who wish to replace the current nightmarish tyranny with a secular and democratic system.

This article was first published on

About the Author
Masoud Kazemzadeh is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He is the author of Islamic Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Gender Inequality in Iran Under Khomeini (University Press of America, 2002), and The Bush Doctrine and Iran: Alternative Scenarios and Consequences (forthcoming).
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