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What the Iranian president's rant was really about

By Leanne Piggott - posted Friday, 4 November 2005

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come under sustained international criticism for calling for the annihilation of Israel. Even officials of the Palestinian Authority have dissociated themselves from his statements.

In a speech recently, addressing about 4,000 students and representatives of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, President Ahmadinejad predicted: "Very soon, this stain of disgrace [Israel] will vanish from the centre of the Islamic world and this is attainable ... This will be a short period and if we pass through it successfully, the process of the elimination of the Zionist regime will be smooth and simple."

He reminded the audience that this had been the wish of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."


Two days later, during Iran's annual al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day rally, President Ahmadinejad brushed aside the international condemnation of his speech and reasserted that Israel must be destroyed.

The rally was among the largest since they were first held in 1979. As the president joined the crowd, his fellow marchers carried placards reading: "Death to Israel, death to America". Others condemned the West generally for oppressing Palestinians and Iran.

But President Ahmadinejad's speech last week was not solely directed against the Jewish state. The Iranian president placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a wider context: "We are in the process of a historical war between the World of Arrogance [the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years ... This means that the current war in Palestine is the front line of the Islamic world against the World of Arrogance ... Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? You had best know that this slogan and this goal is attainable, and surely can be achieved."

In his final peroration, the Iranian president declared: "Oh dear people, look at this global arena. By whom are we confronted? We must understand the depth of the disgrace imposed on us by the enemy, until our holy hatred expands continuously and strikes like a wave."

The phraseology is instructive and points to something much broader than the prediction of another round of bloodshed in the region.

Threats to wipe Israel off the map - even by heads of state - are nothing new in the Middle East. In May 1967, Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser imposed a naval blockade against Israel's southern port of Eilat, making war inevitable. In a speech to Egyptian labour unions, Nasser welcomed the prospect of war: "Egypt will, thanks to this war, at long last wipe Israel off the face of the earth. We have waited for this moment for 11 long years."


But Nasser's belligerency in that speech did not extend beyond Israel. He did not call for a tsunami of "holy hatred" against the West on a global scale.

More to the point, Egypt had no nuclear weapons and no foreseeable chance of acquiring them. Iran, on the other hand, has come under intense scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency for allegedly working to produce enriched uranium for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

As British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted in condemning the Iranian president's speech last week, any state that is led by a person with President Ahmadinejad's attitudes and seeks to possess nuclear weapons constitutes a threat to humanity at large.

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First published in The Australian on November 1, 2005.

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About the Author

Dr Leanne Piggott lectures in Middle East Politics at the University of Sydney and is director of Academic Programs of the Centre for International Security Studies. She is the author of A Timeless Struggle: Conflict in Land of Israel/Palestine (forthcoming, Science Press).

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