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Iran's President Is Defiant and Our Diplomacy Looks Foolish

“Since they took over 30 years ago....when the regime acquired rocks, they stoned our women; when they acquired rope they hung our men; when they acquired guns they used them on our streets; when they acquired technology they spied on our children. Does anyone doubt what this illegitimate regime would do if it acquired nuclear weapons?”

Those are the words of Roozbeh Farahanipour, a former law student in Tehran, who graduated with honors from Iranian prisons where he was tortured for his student activism. They were delivered on Monday at press conference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center following President Ahmadenijad’s speech at the opening of the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference. Now based in Los Angeles, democracy advocate Farahanipour is pleading with President Obama to finally deploy sanctions that still might prevent the Mullahs from going nuclear.

Meanwhile in New York, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proved once again that no one does “chutzpah” better than he, and nowhere does he do it better than at the United Nations.

Last year, serial human rights abuser, Mahmoud “Wipe Israel from the Map” Ahmadinejad keynoted the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Durban II Conference in Geneva. At another appearance at the General Assembly in New York, he flirted with Holocaust denial and boasted about Tehran’s 9,000 nuclear centrifuges making fissionable material in contravention of International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) rules and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Now, basking the spotlight as the only head of state to attend the opening session of the U.N.’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference, the irrepressible Iranian president castigates the “Zionist regime” for engaging in “acts of terror” and claims that the U.S. and Israel have created “major terrorist networks” that threaten the world with nuclear blackmail.

Indeed, even before the conference’s opening gavel, came word of a significant victory for Iran. Egypt, Tehran’s historic Mideast archrival, a country which fears a nuclear Iran, telegraphed that it would seek to spin the nuclear forum’s focus onto Israel. Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz told reporters last week that “Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone.” Egypt’s working paper will urge NPT members to “renew their resolve to undertake, individually and collectively, all necessary measures aimed at…the accession by Israel to the Treaty as soon as possible as a non-nuclear weapon state.”

Worse still, there are hints that the U.S. may follow up on Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller’s demand last year that Israel go public about its defensive nuclear arsenal and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would break forty years of U.S. policy not to paint Israel as the Mideast’s atomic bad guy at the very moment Tehran is planning its nuclear breakout.
Behind their public anti-Israel bluster, Arab leaders privately tell us they’re not losing sleep over the Jewish state but because of the real-time nuclear threat unfolding next door in Iran. It’s a threat that they fear America lacks the resolve to stop. In his new book, “The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations,” author Lee Roberts argues that the key to understanding the Mideast mindset is captured by this statement from Usama Bin Laden: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” As we witness North Korea’s and Iran’s defiance of the U.S. -- as well as the Obama’s administration’s hint that it may join demands that Israel unilaterally surrender its nuclear deterrent -- Egyptians, Saudis, Kuwaitis and other regional players may use anti-Israel rhetoric to hide their real purpose of distancing themselves from a weakened “American horse” and prepare to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

While Mideast proliferation is surely not the purpose of Obama’s new “soft diplomacy,” Washington’s delayed, watered down, and ineffective sanctions program, coupled with diplomatic signals designed more to put pressure on Israel than Iran, serve only to embolden, not rein in, Tehran.

Israel’s commitment not to threaten the region with nuclear attack or to engage in blackmail has been unwavering for over last forty years. In the 1960s, Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nasser pledged to secure “atomic weapons at any costs” and threatened to “drive Israel into the sea.” The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was the result. Rather than wait around to see if Nasser was serious about getting atomic weapons, Israel developed its own deterrent nuclear capacity, pledging never to be the first to introduce nukes in the region. It held fast to its “no first use” policy, even in 1973 when a combined Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Yom Kippur threatened its very survival.
Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, the “father” of Israel’s secret nuclear efforts told President Kennedy in 1963 that “Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.” Long before the election of Barack Obama, Peres personally told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Israel would be willing to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty within two years after the establishment of “regional peace.” Peres believes that it was Israel’s unstated but obvious nuclear capabilities that helped set the stage for the Jewish state’s historic peace with Egypt.

President Obama claims to be a “realist” about the Mideast, but his ambiguous policy about Israel and regional deterrence is anything but that. In pursuit of a “new day”, he should stop wasting precious political time and capital debasing the deterrence of democratic Israel. Instead, to stop the volatile region from becoming an armed nuclear camp, President Obama must demonstrate to nervous Arab leaders and the rest of the world that Washington is still “the strong horse” with the will to thwart any form of nuclear blackmail from the tyrants in Tehran.

Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Harold Brackman is Senior Researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Follow the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Facebook and on Twitter.